Cocos Keeling

Thursday 27th September 2018

Coral garden Cocos Keeling

Sitting atop a sea mount rising from the sea bed 5000m below, Cocos Keeling is 600nm SE of Java and over thousand miles NW of Australia, it is the very definition of the middle of nowhere. Two stunning coral atolls comprising of 27 white sand islands, topped with palm trees and of course surrounded by turquoise seas.

The anchorage off Direction Island

For such a remote spot we have discovered it has a lively history. The inside of the Southern Atoll has provided, in the aptly named Refuge Bay, protection for passing ships for centuries and we in that long tradition are anchored in its lagoon off Direction Island. It was first put on the map by a whaler from the Scottish Clunies-Ross family, who in the early 19th century settled here, bringing in hundreds of Malay workers with whom he set up a successful coconut plantation.

At the beginning of the 20th century things began to change. As telegraph communications become more important, in 1901 a cable was laid from Perth in Australia to a repeater station on Direction Island and then on to Singapore and Mauritius providing a link from Australia to London. With the coming of the World Wars the islands strategic position became even more clear to the Australian government and in the 1950s, it would appear rather underhandedly, the Governor of the the time John Clunies-Ross was accused of practicing slavery, shamed and bankrupted. Cocos Keeling became part of Australia.

Oceana House the grand family home still stands on Home Island. After years of neglect it was bought by an Australian couple Avril and Lloyd and just in time its expansive teak panelling, wooden floors and ornate terraces are beginning to be restored.

Home island, a very wet 2nm dingy ride away from the anchorage, has that sleepy island feel that we have found in many isolated ocean islands. It is home to the majority of the Muslim Malay population and with only short distances to travel in their small town they get around slightly incongruously in golf buggies. There is a small museum, a supermarket, island administrative buildings and a brand new cyclone shelter. But our destination is almost always, the pavilion, here overlooking the beach and lagoon is an internet hotspot, every couple of days we sit, dripping from the journey, catching up with our emails and downloading the weather.

Connecting with the rest of the world

West Island, that forms a large part of the western lagoon edge, houses most of the Australian residents, a further supermarket, a cafe and the airport. Saturday our friend Richard was flying in from the UK to join us on the leg to Mauritius and Reunion. With the demise of our Bimini and sprayhood earlier in the year, we also had a large box of replacement canvas work, very efficiently supplied by Dolphin sails in the U.K. to pick up. Add on the fact that fresh groceries had arrived on the island that day, which I with seemingly the rest of the population, rushed to snap up before stocks dwindled, meant it was three very ladened sailors that made the convoluted trek back to Raya. First step was to take a shuttle bus from the town to the ferry dock, then it required two ferry crossings from West Island to Home Island, one for people and one for cargo and then being too loaded down for the dingy, we had to arrange a water taxi back to the boat. It took a while but we made it and Richard is unpacked, the new sprayhood up and the fridge full.

As we wait for the rather windy weather to calm down before we head off on the two week passage to Mauritius, we have been enjoying this rather special place. As well as learning about the islands history we have been following trails through land thick with palm trees, socialising with the World ARC boats that have gradually being filling the anchorage and snorkelling ‘The Rip’.

The Rip is a channel cutting through the coral at the end of Direction Island, the current runs at about 3kts and it is full of large grouper, trevally and white tip sharks, all enjoying the fast flow of nutrients. The coral walls either side provide overhangs, crevasses and bommies crowded with smaller fish. The dingy firmly in tow it made for a great, if rather quick, drift snorkel.

Inhabitants of the Rip

Today the wind is stronger than ever, the fetch across the lagoon forming white horses, we have put on our swimmers to make the crossing to the pavilion and are temporary connected to the world.

No Pain, No Gain

Thursday 20th Sept 2018

Hanging on, precariously against the messy seas and high winds, a masked booby taking a rest from the buffeting of these gusty conditions, perches on our dingy. I, in a similar state, sit huddled in the corner of the cockpit, his presence breaking the monotony of my night watch. The predawn sky gradually lightens to reveal another day of rough seas. The best thing that can be said about our passage from Lombok to Cocos Keeling is that it’s been fast, we covered the 1141nm in just a few hours over 6 days.

Masked Bobbie resting on the dingy

You would think that after 25,000nm, the milestone we reached a few days ago, that we would be better at reading weather forecasts and that we would realise that 12kts really means 8kts ie not enough to sail by, which is what we had for the first two days and that 20kts actually means well over 30kts, producing the rough seas that plagued us for the rest of the journey.

It’s not that these rough seas were scary, even as large waves loom over us, Raya copes with these conditions as if they are all in a days work but it is really uncomfortable. Eating and other essential tasks become difficult and sleeping is near on impossible. On our off watches we roam the boat, steadying ourselves between handrails, dragging a quilt, trying to find the best place to sleep in the current conditions. Some times diagonally across the main bed works, or perhaps wedged into a bunk bed with a lea cloth or maybe the best spot is in a nest of pillows on the sofa. Often there isn’t anywhere that works and it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and trying to get what rest you can.

The captain clinging on while he catches up on some sleep

The big waves also brought us less welcome visitors. Flying fish flew on to the deck and into the cockpit in shoals, their frantic flapping leaving scales all over the place and making them impossible to pick up and throw back into the sea. One hit Rick square on the head, others bounced off the Bimini which must amazingly be 4 or 5m above their watery home, while others we found caught in the halyards on the mast.

We left Marina del Ray last Thursday for an anchorage away from the islands and pearl farms that surround Gili Gede to make for an easier get away the next day. We wanted to tackle the strait between Lombok and Bali in the lighter, early morning, breezes. It was still a challenge to avoid the worst of the overfalls but the 5kt current whisked us quickly out from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean, we really are on our way home now. With only seven or so weeks left before the cyclone season hits this area and with nearly 5000nm to cover we will for the first time on this trip be sailing for as much as we are at anchor. As we watched the turbulent water around us, discussed whether it was worth fighting the elements to make a cup of tea or sat through a chilly, drizzly night, the prospect of weeks at sea didn’t really appeal.

However this morning the sea had calmed a little and with just 10nm to go we spotted the last of the Oyster rally fleet leaving the atoll of the South Keeling Islands. Our spirits rose as we chatted on the radio to our friends on True Blue who gave us their top tips for enjoying our stay. And as we rounded Direction Island and entered the lagoon we were greeted with clear, calm, turquoise seas and three small black tip sharks. We were promptly checked in by the friendly Cocos Keeling police, washed our salt covered decks and drank our ‘got here beer’. This life’s not so bad, as they say, no pain, no gain.

Motoring in to the lagoon off Direction Island

Dèbut in Debut

Wednesday 25th July 2018

It has been a long time since the Call to Prayer has acted as our alarm clock, we have arrived in Debut, Indonesia and sit anchored in sight of three mosques. The Call here is much more tuneful than we remember from our time in the Middle East and adds to the exotic atmosphere we have immediately felt.

It is a beautiful day, the light is soft, the bay calm and in the cool morning air we sit, for what seems like the first time in months, without being battered by high winds.

It was, after eight months, strange to be leaving Australia. But we didn’t have much time to dwell on the matter, with the wind behind us, Raya was in her element, we flew out of the Torres Strait and into the Arafura Sea. After the first day it was rather rolly, with often flogging sails, in a lumpy sea but it was good to reacquaint ourselves with the challenges of longer passages after day sailing for so long.

Small dolphins joined us a couple of times to play at the bows and with the moon setting in the early hours we had the best of both worlds, half the night was moonlit, the other full of stars. We had been warned that their would be a lot of fishing activity, especially at night and to keep far offshore where possible. Huge, unlit, fishing rigs can be very nasty if you don’t spot them in time.

Bamboo and wood fishing rig tied up in Debut

Luckily we didn’t knowingly come close to one, we did however nearly get caught in one of the large nets that are trailed up to a mile behind small fishing boats, their ends only marked by tiny flashing lights. Others were not so lucky we know of at least three boats that got caught.

On Sunday, as dusk fell, we began to realise we were surrounded by brightly lit boats. These delightfully, rustic craft, amazingly anchored in over 40m, shine lights down into the ocean to attract and then catch squid. In the growing darkness an intense glow appeared on the horizon, we checked the chart more than once for a possible city but the shore was over 30 miles away and from what we could see was sparsely inhabited. As we came closer we concluded it was in fact a city, a city of hundreds of squid boats.

Fishing boat city

We arrived in a Debut, after working hard to slow the boat and time our entry, at around 9am on Monday morning. The route into the port was unmarked and uncharted. Luckily we had come prepared, marking the chart with waypoints I had taken from satellite images of the reefs while we still had internet in Australia.

Once anchored safely we managed to celebrate with a ‘got here’ before a continuous stream of officials began arriving at the boat. They arrived by traditional long boat, their approach announced by the lawn mower putt putt of their engines.

Quarantine offers arriving by long boat

It has taken us two days to process all the paperwork, fight through the confusion surrounding the data and phone systems and equip ourselves with, at 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah equal to only 50p, literally millions in local currency.

We did get the time to wander around a few of the streets close to the dock. The colours here are vivid, the prettily painted houses and brightly coloured flowers are all backed by lush greenery and the blue of the sea.

Main street down to the wharf at Debut

This is only the second year the rally has started their Indonesian travels in Debut and the sailors on the yachts are pretty much the only outsiders that ever come here. The town is in festival mode, friendly faces excitedly gathering at the dock offering to help us in anyway they can. And in this world where the smart phone is king, everyone is desperate to have a selfie with the visitors.

Tomorrow the official celebrations start, local dancers will greet us, there is a trip to a fishing village and dignitaries all the way from Jakarta are hosting a welcome dinner.

Loved this local wooden boat in construction at the bottom of the garden.

End of Oz

Tuesday 17th July 2018

We have arrived at Thursday Island at the very most northern point of Australia. Towards the end of the week we will check out at customs and head for Indonesia, our Australian East Coast adventure completed.

You can find our track at

The anchorage at TI, as Thursday Island is known, is rather bumpy, so the fleet of the sail2Indonesia rally have congregated a mile or so southeast off Horn Island. As soon as we stepped ashore we knew we were back to Island life. The dodgy dock was crowded, the roads and pavements were full of pot holes and the supermarket, well let’s just say we need to reset our expectations.

Getting the shopping into the dingy was a bit of a challenge for us and the guys on Alexandra.

The last few days of sailing up the coast continued to be good, although with the ever narrowing shipping channels winding their way through the reefs and islands, a good look out was required at all times and with the frequent changes of direction, sail changes made for a busy trip.

On the first night we stopped at a recommended anchorage off Morris Island. Just a tiny speck on the chart and not much bigger in real life, we were doubtful that it could give us any protection and prepared ourselves mentally to sail on through the night. Little more than a long sand spit about half a kilometre long, with just one palm tree and a bit of scrub there was no let up in the SE wind but surrounded by a large reef the swell disappeared, so we dropped anchor and got some rest. We had caught a large Spanish Mackerel in the morning but all plans of sharing a fish supper with our fellow cruisers was quashed, the wind deterring us from lowering our dinghies.

The next day, Wednesday, we set off on the 24hr sail up to Adolphus Island, just off of Cape York it was a good launching point to time our arrival through the tide driven currents of the Torres Straight.

Anchored in splendid isolation in Blackwood Bay, Adolphus Island

We still had no internet so I still had no Navionics on my iPad, I was dependant on the guys on True Blue and Matt on his computer in the U.K. to work out the tide times for us. With their help Raya was whisked along by a 3kt current into the anchorage at Horn Island.

Anchored with the rally fleet off Horn Island

The promise of a bigger supermarket and a couple of restaurants, meant yesterday we took the ferry to Thursday Island. It’s a great system with the ferry Captain also being the bus driver. Once the ferry docks, everyone moves to a mini bus and is dropped around the small town and island as required. To return, you just call for the bus who picks you up and delivers you back to the ferry. With the security of the driver of both being the same person you know the ferry can’t leave without you.

Being only 10 degrees South of the equator we are deffinatly back in the tropics and we had to remind ourselves to slow down in the humid heat. With only one main street and the sea front, we easily found our way around and although bigger and a bit smarter than Horn Island, it still felt a very long way away from the Australia we had left behind in Cairns.

Harry the local croc lounging on the banks of the anchorage

In Captain Cooks Footsteps

( After nearly a week we finally have a couple of bars of 3G, see delayed post below. )

Flinders Islands

Monday 9th July 2018

We are anchored with three other boats off an incredibly beautiful, remote group of islands, the Flinders Islands. As far as we can tell there are no other people or buildings for a hundred or so miles in any direction, just a little band of yachts sheltering from the brisk winds as they sail north to set off for Indonesia. We did get a visit from the Australian border forces plane however, requesting over the radio the registration and cruising route from each of the boats, security seems tight on these northern extremes of the Australian Coast.

We know all the boats here, cruisers we have met all through our trip, so it’s very sociable and as there isn’t a phone or internet signal, invaluable, as we swap notes on weather and tides from our various satellite and long range radio connections. I am feeling particularly information bereft as my trusty and much used Navionics App for some reason will not allow me to use my downloaded maps offline. I am missing it’s clear presentation and tidal and current data, but there seems nothing I can do without a network connection.

The sun did, mostly, come out for our last day in Cairns and we set off for Lizard Island some 140nm north in good winds and blue skies. We had rigged the pole for the downwind trip and it felt so good to have the engine off for the whole journey. It did rain a bit during the night but generally it was a very pleasant sail.

Downwind sail rig whisking us at 8kts northwards

Mrs Watson’s Bay on the north east coast of Lizard was full of boats, with, finally, a functioning island resort sitting to one-side. The beach is of fine white sand and the water clear, a track leads up to the highest point of the island about 350m above us. This lookout is famous as the spot where Captain Cook, having already gone aground just off Cape Tribulation, climbed to try to find a channel through the hundreds of reefs to open sea. Due to his meticulous note keeping, his trip up the Australian Coast is well documented and celebrated at many of the stops we have made, plaques and statues abound as each community claims their connections to the great man.

It would have been easy to spend a couple days, unfortunately Lizard Island has a reputation for bullets of wind, extreme gusts that scream between the hills and straight into the anchorage. With winds building we needed to find a more protected spot, we only had time for a quick walk, the next morning before sunrise we headed to the Flinders Islands in the lea of Cape Melville.

The Barrier Reef runs for over a thousand miles parallel to the mainland, creating a passage all the way up the Queensland coast. This may have trapped Captain Cook but produces a low swell haven for us, the sailing over the last couple of days has been amongst the best we have experienced in Australia.

Flinders Island also has a history from Cooks time, fresh water springs, during the rainy season, bubble up between the boulders at the far end of the beach to the west of Aapa Spit. They have provided precious fresh water for thousands of years to the indigenous visitors and more recently to the British ships that were charting this coast. Graffiti left by the sailors still adorns the rocks nearby.

200 yr old graffiti, no luck deciphering it however

It made for a pleasant walk down a sandy corridor with the mangroves that line the shoreline on one side and the rust coloured boulders and cliffs on the other.

Graffiti walk on Flinders Island

Pretty yellow flowers and bright green fruit hung from what otherwise looked, being devoid of a single leaf, like dead trees and creeping along the sand were the purple pink flowers of bind weed. We could hear a few birds but the island appeared strangely free from animal life.

Beautiful flowering trees

We had spotted more activity in the water, seeing turtles and what we thought might be dugongs, in our pole light off the stern, one evening we saw a sea snake, the boat next to us saw a strange white coloured shark and the mangroves looked like a perfect home for crocodiles. Despite the welcome increase in temperature our travels north have found, nobody has seemed game for a swim.

Salties, Showers and Swashbuckling

Sunday 1st July 2018

We don’t really feel we are seeing Cairns at its best, unbelievably it is still raining. We dash around, heads down, trying to get from one place to another without becoming too wet.

Today, to escape cabin fever, I risked the drizzle and went out to stretch my legs on the waterfront boardwalk. When we arrived last week, we had one day of sunshine, this area was teaming with people, visitors and local families wandered along the paths entertained by buskers and street performers, today the paths were almost deserted. The attractive artificial lagoon sat empty and forlorn, a few groups of backpacking kids huddled under trees damp and dazed from the previous nights revelries, rain coated Chinese tourists shelter under umbrellas putting on a brave face determinedly continuing to snap photos, even the pelicans seem to have had enough of the weather.

Pelicans on a rainy Cairns beach

Despite the rain we carried on with our plans to hire a car. Tuesday we used it for a last scout around the chandleries and for a final stock up on provisions for our trip to Indonesia. Every locker onboard now groans with goodies.

Wednesday we treated ourselves to a day out, driving up the coast to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree River. The coast road sweeps dramatically around bays and over headlands but the normally blue sea looked green and murky under the grey skies and the beaches damp and windswept in the drizzle.

On the upside the weather had kept many people away, so our visit to Mossman Gorge was relatively uncrowded. The gorge sits in the southern end of the Daintree Forest, one of the Worlds oldest continuing forests. Having escaped ice ages and volcanic destruction it is thought to have been around for 135 million years. A few of the plants are of ancient origin and found uniquely in this area.

The atmosphere inside the forest is extremely humid, creating a marvellous earthy scent, the sound of cascading water and an intense green surrounds you. Despite all evidence to the contrary this is the dry season and the Mossman River flowed gently through the boulders, tumbling over small waterfalls. All around however, signs and markers warned of the rivers potential power, after torrential summer downpours it becomes a dangerous raging torrent whisking away everything in its path and frequently breaking its banks.

Mossman River

In the afternoon we travelled further north to a much more tranquil River, the Daintree. We had a river trip booked for 4pm in one of the smaller tourist boats. Boatman Daintree River Tours run trips at dawn and dusk when the birds and animals are more easily spotted along the banks. Unfortunately so dismal were the conditions I think most of the wildlife were sitting sheltering inside the densely forested banks looking out at us instead. However our prime objective was to see a crocodile and luckily Scarface, a large male, was obligingly sitting on his favourite patch of low tide sand.

At 4 1/2 m Scarface is possibly the largest Salty on the river

Being a small craft we were able to meander up narrower creeks, Murray our extremely knowledgable guide filling the void left by the lack of animals with fascinating information about the passing trees and shrubs. Who knew that the mangroves here survive their tidal salty homes by growing vertical aerial roots that act a bit like snorkels helping with the uptake of oxygen as the tide ebbs and floods. To cope with the excess salt, as well as filtering as much salt as possible through their roots, they sacrifice a proportion of their leaves to gather salt, the leaves turn brown and drop off taking the salt with them.

Aerial roots of the Mangrove trees

As we rejoined the river, Murray spotted a giant billed heron flying near by. A secretive bird, a sighting is much sort after by the birding community, which explained the excitement from our fellow passenger who set his camera, bedecked with a huge telephoto lens, into action. The heron settled on a nearby tree and we moved in for a closer look, to our surprise it let out a croaky growl, a sound as far away from bird song as you could imagine. Over a meter tall they spear fish in the shallows but have been known to eat small snakes and even baby crocodiles.

A rather damp and ruffled giant billed heron

Back at the marina it was time for the Indonesian Rally briefing, the blue sea and skies of our destinations, looking even more alluring against the backdrop of rain out of the window. The presentation was followed by a pirates party and the Indonesian Rally participants were joined in the Cairns Yacht Squadron bar by the crews from the Oyster Rally. Feeling rather betwixt and between, we wandered from one group to another and had a very enjoyable evening.

Swashbuckling with Oyster friends Heather and Bob

There are signs in the forecast for less rain next week, we plan to leave Thursday, it would be nice to see Cairns in the sunshine before we go..

Fast Forward to Cairns

Sunday 24th June 2018

All us girls know that dark chocolate with a nice class of red wine is a sublime combination but enjoying them with the backdrop of a burnt sienna sky, the black silhouettes of a mountainous coast and Venus twinkling above, while anchored off a small island in calm seas, well that makes for a very special moment. Regrettably with the highs come the lows, a few hours later, in the depths of the night, the wind changed, a lively fetch developed, sleeping was difficult and life onboard became much less appealing.

Looking back at the mainland from Orpheus Island.

We had picked up the pace slightly to arrive at the Marlin Marina in Cairns a few days earlier than planned. Our Bimini has started to collapse, any small pressure on it is causing it to split. Rick had put on a couple of patches to try and make it last a bit longer but we have a new rip and another area threatening to give way at any moment. As our main protection from the sun, it’s an essential piece of kit, so we took the decision to try and get a new one made in Cairns.

So for the 150 miles, from Magnetic Island, we decided to continue with day sails but instead of sailing one day, then enjoying the island the next, we are just stopping to sleep each night. Our first stopover in Pioneer Bay on Orpheus Island turned out to be not only bouncy but chilly too. We read that Tuesday night it fell to 6C in Townsville, less than 60 miles to the South of us, the coldest night they’d had since 1995!

Consequently it was a cold start to our next stage and we were very pleased, as the morning progressed, for the sun to start warming us up.

Warming up in the sunshine as we continue to sail north

It’s a very striking coastline, with the high mountains of the Great Dividing Range dropping dramatically down to the sea. A lot of the land here is managed by Aboriginal communities and for the past couple of weeks we have seen numerous controlled fires in the hills. A method used for thousands of years, it clears the land of scrub encouraging a variety of grasses to grow, this in turn attracts Kangeroos a traditional food source. It turns out however that this ancient knowledge of when and where to burn is also invaluable in discouraging wild fires and increasing diversity of all the flora and fauna in the area.

Our next anchorage was in Brammo Bay on the NE corner of Dunk Island. Yet another deserted resort sat perched on the beach, one more victim of cyclone damage and lack of investment. There is however still a regular ferry service bringing day trippers and campers from the mainland to enjoy the beautiful beaches and trails that crisscross the island.

Thursday after ten hours of motor sailing we arrived in Cairns. The Bimini is on order and as this will be our last marina for quite a few months, preparations for the onward trip to Indonesia are in full swing. Unfortunately the weather has turned cloudy and wet, dodging showers has been the order of the day.

Street art in the rain, at the Lagoon on the Cairns waterfront

And we are not alone, the Oyster World Rally is gradually arriving, Raya’s sister vessels surround us.

Oyster World Rally arrive in Cairns

Island Hopping Northwards

Monday 18th June 2018

Splendid Isolation of Bona Bay

This past week we have been slowly making our way northwards between the Whitsundays and Townsville. We have managed to find quiet anchorages inside the deeply indented mainland and off the dramatic coastal islands that are close enough together to avoid tiring one night passages. Magnificent giant boulders still feature all along the coast, some so precariously balanced they look as if just a small puff of wind would send them tumbling down the hillside. Luckily the weather has been very calm, the lack of wind often producing exquisite, undulating, glassy seas.

Windless days and glassy seas

As we sail we are continuously reminded of just how huge Australia is, with towns and small communities dotted sparsely amongst the miles of empty countryside. Our first stop, just ten miles north of Airlie Beach was one such place, in the large eastern lobe of Double Bay we were surrounded on three sides by a vast uninhabited forest, with only the one other yacht anchored deeper into the bay and the couple of bars of 3G evidence we were only a few miles from civilisation.

We moved on to Bona Bay, in the lea of Gloucester Island, a resort was located a couple of miles south on the mainland but again we sat in splendid isolation. There was a great beach here and the low tide revealed a large expanse of sand and a huge field of pebbles.

Pebble beach at Bona Bay

Thursday found us, after another calm passage, tucked behind the daunting mass of Cape Upstart in Shark Bay. The whole 4 mile length of the bay was lined, behind the trees, with shacks, rough and ready telegraph poles running an electric supply to each. However there was no sign of any occupants.

The water in these bays is murky and in combination with its name we are not tempted in, but again we enjoyed exploring the beaches. Getting ashore at low tide, with a rocky boundary proved difficult but after a bit of searching we spotted a small creek cutting through the sand and guessed correctly that there would be a sand spit at its end to beach the dingy. We wandered up the creeks length to where it disappeared into the mangroves, but the pressence of biting sandflies (or was it the muddy banked possible crocodile country) put us off exploring further.

A small creek entering Shark Bay

Returning to the dingy we took advantage of the flat sea to go out of the bay and around the head of the Cape. Normally pounded by ocean swell it was a rare treat to be able to explore around the massive rocks and crevasses that drop down steeply into clear water and visit the small beaches tucked away near the Capes end.

Enjoying the calm waters, exploring in the dingy.

We now find ourselves in Horseshoe Bay on the north side of Magnetic Island. Named, as many of the places are here, by Captain Cook as he sailed up this same coast in 1770, due to the effect the island had on their compasses. We kept a keen eye on ours as we approached but didn’t have any similar issues. However the journey was marred, not by us getting misdirected but by the loss of two of Ricks favourite fishing lures. The first was taken by what must have been a very big fish, who bending the rod almost double, pulled out most of the 200m of line on the reel before chomping through it to get free. The second loss was more irritating. A small fast tinny crewed by a couple of local idiots drove straight towards us and despite my best efforts jumping up and down miming the fact we were trolling a line out the stern of the boat, they crossed behind us way too close taking our hook, lure and line with them.

Magnetic Island being just off the coast of Townsville and a tourist destination, is much busier than our last few stops, however that does mean bars, restaurants and a grocery store. It also has a few trails, one of which leads a short way through the forest to a lagoon apparently home to a range of different birds. Unfortunately all we found along the path, was yet more large spiders, a flighty kangaroo who made us jump out of our skins as he bounded through the undergrowth and a very boggy end as the trail petered out, the lagoon sitting tantalisingly close just through the trees.

A trail to nowhere

Tomorrow we continue our island hopping, arriving in Cairns at the end of the week. Where hopefully we will find our passports stamped with our Indonesian visas and the rally information packs. The next adventure begins.

Waves, Caves and a Million Eyes

Saturday 9th June 2018

We are lounging in the cockpit trying to take a bit of downtime. We are berthed in the very swish Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach and all around us is a hive of activity, we feel rather lazy. The boats either side of us are being cleaned and polished to within an inch of their lives, a continuous stream of people are being shepherded along our pontoon on to the various day trip crafts moored at the end, a fun run is taking place on the harbour boardwalk and behind us a small army of crew members work flat out on the 230ft Super Yacht Felix, keeping it in a perpetual state of perfection and readiness.

Super Yacht Felix , they had been polishing the hull all day

Yesterday we had waved Eric and Roz off to the airport, pleased that for the past week the sun had come out and the wind dropped enough for them to experience some of the high moments that a cruising life can provide.

Sunday we continued our journey around Hook Island arriving in Stonehaven Anchorage in time for lunch. There were a few more boats here but we easily found a mooring buoy even if it did mean sharing the musical tastes of our neighbours. We escaped ashore, again clambering around the amazing boulders, Rick climbing high and back into the island.

The volcanic past of these islands is evident everywhere in the rocks. Some are obviously solidified lava, dark in colour they are pocked with air holes and full of stones and debris picked up as the molten flow ran down the hillside. Many are striped with Ferrous reds and oranges, others having been eroded by the sea reminded us of giant apple cores or, as in the case below, giant waves frozen in time.

The rocks at Stonehaven Beach

Luckily the partying crew next door allowed us a quiet night and early the next morning, in our continuing search for good snorkelling, we moved the short distance out to tiny Langford Island. We were again greeted by a dozen or so bat fish but sadly even from the boat we could see that most of the coral was gone, we debated whether it was worth going in to investigate further. The arrival of a dozen jet skis made our decision easy, we moved on to Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island.

Another beautiful bay lined with stunning rocks we took the dingy out to enjoy them close up. Castle rock that forms a small headland is a renowned snorkelling spot but yet again most of the coral was gone. Despite this we did have an interesting snorkel, a few patches of coral on the shore side of the boulders, presumably protected from Debbie’s onslaught, survive, small reef fish clinging on in what remains of their home. There were plenty of larger fish too, including a large grouper and a generous amount of parrot fish. Nearer the shoreside rocks we came across a massive shoal of schooling three inch long silver fish. It’s amazing swimming through the mass of beady eyes all intently watching, a million individuals that swoop back and forward in unison, all the time somehow managing to avoid touching you.

Our next stop was, for contrast, deep inside the 2.5nm long Nara inlet, at only half a km wide we were encased by the high green hills.We couldn’t have wanted for a more tranquil spot, in fact Rick took advantage of the calm conditions, and the extra hands onboard, to drop the main sail and inspect the inmast furler.

Looking down the length of Nara Inlet

At the end of the inlet, off a small pretty beach, a track leads up to a cave that contains aboriginal paintings possibly 2000yrs old. Artefacts found in the cave floor show that it has been used for at least that long by the Ngaro people who have lived in the area for at around 9000 years. On the side of the track and on the platform outside the cave information boards explain the details and the importance of the simple designs and the stories that accompanied them to spread the history and culture of their people.

Aboriginal cave paintings in Nara Inlet.

After a final night back in Cid Harbour, we headed to Airlie Beach and the Abel Point Marina. The wind was, for a change, in the perfect direction, so Eric and Roz took turns at the helm sailing us across the Whitsunday passage on a broad reach at nearly nine knots. A fitting finale to an all too brief return to these lovey Islands.

Fossicking in Debbie’s Wake

Saturday 2nd June 2018

Fossicking is a word we have heard and read frequently while in Australia. Probably derived from the same word in Cornish, where it’s definition is, recreational prospecting for precious metals, stones and fossils. In Australia and New Zealand it has been extended to mean rummaging outside for more or less anything. Unfortunately the great fossicking available, especially on the northern beaches of the Whitsundays, is yet another example of the devastation caused by Cyclone Debbie as it ripped through the area last year. The coral that should be brightly coloured and full of a diverse range of sea life, filling the bays, sits bleached, high and dry washed up onto the beaches.

Cateran Bay on Border Island continued to be delightfully calm, the guide informed us that there was good snorkelling and it had a great beach for fossicking, we took the dingy ashore to investigate. We found a beautiful bay of sand, colourful rocks and yes plenty of coral fragments and shells to rummage through.

Fossicking on Cateran Beach

Our largest find was a huge giant clam shell and the most intricate a delicate but lethal looking crab claw.

Fossicking Prizes

With so much of the coral washed up onto the beach the snorkelling didn’t quite live up to the cruising guides build up, but was pleasant enough, with, once you eyes became attuned to the rather murky water, plenty of fish swimming around the few remaining patches of coral and large boulders. Late afternoon back onboard Raya we spotted two manta rays that had come into the bay to feed. They didn’t come quite close enough for us to jump in with them but we enjoyed the show of their swooping silhouettes just under the water and their wing tips tantalisingly breaking the surface.

Friday we moved on. It was another rough ride as we motored up and over the top of Hook Island and into Butterfly Bay. Extending far into the hillsides, it was obviously protected somewhat from the ravages of the cyclone, the coral here was much healthier and varied. Amongst the many soft corals were stag horn corals, brain corals, plate corals, even some cabbage coral, not so many fish but we did find a huge live giant clam that was nearly as big as me.

The beach was similar to Cateran, full of colourful, volcanic boulders, we spent a great hour or so clambering about enjoying the splendid scenery around us.

Clambering on the rocks in Butterfly Bay

Taking advantage of the increasingly settled weather the next day we moved on to the more exposed Luncheon Bay and the effects of the cyclone where depressingly obvious. The beach was meters deep in coral fragments and the scene underwater stripped back to bare rock.

Beach at Luncheon Bay buried under tons of coral fragments.

In an attempt to keep the interest of the visitors the tourist boats are feeding the fish. Before we had even picked up a one of the public mooring buoys in the bay we were surrounded by bat fish, shaped like angel fish, these eighteen inch giants jostled for our attention in the bright sunlight.

As we snorkelled along the bare rocks, large shoals of fish crowded around us looking for food and as we returned to the boat the bat fish were waiting, snapping up the bread we fed them.

Large bat fish in Luncheon Bay

We left the bay hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before some coral managed to find a way to reestablish itself and return the shoreline to what must have been a magnificent reef.

Evading the Elements

Wednesday 31st May 2018

Late Friday as we stood shivering on a dark night, soaked to the skin, with the wind howling, lightening flashing and thunder crashing all around us, we hoped this was a final fling for the bad weather we’d had for the past fortnight. After hours of heavy rain with the dingy slowly filling we had to face the enevitable drenching to raise it before it was completely submerged.

Although in the marina we have unusually been using the dingy to get around. Being on an outer pontoon the dingy dock at the supermarket and the ferry wharf at the airport are much more convenient than using our feet. And, joining Raya by dingy is far more exciting than catching a taxi, our friends Eric and Roz were arriving in the morning. Having flown half way around the World, leaving the glourious English spring sunshine behind them, this cool, wet and windy period was not what we had wanted them to be greeted with.

Unfortunately the elements continued to be unsettled for the next few days, brusque, cool winds and frequent showers keeping our eyes skyward watching for breaks in the clouds because as soon as the sunshine did break through, it was lovely. We enjoyed a stroll on the beach, a sunny lunch or two at the resort and a few walks.

Roz admiring the view

On the high tide Tuesday we filled up at the fuel dock and left the marina. As we rounded the northern end of the island, losing its protection, we motored straight into washing machine seas. Luckily it was only an hour or so before we entered the Solway Passage, here were much smaller waves but the water was lively in other ways. As the tide rushed through its narrow gap, a strong current helped us reach over 10kts of boat speed. As other streams of water joined the system, strange calm patches amongst areas of overalls and ominous whirls pools formed. A bit scary to look at but not really a problem for Raya to pass through.

We headed to the famous Whitehaven beach. On our first visit to this beach, over thirty years ago, this expanse of fine white sand blew us away, the many photos we still have keeping our memories fresh. This time, with our level of beach appreciation somewhat higher and with the advent of the day tripper, it didn’t seem quite so special. However as we walked away from the crowds and five miles of white sand, with grains so fine they squeaked beneath our feet, spread out before us, it’s beauty was more evident. A ray darted from our path in the shallows, helicopters and seaplanes buzzed over our heads and now protected from the wind the late afternoon sun felt pleasantly warm and on our faces.

Five miles of white sand on Whitehaven Beach

At the top of the beach a ghostly barrier of bleached and broken trees marked the start of the interior woodland, presumably damaged by the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie last year, they appear to have been bulldozed off the beach to maintain the picture perfect vista that has become the ‘poster boy’ image of the Whitsundays.

Piles of dead trees lined the top of the beach

With yet another blast of wind forecast today we have moved on. We poked our nose into Tongue Bay but again it was quite crowded, the freshening winds were gusting down the hill in front of us and despite looking protected on the chart a swell was creeping around the headland.

We sailed on and have found a beautiful spot in Cateran Bay on the north shore of Border Island. The sky is finally cloudless and we have, currently at least, evaded the wind and swell, two beaches and a snorkelling spot beckon.

Anchored in Cateran Bay, Border Island

Cid and Hamilton

Friday 25th May 2018

As we rounded Hughes Point in Cid Harbour and motored into Sawmill Bay, suddenly and for the first time in six days, the wind dropped. The stillness and quiet was wonderful, even the sun was making an appearance.

Anchor down in calm Sawmill Bay, Cid Harbour

The calm conditions were fickle however, any slight change in direction of the wind allowed it to edge around the peaks and down the valleys hitting us with lively gusts and sporadically longer periods of blustery weather. But the sun stayed with us and our surroundings were beautiful.

Beautiful Cid Harbour

With the sea finally flat enough we dropped the dingy and headed for the beach. A short 1.5km trail led over the hill to Dugong inlet. Starting with a set of ramshackle steps at the northern end of the beach it led up into the wooded shoreline. Large Hoop Pines and tall White Cheesewoods dominated the rainforest canopy above us and bright orange fungi, growing on decaying fallen branches decorated the floor. Butterflies fluttered in the air and tiny lizards skittered across the path.

As we began to descend down the other side of the hill the bird song and the rustling from the forest floor, the sounds that had accompanied us for the first half of the walk, gave way to the incongruous thump of Rap music. On Dugong beach a group of young backpackers were enjoying a few days camping. After a brief stroll on the sand we left them to their partying and returned back to quiet of Sawmill Bay.

There is another trail from this beach, leading up to the Whitsunday Peak but with an estimated 4hrs to complete the 5km distance we guessed it was a little steep for us.

Bright orange fungi grow on the wood that litters the forest floor.

Tuesday it was time to move on to Hamilton Island Marina to prepare for the arrival of our friends. This required us to sail south for a change, heading straight into the 25kts of wind, luckily it was only 5miles away. As we poked our nose out from the protection of Whitsunday Island the wind hit us like a brick wall and the choppy sea crashed over our bows, we were glad of Raya’s 30tons and hefty engine. As soon as we cleared the headland we tucked into the coast as close as possible and an hour later were happily tied up in our berth.

We have been enjoying the restaurants, drank Mojitos by a pretty but rather chilly pool and browsed the resort shops. The atypical weather persists but there is a glimmer of hope with an improvement in the forecast for next week. We are looking forward to sharing a sunny exploration of more of the islands and even a bit of snorkelling, so fingers crossed.

Main pool at Hamilton Island Resort

Windy Return to the Whitsundays

Friday 18th June 2018

Thirty one years ago we made our first trip to Australia and for part of that holiday, with a friend, we chartered a bareboat in the Whitsunday Islands. Our first sailing holiday it remains in our memories as a very special time and ever since we started our sail north up the Australian Coast we have been eagerly awaiting our return. However the cool 30kt winds, messy seas and rain that greeted us was not what quite how we remembered things.

Cold wet arrival in the Whitsundays.

After leaving Mackay our first stop was the twin islands of Keswick and St Bees, in the far south of the group, both islands are surrounded by reportedly excellent diving and snorkelling spots. After an uncomfortable few hours sail we headed for what we hoped would be an anchorage sheltered from the wind. There was slight protection but it was really bouncy, we moved around to the channel between the two islands only to discover the tide racing at about three knots and the wind still howling. Conditions were not going to be good for snorkelling even if we did put up with the bad conditions in the anchorages we decided to move on. A couple of hours later and ten miles north we were much more comfortably anchored off Bampton Island.

A combination of a drop in visitors after the 2008 economic downturn and a procession of destructive cyclones has taken its toll on the Whitsunday Resorts and many stand empty and disintegrating. Bampton Island Resort was like a ghost town, ragged tape and boards blocking entry beyond the beach. One villa was obviously occupied by squatters or perhaps a caretaker but they didn’t come out to talk. It was a beautiful spot but with just the occasional yacht passing through it must be a lonely existence.

Derelict Bampton Island Resort

Decaying alongside the villas, was an aircraft runway, a once lovely beachside pool and a small overgrown fresh water lake. As we stood absorbing the desolation here we got the feeling of being watched. We were, and our observer was a large kangaroo well camouflaged in the long grass, Seemingly unperturbed by our presence he stood about 100m away just staring. Could they have had a small zoo here, he looked healthy enough, we hoped he wasn’t alone on the island.

Kangeroo watching our every move

With no let up in the weather and the threat of rain Wednesday we moved on. After studying the chart and cruising guide the next sheltered spot was in the lee of Shaw Island. A few other yachts sat hunkered down in the bay but the island itself appeared uninhabited. The only sign of life were a group of buildings on the opposite shore, on Lindeman Island, as darkness fell no lights came on, no boats had been and gone, this was obviously another deserted resort.

I’m sure in better conditions it would be lovely here occasionally the sun broke through turning the slate grey sea to turquoise and the dull hills bright green but the wind was relentless, the water too choppy and the showers too frequent for us to be tempted to launch the dingy to explore. We read, cooked, played games, watched movies while the weather continued to bash us. Another high pressure ridge is stuck sitting over the North Queensland coast and however many times I look hopefully at the forecast, the winds appear to be here to stay for quite a while yet.

A ray of sunshine creeps through the clouds highlighting Yellow Rock off Shaw Island

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, 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.

Charming Coffs

Thursday 15th March 2018

As Ex Cyclone Linda continues to ease and turn SE away from the Australian Coast, we sit under clear blue skies with just a light cooling breeze, the only sign of the strong weather to the north of us is the sound of crashing waves on the northern breakwater.

We have been tied up in Coffs Harbour Marina, since Saturday, enjoying the forced break as we wait for Linda to pass by. Well known amongst cruisers as an entry port into Australia, people have been surprisingly dismissive of Coffs Harbour being anything more than a place to go through customs or a stop off conveniently placed halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Fair enough the pontoons and docks are a bit rickety, there is quite a bit of noise from the work going on to build up the breakwaters and to get into the town centre is a forty minute walk.

But we like it here, the place has a charming small town feel, an active fishing fleet occupies one half of the inner harbour and the green of Mutton Island dominates our view to the east. Mountains form the backdrop to the town and traffic noise is minimal. Walkways spread out in all directions and three great beaches are within easy reach. The marina itself has a friendly quaint quality, with most activity best being summed up as pottering. There are all the essential services, restaurants, laundry, showers and brilliantly the local Coles supermarket will deliver your groceries right to the side of the boat.

Climbing to the top of Mutton Island, a nesting sanctuary for migrating wedge tailed shearwaters, gives a great overview of the area.

View of the harbour from the top of Mutton Island.

The town of Coffs Harbour started to grow when it’s long jetty was built. Projecting into the harbour it enabled large ships access to the timber cut from the rich forests that cloaked surrounding hills. As roads and railways spread into the area and shipping timber by boat became less profitable, the focus switched to the growing of bananas. Although the largest crop produced now is blueberries and the economy is dominated by fishing and tourism, this area is still known as the Banana coast.

We were hooked on our first morning, we sat at the yacht club eating breakfast overlooking Park Beach, the sand stretched a mile or so to the north, the sun shone and the surfers played, the week of waiting ahead didn’t look so bad after all.

Rick enjoying the view

Wanting to get a few jobs ticked off, Tuesday we set out for the shopping centre in search of new trainers, wine glasses, pillows……

We took the path that runs along the back of Park Beach. Shaded from the midday sun by trees, the bright blue of the sea and sky invaded through the gaps. We love theses glimpses through the tree trunks, the tantalising hidden promise of the world beyond.

Turning into the town we came across the bowls club, the greens sat right on the road and we stopped to catch our breathe and watch for a while, the teams were surprisingly good and as the final bowl smashed all other contenders out of the way, it was almost exciting. The shops were disappointing as they often are, no suitable footwear or homewares, but we did find a box of Mexican Train. A game we have enjoyed on many other yachts, we snapped it up, another way to pass those evenings when anchored in paradise.

Keeping up my campaign to lose weight and get a bit fitter, I walked the couple of kms to take a look at the beach to the South and was rewarded yet again by a spectacular view.

Miles of beaches run South from the harbour

As I paddled back along the calmer inner Jetty Beach, groups of school kids arrived to have surf lessons. Rick is hugely jealous, this is not how he remembers PE at his school. What a great life these Ozzie kids lead.

The water was warm and waiting for the schools to leave at lunchtime, we were tempted back down to Park Beach for a swim. The onshore wind was flattening the waves from behind, the surfers were struggling but for playing in the shallows it was perfect.

Enjoying the tumbling surf

In between the fun we have been keenly watching the weather, firstly to make sure the storm didn’t decide to turn SW and arrive on the coast too close by to us and secondly once it had past to find a narrow window to sail up to Southport. We need a twenty four hour period when the large swell produced by the storm has reduced but before the northerly winds set in. Tomorrow looks like the day, thanks Coffs we’ve enjoyed our stay.


Saturday 10th March 2018

Newcastle city centre

Our short stay in Newcastle was extremely pleasant. As well as a convenient stop on our way north it is the home of our friends from Toothless. Their cruising life is on hold for the time being, Toothless sits moored in Lake Macquarie awaiting her next adventure. Having chatted on email and Facebook we realise that the last time we actually met was over eighteen months ago in Tahiti, it was a shock to see the boys so grown up, school bags in their hands and shoes on their feet. Our timing was particularly lucky as Chris was home for a few days in between legs, he is back competing in the Volvo Around the World Ocean Race. All our tales of extremes at sea pale into insignificance compared to what these guys, and increasingly girls, go through as they battle their way across the oceans. It was great to catch up and the main bit of local knowledge Chris and Megs imparted was to make sure to turn left not right out of the marina.

Like it’s English namesake was a hundred years ago, Newcastle, Australia is a large coal exporting port. At the estuary of the Hunter river, it’s northern banks house the docks and wharfs for the massive tankers that transport the coal and other goods around the World. On the southern side sits the marina and the city centre and sure enough directly outside and to the right of the marina the city is quite run down. However, this situation looks about to change, building is going on everywhere. Hoardings, adorning the building site fences, promise not only a brand new light railway network but also glass covered corporate office blocks, upmarket apartment buildings and wide open manicured public spaces. And sure enough as you walk left towards the city centre, that is what you find.

Wednesday, leaving Rick head in the computer, ear to the phone trying to sort out arrangements to lift Raya out of the water when we get back up to the Gold Coast, I joined the lunchtime joggers, cyclists and other walkers on the the foreshore walkway. Everywhere we have been in Australia these superb public paths and surrounding spaces are a revelation, such a great resource and although not crowded, all are extremely well used. I pass the many waterfront restaurants, glossy offices and apartments neatly fitting with the old buildings of the city centre, I was heading for the beach that we spotted as we sailed in.

Foreshore walkway

I walked on until I found the ocean, as the pathway entered the sand dunes this sign greeted me.

I hesitated for a moment, until the sight of dog walkers, mothers with buggies and strolling retirees, assured me that this was probably just a case of the Port Authority covering its back. Still I carefully watched my step as I walked through the dunes out to yet another magnificent almost deserted beach. The surf crashed in and with the lifeguards red flag flying the only people around were a few brave kite surfers. It was fantastic.

Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle

Back in the marina, in the laundry as is often the case, we found some more friends, last seen in Sydney, fellow Brits Dianne and Graham had arrived to ready their yacht Maunie to be shipped back to Southampton. We joined up for dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants, tales were swapped and too much wine was drunk. We spent Thursday recovering and preparing the boat to set sail, the marina was hosting a fishing competition at the weekend we needed to free up our berth by midday Friday.

We knew conditions weren’t ideal, the wind wasn’t bad but the swell was bigger than we would have liked, however, it was the current that was to be the killer. The Australian East Coast current that had whisked us Southward so quickly last November was now against us. Being bashed by the waves as we did 8-9kts through the water but achieving only 5-6kts over the ground towards our destination was really depressing.

On the upside we did get a great sunset, our first for a while.

Sunsetting behind the big swell

Sayonara Sydney

Monday 5th March 2018

After almost three months, on Friday we sailed out of wonderful Sydney Harbour and started our treck north. We have until mid July to cover the nearly 2000nm up to the very northern most tip of Australia, experiencing as much as possible of the East Coast on our way. This is, we realise, the start of our journey home. We can’t quite decide whether to be excited or downcast by this fact but it’s hardly relevant we’ve a long, long way to go yet.

Thursday evening we picked Sheridan and Daisy up from the Fish Market dock, for an early start the next morning. We were headed up to Broken Bay and into Cowan Creek. We motored for the final time under Sydney bridge. The iconic views and frenetic ferries were all very familiar to us now and it didn’t really sink in that we were leaving this fantastic city behind us.

Sayonara Sydney

Until, that is, we left the protected harbour waters and were back out in the ocean for the first time since our arrival last December. I was glad of the seasickness tablets I had taken, it was a grey and lumpy sea that met us and at only ten knots not enough wind for us to sail, we were in for a rolly trip.

Luckily it was just a short hop and within a couple of hours we were motoring in the calm waters of Cowan Creek. We returned to our favourite spot of Jerusalem Bay, glad to see the Ospreys were still soaring above us, a little less pleased to see the hundreds of jelly fish that again drifting past on the tide. After so long in the city the silence was wonderful and the surrounding bush enveloped us like a comfort blanket.

Jerusalem Bay, early morning calm

The Cowan Creek area is part of the large Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Saturday morning Rick dropped Sheridan and I at some makeshift steps in the rock and we climbed up to the join the Great North Walkway, a trail that runs, for a short part of its length, through the bush above the bays shoreline. With tree roots to climb over, tree trunks to dodge and rocky outcrops to negotiate, it is just rugged enough to seem like an adventure. The spaces between the eucalyptus and pines gave us glimpses of the bay and as we walked further the deep creek that feeds into it. Rich woodland smells filled the air, bird song and the piecing sound of cicadas filled our ears but the only physical sign of animal life were strange deep holes in the ground. Could land crabs be living up this high or were they home to something more sinister?

Sheridan on the Great North Walk, in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

The day was fine and we met quite a few groups of walkers out enjoying their weekend and when we returned to the bay our quiet spot was busy with small fishing boats, kids jumping from the high ledge in the rocks and jet skiers churning up the calm waters.

We however were moving for a few hours to Looking Glass Bay around the corner, after a too brief a visit Sheridan and Daisy had to get back to Sydney. The plan was for us to have lunch at the one populated area of the park, Cottage Point and then for them to get a taxi back to Sydney, a 40min drive away. This turned out to be rather more difficult than anticipated. When asked, the owner of the charming Cottage Point Kiosk where we sat eating, with a sharp intake of breath said “oh, you won’t find it easy to get a taxi out here”. The problem was compounded by no internet and a phone signal that could only be found up three sets of very steep steps and a climb up the hill. After a rather breathless and anxious hour or so, with the help of numerous kind locals, who even offered lifts, we finally had no less than three taxis vying for our trade and Sheridan and Daisy were on their way.

Guests dispatched Rick and I returned to Jerusalem Bay for one more calm day before setting back out to sea. Having yet again had to motor, today we are 45nm further north and back in the City, this time the centre of Newcastle. We are safely tied up in the Yacht Club Marina awaiting another set of friends. The crew of Toothless who travelled on and off with us from Europe to Tahiti, live locally and are joining us for sundowners.


Wednesday 28th February 2018

Nice to see the evening sunshine finally glinting off the tower blocks.

It was with relief yesterday that we finally saw some sunshine. All day Sunday and most of Monday it didn’t stop raining. Boats are not great places to be for extended periods of rain, a feeling of damp pervades everything and as so much of life is spent outside, with all hatches tightly closed, it feels rather confined below. Evidence of how bad things got was the appearance of the Scrabble box.

In fact it’s been a rather frustrating week all round, after a promising start to our return to Sydney things went rapidly downhill. The electronic charts I had organised before we left for Perth had not been ordered, the sprayhood we had sent off for repair was untouched and even with the new engine alternator we still needed to replace the batteries.

Never mind we thought, that evening we had tickets for a performance of Carmen at the Opera House. Unfortunately that was a little disappointing too, the production wasn’t in the expected flamboyant style we were hoping for. The set and costumes were ‘realistic’ ie rather drab and the main character Carmen, who in our minds should be sexy, larger than life and command your attention, was, well, rather mousy. The music was fantastic however and it would be difficult to beat the view from the bar.

We decided to delay our departure from the marina for a day so Rick could sort out the batteries and for the electronic charts to arrive, which all went to plan. The sprayhood however couldn’t be fixed until the end of the week, we put it back up unrepaired, a job to go back on the list. So half satisfied we headed out to Blackwattle Bay. Typically for this week, our favourite spot in the middle of the anchorage, with plenty of depth, was taken. We had arranged to pick some friends up here, we needed to stay, so we anchored out on the edge. This turned out to be problematic in the changeable weather. If we positioned ourselves so there was enough depth when the NE winds pushed us towards the shore then when the wind changed to the South we ended up outside the bouys that marked the anchoring area and were politely ask to move by the marine police. If we anchored inside the bouys for the southerlies then when the wind went back to the North we swung worryingly near to the shallows. Unusually, the wind has reversed three times this week, so yes we have reanchored three times also.

We persisted with this anchorage because our good friend Sheridan arrived in Sydney to see her daughter Daisy for a couple of weeks and they, plus some more friends, came for lunch on Friday. At the far end of Blackwattle Bay is the large Sydney Fish Market, we all met up there to select some goodies for lunch. Fish and seafood of all kinds adorn the extensive market stalls, there is a posh deli, a wine store, fruit and veg shop and a bakery. Particularly around lunchtime it becomes jammed packed with Chinese’s visitors, so actually getting what we needed was a bit of a bun fight but eventually we returned to Raya bags full and put together a great spread.

This wasn’t so good for the start of our new healthy life style. Heidi who has visited Sydney many times, informed us that we weren’t alone in our issues with weight gain, the food is so good here that this phenomena is quite common and has been nicknamed the Sydney Stone. Lettuce and water for lunch today.

With another wind change we have re-anchored yet again, but the central nature of this spot and the easy access to shore make it worth while. We pick Sheridan and Daisy up tomorrow and if the weather finally decides to play the game we hope to sail the few hours up to Pittwater on Friday.

Fascinating Freo

Tuesday 20th February 2018

With our time in Western Australia rapidly coming to an end, Friday we took a day to visit Fremantle. In the south of the Perth Metropolitan Area, at the mouth of the Swan River, it has been a main port for nearly 200 years and retains much of its original 19th century architecture. We found an eclectic mix of historic buildings, museums, craft markets, art galleries, trendy bars and restaurants.

As we entered the city we noticed the clocktower of the townhall had squares of yellow paint near its top, at first we thought it must be having some renovations done but as we walked down High Street we saw more seemingly random yellow daubs and then stripes curling up from the pavement and onto the buildings. Slightly perplexed we walked on until up the steps of the roundhouse at the end of the street we turned and all was revealed. It is the work of Swiss artist Felice Varini who creates 3D optical illusions in public places all around the world. Designed to be viewed from just this one spot, the yellow lines and squares come together to form a set of eliptical rings that appear to float miraculously above the street. It is mind boggling to imagine how the artist could even conceive such an amazing idea and impressive that the Fremantle council took the risk with one of its prime tourist spots to allow it to happen.

Amazing street art in Fremantle

Still glancing back over our shoulders we wandered into an art gallery at the top of the steps displaying beautiful underwater photos, the photographer had done some wonderful things with his images of coral, tropical fish, sharks and rays. Not having the ability to paint whole streets but thinking that we had, maybe not quite of the same quality, but very similar photos, perhaps we could create some of our own Freo inspired artworks.

In complete contrast we then spent an enjoyable hour at the shipwreck museum learning about the early Dutch explorers and more specifically the story of the Batavia. Part of the Dutch East India Company she was wrecked off the WA coast in 1629 amid tales of mutiny and murder. The museum has on display a large section of her hull, salvaged in the early 1970’s along with many arifacts, including cannons, domestic items and part of her cargo, a large stone arch destined for Jakarta.

The next day we were lucky enough to be included in a gathering of Taryn and Greg’s friends for a Peeking duck night. Greg and friend Pete had spent the previous evening preparing the duck. Part of this preparation required the skin of the raw duck being unstuck from the carcass to allow it to crisp more easily. An ingenious solution to this problem led to the bizarre sight of Greg inflating the duck using his scuba tank and regulator. The technique proved its worth the next evening when, after a fun few hours decorating the terrace, we all sat down to delicious Peking duck.

Peking Duck night

And then before we knew it it was our last day, we opted, before we started our packing, for one last swim in the Indian Ocean.. The surf was relatively small, the water warm and the colours as incredible as always.

Thanks Taryn and Greg for a great break

Yesterday evening we flew back to Sydney and this morning its back to business on Raya. Rick has his head in the engine room replacing the alternator with a new one sourced in Perth and I’ve just returned from the supermarket with some basic supplies. In my bags there is a heavy emphasis on healthy foods, our stay in Perth did nothing for our already expanding waistlines. However all the walking and swimming we enjoyed has motivated us to start eating less and exercising more. Watch this space……….

Super South West

Friday 17th February 2018

What a startlingly beautiful stretch of coastline. We have spent the last week exploring the Margaret River Region in the far South West of Western Australia. Under wide clear skies and impossibly bright sunshine, the colours are breathtakingly vivid. Long white sand beaches, blue and turquoise seas, rocky outcrops and rolling surf.

The stunning beach at Injidup

The area is sparsely populated so these stunnng bays are often deserted even though they are less than an hours drive from the charming seaside town of Dunsborough, where Taryn and Greg have a beach house. The only crowds are seen at the calm town beaches and at the many surf breaks along the shore.

Surfers Point near the mouth of Margaret river is home to pro surfing competitions and attracts surfers from all over the world. Kite surfing is also hugely popular, with the reliable afternoon sea breezes often providing perfect conditions. It is entertaining to stand and watch their antics as they ride the waves with ease, professing how if we were just a bit younger we would, of course, be out there with them.

Watching the kite surfers at Yallingup

Resisting the temptation to jump in we instead went rock climbing, enjoying the smooth granite boulders and the pretty oranges of the sandstone. We have always loved watching waves crashing onto to rocks and it’s been a while, our sailing life has us searching out much calmer seas.

Our favourite spot was Canal Rocks where the granite has eroded to produce ‘canals’ that fill and empty with a cascade of white water from each ocean wave. A large Ray, defying the strong currents, swam into the whirling water, as did, rather worryingly, a young girl, who without the rays swimming ability was washed violently back and forth before managing to grab the side and climb to safety. We chose an easier route using a bridge and some stepping stones to cross the canals and then clambered as high and as far out onto the rocks as we could to take in as close as possible the exhilarating view.

Taryn out on the edge of the Canal Rocks.

Another great place is the natural spa near Injidup. Here you can scramble over giant boulders to reach a protected rock pool where it is safe to enjoy the power of the crashing waves. All is tranquil until a large wave hits the outer rocks, this sends gallons of water gushing over and through the crevasses between the boulders, creating power showers and turning the calm water into a bubbling whirlpool.

Taryn and Rick enjoying the natural spa bath

This region is not just about beaches however, running the length of the coast are numerous vineyards all plying for your trade at their cellar doors. Taryn and Greg took us to their favourite, Vasse Felix. Set in green manicured gardens, modern sculptures greet you on the lawns and between the trees, the modern art theme continuing with a small gallery inside. At the tasting bar we tried eight of their wines, we resisted the $80/bottle of delicious Chardonnay and plumped for a more economical full bodied red to accompany our lunch. The wine was good, the views delightful and the food, exceptional.

A few days later we ventured a bit further south to Boranup Forest. The day was unusually cloudy and as we entered the forest there was a short shower. With the rain came a burst of smells, the scent of eucalyptus, mixed with the tang of damp moss and rich earthy leaf litter. The forest is full of giant Karri trees reaching 90ft tall, they regularly shed their bark in long narrow strips revealing striking trunks of orange, salmon and greys. We were surprised to discover these giants were members of the Eucalyptus family. We are coming to the conclusion that all the trees in Australia, whatever shape or size seem actually to be eucalyptus trees.

Boranup Forest

On our final day we drove down to Smiths Beach, where feeling the name was telling us something, we finally braved the surf. We ate a picnic amongst the colourful dune plants and then went for a swim. The water was surprisingly warm and although we had picked a calm spot, the waves were fun and still strong enough to dump Rick as he stood knee deep taking photos. As he tumbled concentrating on holding tight to the camera, he was stripped of his expensive and vital prescription sunglasses, luckily they miraculously ended up at my feet.

The Smiths at Smith Beach

With a final farewell to this beautiful coast, yesterday we returned to Perth. A few more days to enjoy before our flight back to Sydney.


Friday 9th February 2018

A five hour flight across this huge continent and we arrived in Perth to the welcoming faces of Taryn and Greg. It feels fantastic to shower in a spacious bathroom, with limitless hot water, it’s novel to cook in a proper oven and prepare a meal on the large work tops and most of all go to bed without the responsibility of thinking about the weather, the anchor or whatever else might cause us to sink in the night.

Our stay in Perth seemed to immediately become centred around interesting conversations while drinking great local wine and delicious food. All keen cooks we are having good fun creating meals, sourcing the ingredients from the plethora of specialist butchers and farmers markets that appear to be everywhere here.

The whole of this area, stretched as it is along the coast, is dominated by the Ocean. On our first morning we drove from Taryn and Greg’s house in leafy Wembley the ten minutes to City beach. A brisk SW sea breeze created copious white horses in the deep blue of the sea and with the beach stretching seemingly forever in both directions, we walked down to dip our toes for the first time in many years in the Indian Ocean.

City Beach, Perth

The daily arrival in summer of this cooling sea breeze is nicknamed the Fremantle Doctor relieving everyone from the often uncomfortably hot weather. Temperatures in Perth can regularly sore over 40C, luckily for us Western Australia is experiencing a mild summer with temperatures nearer to 30 C. The use of the word mild in this context sounds very odd to us, in England it is used to describe warm winter conditions. However, which ever word is used, we were glad of the perfect temperatures and enjoyed a lovely lunch of fresh ingredients deliciously combined, while admiring the views.

The following day Taryn and I went to visit the Botanical Gardens in Kings Park. High on a hill it provides excellent views of the city centre and the Swan River. Full of native plants, we wandered chatting, enjoying the calm as we followed a pathway through the trees and shrubs. Our favourite tree in the whole park had to be the beautiful Weeping Variegated Peppermint tree, but also impressive was the famous Boab tree. At 750 years old and right in the middle of a new highway project it has been carefully rescued and transported over 2000 miles south to its current position in the park. I was also rather taken by the grass trees, common to this part of Australia, but strange to us.

Trees in the Botanical Gardens in Kings Park, Perth

In complete contrast to our peaceful day was our evening at the Perth Fringe Festival. Staged each year in February, we joined the throng in the centre of town to enjoy some street food and then a show. Club Swizzle is a slightly outrageous cabaret group, performing comedy, music and acrobatics, we had a thoroughly entertaining and sensational evening.

We had arrived in Perth with one complaint, we had been in Australia for three months now but had not seen one kangaroo! Greg born and bred in Perth sorted that out for us, sending us off to Pinnaroo Memorial Park, a large cemetery planted with native plants and attracting local wildlife.

Kangaroos in Pinnaroo Park

Kangaroos ticked off we repacked our bags, we are off on holiday from our holiday, heading 3hrs south to Taryn and Greg’s beach house in Dunsborough.

Mountains of Maintanence

Sunday 4th February 2018

Rick has spent much of the past week working in a variety of confined spaces, contorting his stiff joints around corners, down steps and inside small holes, undoing tight bolts and jammed screws, sealing leaks and changing oil, pulling out rusted in impellers and testing batteries. We are tied up back at the Cruising Yacht Club Marina and working our way through a long list of jobs before we leave for Perth tomorrow.

Fixing a fuel leak on the generator

With the generator oil changed and a drip from the fuel pipe sealed, next on the list was changing the engine impeller, unusually for Rick this job defeated him, not able to squeeze into the right position to apply all his strength he just couldn’t get it to budge. What was needed was an engineer who knew all the tricks of the trade and someone perhaps, dare I say, a little younger and more flexible. Fortunately we found one such person that could pop in that day and after much huffing and straining he finally freed it and put in a new one,

Not wanting Rick to suffer his aches and pains alone, Thursday I somehow managed to trip on the pontoon. My fall was particularly ungainly as my main concern was to ensure the backpack I was wearing, that contained as well as groceries a years worth of contact lenses, didn’t end up in the water. Gratefully no one was around and I could escape with, if not my body, at least my pride intact.

So it was that Friday morning found us hobbling up the hill to the station, Rick with tired knees and a stiff back, me with grazed knees and bruised ribs. We were off to catch the train for the 2 hour journey out to the Blue Mountains. Near the top of my list of things to do in Sydney it had been pencilled in for a while, so despite the jobs still to be completed and our rather battered bodies, we decided to carry on with our plans.

The views were incredible. The high plain of sandstone has been eroded over millions of years to create a large canyon like valley. Cracks in the rock and intermittent layers of claystone, coal and shale, that are more easily washed away, have caused the sandstone sides to collapse forming vertical cliffs and striking pillars.

Pillars of rock known as the Three Sisters

We made the mistake of starting our day at the crowded Scenic World. A tourist attraction offering cable cars, skyways and the steepest railway in the world. It would have been a good introduction to the area had it not been full to bursting with coachloads of tour groups. It wasn’t until we escaped along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk that we could really appreciate the full grandeur of the views and the tranquility of the eucalyptus forests. If we were to do this trip again we would start with this dramatic walk giving ourselves more time to enjoy the waterfalls, cascades and trails further along the escarpment.

Walking along the Prince Henry Cliff

However as we had paid for the tickets we returned to Scenic World and took the small train, descending almost vertically into the valley. Protected by the surrounding cliffs from the harsh drying winds and extremes of hot and cold, the valley has its own unique microclimate and is home to a rain forest. We wandered along a boardwalk through tall trees, thick vines and thousands of wonderful large tree ferns, peering up through the canopy to the sheer rock above us. Thankfully there is a cable car back to the top and a hop on hop off bus to return you to Katoomba and the train home.

Wonderful tops of the tree ferns

Back onboard it was back to work. When sailing towards the marina last week the starboard primary winch suddenly started to make a horrible screeching noise. Rick, happy that he could work in the open and especially not on his knees, carefully took it apart, cleaned each of the 27 components, regreassed and oiled as appropriate and put it all back together again. Still the winch screeched. With stoney face and a certain amount of muttering, off it all came again, eventually he traced the noise to the gear coupling to the motor. He was in for another afternoon working in a tiny space, balancing on one leg, bending around the toilet and stretching past cables to remove first the ceiling panels, then the motor. The motor is very heavy and unfortunately his assistant has more brains than brawn and couldn’t reliably take the weight while he battled with the bolts. As luck would have it, in between being engineers mate, I was defrosting the freezer and with the available freezer baskets and books of varying thicknesses we managed to construct a tower to support the motor as it was removed and reattached. After a top up of oil and a thorough clean of the coupling, thankfully it ran perfectly.

Servicing the primary winch motor

Today’s big task was to take down all the canvas work, so it could be sent to the trimmer for a few bits of repair and two zip replacements. We are so use to being cocooned by the sprayhood that it is very odd to sit with a 360 degree view totally exposed to the elements. Luckily the day is pleasant and with just the watermaker to pickle, the bathrooms and kitchen to clean, the decks to tidy, etc. etc….. tomorrow we off on holiday.

Australia Day

Sunday 28th January 2018

Friday was Australia Day, so this is a holiday weekend, the weather has been sunny, the winds light and seemingly the whole of Sydney, in celebratory mood, has anchored next to us. The sound of partying is all around, the loud beer drinking lads on the brash motor boat in front of us, the excited teenagers leaping from the 8m rock on our left and the screeching kids upset by the bursting of their bright pink, floating flamingo. Paddle boarders and kayakers pass close by, families fish from the wharf and swimmers risk life and limb dodging the dinghies and tinnies that whiz between it all.

Spring Cove Saturday afternoon.

Why, you may ask, knowing it would be even more crowded than last weekend have we chosen to anchor here again. Well sometimes with no particular demands on our time we just need a place to be, a place to stop and past the time until the next errand or adventure. Store beach and the other bays in Spring Cove we know have good holding, are protected from the NE winds and the worst of the harbour chop and have clean water for swimming and our watermaker. The ocean breeze provides a welcome break from the heat and car fumes of the city centre and when the crowds depart, as they reliably do, it’s really rather lovely.

We had spent a few days at the beginning of the week back in the Blackwattle anchorage, using again the safe docks for the dingy and the closeness to all the facilities to top up the fridge and visit the chandlers. Rick successfully serviced the generator, I failed to find a repair for the spare iPad. We took another day to be tourists and walked through the centre of town to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

An enchanting place that despite being surrounded by the bustle of the city is an oasis of calm. The huge specimen trees create a barrier to the traffic noise and the pathways winding between them cleverly lead your eyes away from the tall office blocks to colourful flower beds, spacious areas of green and the blue of the harbour beyond.

Huge fig tree in the Royal botanical gardens

The most dramatic sight was the green wall. A living art work, which at 50m long and 6m high takes 18,000 small plants to fill. Constructed of narrow tilted shelves, each plant pot sits in its prescribed spot, in a intricately choreographed design spelling out the word pollination, the theme of the current display. Just keeping them watered correctly requires over 1000m of pipes and a misting system. The back room of greenhouses providing the mixture of plants all at the right stage of growth must be an exemplar of organisation.

Green wall in The Calyx

Also this week we have, yet again, been touched by the generosity of the people we meet on this trip. First were the couple off Maunie, another British registered yacht, seeing each others blue ensigns we of course got together. They introduced themselves as they dinged past and we invited them over for sundowners. Such is the way with cruisers, having discovered that we were sailing on to Indonesia and South Africa, while they, for work reasons, had taken the decision to ship their yacht home, arrived arms full with valuable charts and a cruising guide to the Indian Ocean.

A few days later we were lucky enough to celebrate Australia Day with a group of Australians. Friends, of friends, of friends in England, Gerry and Carol kindly invited us to join them for lunch at the Manly Skiff Club. We ate, drank and enjoyed lively conversation about everything from the intricacies of night watches to the Australian love of travel, from the politics of Donald Trump to the current controversy of Australia Day itself. Celebrated annually on the 26th January it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of British ships in 1788. Promoted as a day to celebrate Australia’s diverse cultures, the indigenous population and those supportive of their cause have begun to label it as Invasion Day and there is a growing movement to change the date.

However looking around us and from the chat at the crowded Skiff Club, as far as we can tell, it is mostly seen as a day at the end of the school holidays for everyone to take a long weekend and enjoy the Australian great outdoors.


Sunday 21st January 2018

Nooooo! Was the plaintive cry, as clambering from the kayak to the swim deck, our beloved much used camera slipped from Ricks shorts into the water and sank almost immediately out of sight. Being too deep to dive down after it and with the evening sun low in the sky, too dark to scuba, our hearts sank too. Why hadn’t we invested in one of those snazzy strap flotation devises, why hadn’t I downloaded all last weeks photos, why hadn’t we passed the camera up by hand as usual!?!?

We pulled ourselves together and swung into action. With the boat swinging back and forth in the brisk breeze I tried to keep my eye on the spot it went in, Rick dug out our marker bouy and dropped it at our best guess of the cameras location. With nothing more to be done until we had more light the next day, we consoled ourselves with a gin and tonic trying hard to enjoy the setting sun.

The next morning we were glad to see the orange buoy still bobbing nearby. Rick kitted up in his scuba gear and descended through the murky water, miraculously after just five minutes he was back camera in hand.. It is waterproof and rated for depths of up to ten metres we were anchored in about nine, but was that ten metres for just an hour or could it survive being at that depth overnight? Apparently yes it could, it seems to have suffered no damage at all from its extended visit to the seabed.

Well done Rick, operation rescue camera completed successfully.

We continue to spend our time criss crossing Sydney Harbour as weather, provisioning and activities dictate. We started this week in Blackwattle Bay. The southerlies from the weekend continued to keep the temperatures cool, so being in the city centre we took the opportunity to be tourists for a couple of days.

We wandered around the maritime museum which displays Australia’s rich maritime history. Then went outside to look around the 1970’s submarine they have on display. Basically just one long corridor from front to back with bunks squeezed in between a maze of piping, pressure gauges, pumps and engines. The mind boggles as to how 69 men lived so dreadfully cramped together for so long. We had first visited the HMAS Onslow about 15 years ago, now ocean going sailors ourselves different questions come to mind; How did they cope with all the heat from the massive engines? How did they make water and how on earth did they manage to fix that joint buried behind a metre deep tangle of pipes?

Not much more spacious were the conditions on the Endevour, the ship that in 1770 James Cook first sailed to Australia but at least the crew onboard her could escape on deck. The ship in Sydney is a replica of the original and actually still sails, in fact she is off to New Zealand next month, we’re certainly glad we don’t have all that rigging to contend with.

The Endeavour moored in Darling Harbour.

Wednesday we walked to the Rocks, an historical area with many original sandstone buildings and cottages from the first development of Sydney by the early settlers. Historically it was a rough area occupied by convicts and run by gangs, even up until the 1970’s it was so run down it was nearly demolished. Now properties are snapped up by wealthy Sydneyites and being next to the cruise liner dock, it is a busy tourist area full of museums, old pubs and art shops. Luckily there was no ship in the day we were there and we found plenty of room to sit, enjoy views of the harbour and eat a very nice lunch.

The promised improved weather moved in on Thursday and we moved out to Manly. We were there to pick up a friends daughter and a couple of her friends for a day on the boat. We filled up with goodies for lunch and picked them up from the ferry terminal.

We love the Push-me Pull-you ferries that run every half an hour between Manly and Central quay in the city.

We all had a great day, chatting, eating and drinking, in fact so pleasant were the beach anchorages. Rick and I decided to spend the weekend off Store Beach. A very popular spot but the crowds don’t seem to appear until around midday and all disappear again around 6pm and so even at the weekends there is plenty of time and space to enjoy a swim, take out the kayak or lose a camera.

Anchored off Store Beach

Middle Harbour

Monday 15th January 2018

With Sydney’s record breaking temperatures hitting the World news last week, here on the ground, we are surprised not so much by the hight of the mercury but by just how changeable the weather is. One moment we are baking at over 30C the next day the thermometer is struggling to break 20C and winds go from nonexistence to blowing a gale within hours but we are beginning to see a pattern emerging.

As a high pressure system sets in, warm northerly winds that are enhanced by afternoon sea breezes lead to pleasant clear days. When the temperatures rise and a low trough threatens, thunder storms break out. These can be quite violent with high winds, hail and dramatic lightening. As the low passes through it drags in southerlies which having come up from the Antarctic are cool and can often be very strong. Then it’s back to high pressure and the cycle starts over.

This week we have been anchored in a Cove in Middle Harbour. Middle Harbour is a branch of waterways to the north of the main harbour that is similar to those at Pittwater and Cowan Creek. Hidden away up a creek we had until yesterday been mostly protected from these vagaries of the weather.

To enter the inner part of the harbour you have to pass through a lifting bridge. The Spit bridge carries one of Sydney’s busy routes north and opens briefly at four or five set times each day. Promptly at 1.15pm last Monday afternoon we squeezed through the surprisingly narrow gap and motored upstream to find a quiet anchorage.

Passing through Spit Bridge

A couple of miles on we found a great spot off Sugarloaf Bay in Castle Cove and settled in. After two days anchored off the busy Manly beaches and a few rather rocky nights at the marina, it was bliss to be absolutely still. The scent of eucalyptus trees that covered the banks wafted in the air and the drone of cicadas filled our ears. We planned to spend a few days here, carrying on with maintenance jobs, catching up with some admin and just enjoying the calm.

On our first evening however we discovered we had some noisy neighbours living in the hills. Just before dusk and around dawn each day, we’d be deafened by an cocophony of squawking. Large white birds were fighting and flapping in the trees above us, we took out the binoculars, they had lemon coloured crests and markings on their wings. A few taps later and a Google search revealed them to be Sulphur Crested Cockatoos and all the fuss was as they jostled for the best roosting spots in the hollows that form in the older eucalyptus trees.

Unfortunately the cockatoos were too far away, especially in the fading light to get a photo, unlike this Pied Cormorant, who not wanting to give up his place in the sun, let us very slowly approach within a few metres.

Pied Cormorant sunning himself

With such flat water we could break out the kayak and in the dingy go quite a way to explore. About two and a half miles further on we discovered tiny Echo Point Marina and decided to stop for lunch. In a perfect location surrounded by parkland with views over the water, the food was excellent and the service friendly. However as seems to be becoming a theme in Australia, getting ashore was not as straight forward as it first appeared. A dingy dock sat right outside the restaurant but as soon as we arrived, an agitated waiter appeared to warn us that the marina would charge us $30 to tie up the dingy and it would be better to go across to the beach and walk around. No big deal but just another small signal that even at a marina, with money to spend, visiting yachties aren’t particularly welcome.

Castle cove has just a few houses that overlook it high in the hills. But the harbour itself is more crowded and a popular city suburb. The houses are all built on the almost vertical banks on three or sometimes four levels. Running up to the road above or the shore below they have very steep steps, some have installed small lifts. As in Pittwater each shoreside property has its own jetty and pretty boathouse, in fact the boathouses are often nicer than the large properties above them.

Pretty boat house in Powder Hulk Bay

Back onboard Raya we slowly ticked off more jobs. Flags, charts and generator spares ordered; tick, tax returns filed; big tick, hot water tank coil replaced; hooray and raw water filters cleaned; urgh! The engine raw water filter was full of jellyfish!

Jelly fish swimming in the engine raw water filter!

After a pleasant week hiding from the worst of the winds and watching the thunders storms in the distance, the weather cycles finally caught up with us. A band of strong chilly southerly winds has been passing over New South Wales and Sunday blustery gusts started to blast into the cove, as our anchor chain stretched out, our picturesque spot began to feel rather small and the rocky edges rather close. We moved out into the bay only to have our anchor chain wrap around something on the bottom. This drastically reduced our swing and bought us far too close to a large motor yacht. Accompanied by horrible shudderers and graunching we slowly and as carefully as possible lifted the anchor back in. We returned to the centre of Castle Cove and spent a unsettled night with a close eye on the anchor alarm.

This morning we decided to stick to our plan of returning to the city and motored back through a very rough Sydney Harbour to Blackwattle Bay. It is still blowing a gale but one of the good things about cycles is that you can rely on them to keep turning, calmer conditions and warmer northerlies are forecast to return Wednesday or Thursday.

Fast Yachts and First Swims

Monday 8th January 2018

With the outskirts of Sydney peaking at 47C yesterday we have finally been for a swim in Australia. We seem to have been in marinas, up muddy creeks or surrounded by jelly fish. The winds have often been chilly, the sea rough or the water full of other craft. The forecast for a heatwave on Sunday persuaded us to head out of the city to the beaches just south of Manly Harbour. Here the temperatures were a cooler 32C but hot enough to persuade us in. And fantastic it felt too, why we asked ourselves had we been putting it off so long.

First dip for a while

We had started the week anchored off this very same beach , not swimming, a chilly southerly was lowering the temperatures and creating a lively chop. We were here instead to say farewell to our friends from Moonshadow who in the morning were sailing north to Brisbane from where they are shipping the boat back to Mexico. We have had a lot of fun together over the last few months, we will miss them.

In time honoured tradition the New Year has brought our thoughts around to the year ahead. In the hope of beginning to tick a few things off the “while in Australia’ list we booked in for a few days in the marina at the famous Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

The CYCA organise the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and is the home to many of the racing yachts we watched leaving the Harbour on Boxing Day. With top speeds of 25kts some are already back and with each boat protected from the sun by a tent shaped canvas awning it felt a little like been moored in a campsite.

Raked masts and protective awnings of the CYC racing fleet.

With our port of registration, Southampton, clearly printed on the transom and the British ensign flying, here halfway around the world we are use to ‘pontoon voyeurs’ coming up to look at Raya. This time however nobody had eyes for us, they were all coming to view our neighbour – Ichi Ban, the star and overall winner of this year’s race.

Getting back to the tasks in hand we launched into the long screed of jobs that need doing before we set off from Australia later in the year. As is always the way with new places the first few days can be frustrating, the chandlery seemed very expensive, cooking gas refill appeared impossible, potential repairs to the sprayhood zips unsatisfactory……… At over $120 a night we wanted to keep this visit brief but we will be back in February to leave Raya tied up while we fly to Perth. Hopefully by then the research we have done and the leads we have secured this time will start coming together.

One benefit to being in marina is that we can tell people exactly where we are, it was lovely to have had visits from three sets of friends and family. And, being in a marina full of racing yachts that have no antifoul on their keels means that divers equipped with cleaning tools are every where. We slipped out of our berth with two months of barnacles and growth scraped from our bottom.

Ashley comes to tea

Fabulous Fireworks

Monday 1st January 2018


Well the Sydney New Year celebrations certainly lived up to all the hype. They culminated in a spectacular fifteen minute show, with fireworks, every colour of the rainbow, filling the sky. The bridge featured at the heart of the display, with five barges spread either side along the harbour all lighting up in unison. Despite the many boats in front of us we had still had a fantastic view.

As anticipated on the 30th our spacious anchorage rapidly started to becoming more crowded. A party atmosphere was gradually building so we dug out our string of signal flags and ‘dressed’ Raya.

Raya dressed with flags for New Years Eve

All the activity in and outside the anchorage made it very bouncy, getting into the dingy was difficult, we did go to lunch in pretty Mosman Bay and visited a few friends on neighbouring yachts but mostly we sat and were entertained by the bedlam around us. As more and more boats tried to squeeze in, the light winds made everyone wander around their anchors. Badly anchored boats dragged, swung into each other and twisted around each others chains.

Many times we thought that no more boats could possibly fit in but we needed a new definition for crowded, as still more boats arrived. There were the occasional cross words and frequent standing on the bows, hands on hips, expressions implying “you must be joking that is way too close” but on the whole everyone was good naturedly accepting of the situation.

On the afternoon of the 31st we were joined by the Yollata crew, a family we originally met in Marquesas nearly two years ago, now land based they came to stay on Raya for the night. We had originally planned to raft with Moonshadow and all party together but the crowded and rough conditions made that too difficult but we did all get together for a great supper. A few too many champagnes later it was back to Raya to see 2018 in in style.


Celebrating in the Sun

Friday 28th Dec 2017

Christmas in the heart of Sydney

Celebrations started with Christmas Eve sundowners on Raya. There were only eight yachts in the small Blackwattle anchorage so we went around and invited everyone for a glass of Pimms. Not really a Christmas drink but with temperatures at almost 30C, it seemed more appropriate than mulled wine. We ended up with 17 people, from 6 different countries, squeezed around the cockpit table. The chatter was lively as the Australians were quizzed on their local knowledge, the Americans explained the logistics of shipping their boat home in the New Year, the French told us about life in New Caledonia and the Danish and Swedish described their plans for their traditional Scandinavian Christmas Eve feasts later that night.

On Christmas Day we went across for a delicious rack of lamb with our American friends John and Deb on Moonshadow. And in a continuing spirit of cultural exchange we introduced them to traditional English Christmas Crackers and they us to Deb’s family Christmas onion pie. We returned to Raya full and happy in time to catch family and friends as they enjoyed Christmas morning in the UK.

Good sports John and Deb wearing their cracker paper hats

Boxing Day it was back on Moonshadow to go out to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The thrilling lead pack of 100ft Super Maxi yachts, using every inch of the course, powered by at about twenty knots just meters away. But the real action was the mayhem of spectator boats that fought for the best view of the fleet, especially local boat Wild Oats XI. The water was churned to a lather by the crowd and the mad power boat drivers, whose only purpose seemed to be showing off how fast they could drive through the throng, John deserves a medal for keeping us and Moonshadow safe.

Local favourite Wild Oats battling out through Sydney Heads

Spectator fleet

Having eeked out our freshwater all week, Wednesday we said goodbye to Blackwattle Bay and motored out to the cleaner waters of Manly Harbour. Once the watermaker got going we enjoyed a shower and did a couple of loads of washing. A nice seaside town Manly felt open and bright after the inner city. Getting ashore, however, was not as easy and required scrambling over railings at the top of a long vertical ladder, onto the high ferry dock. Once on dry land we walked the 1/4 mile over the headland to the ocean side and Manly Beach. A long curve of sand stretched into the distance, we were struck by the wealth of public facilities available. Half a dozen volley ball nets sat at the top of the beach, good quality BBQ grills awaited takers, surfboard hire with deck chairs for parents were spaced at convenient points along its length and lifeguards, warning signs and their equipment were every where. On the inner beach there were even shark nets to protect the swimmers. What sharks we asked ourselves?

Manly Beach

Also ashore was a supermarket so we stocked up for our NYE celebrations. Not wanting to risk carrying all the bags down the steep ladder Rick bought the dingy around to the harbour beach and we loaded up from there. Disaster nearly struck when the crate of beer didn’t quite make the transfer from dingy to Raya, only a dramatic dive from Rick, mindless of the the potential for man eating sharks, saved the bottles from sinking 12m to the sea bed.

Then it was time to up anchor and move on to reserve our spot for the fireworks. We have just arrived in a rather bouncy Athol Bay, below is a photo of our unbeatable view. Unfortunately it is inevitable that wherever we place ourselves, another million boats will appear in the next couple of days to spoil the vista, fingers crossed a huge motor yacht doesn’t sit itself right in front of us.

Our Current View for the fireworks, let’s keep our fingers crossed nothing too big comes in to block the view.

Too Hot for Christmas

Christmas trees are everywhere, decorations adorn the streets and the presents are wrapped but however hard we try it’s just all wrong. With temperatures in the 30’s, light summer evenings and no turkey to cook, our brains can’t except it’s Christmas.

Unseasonal as it may feel, Sydney remains in every other way a wonderful city. As we have explored the sights and wandered the local area we have been struck again, despite the crowds, how clean and well laid out everywhere is. The modern shiny glass towers sit comfortably amongst the few remaining grand red brick Victorian buildings. One moment you are in a busy tourist spot, the next in a quiet square surrounded by tall trees and traditional houses. Small islands of green sneak in wherever possible and the harbour shoreline is omnipresent.

As I think I have mentioned before we are not very good tourists, we tend to avoid the crowds but we couldn’t be in Sydney without a visit to the Opera House. Built over 14 yrs and opening in 1973 it’s sculptural elegance is as good close up as it is from afar. We were glad to see that the powers that be haven’t been tempted to overwhelm it with tacky restaurants and shops, the empty space around it acting to set it off to full effect.

The Opera House from the land.

Darling Harbour on the other hand has been completely built up since our last visit, every square inch given over in the pursuit of tourist dollars. We have eaten in the crowded restaurants here twice now and unfortunately both times the food has been average, the service poor and the bill exorbitant.

Also full to bursting was the shopping district around George Street, harassed but mostly smiling Christmas shoppers rushing to buy last minute gifts. In the middle of this mayhem we were struck by how easily people of all nationalities mingle together here, an amicable acceptance of each other rarely seen in other large cities. At the entrance to Darling Harbour near the wharf where for hundreds of years, thousands of ships arrived with peoples from across the World, is a celebration of their diversity, the Welcome Wall. Nearly 30,000 names, picked out in bronze, are listed so far and anyone who themselves or who’s ancestors immigrated here can apply to have their names added and a short history of their lives stored in the archives.

While Rick joined the throng to finish his Christmas shopping, I went to see the Cathedral. It’s 100 yr old architecture is surrounded by modern high rises and it’s Christmas tree, bathed in warm sunshine, is surrounded by summer flowers. Happy Down Under Christmas everybody.

Sydney Cathedral with its modern backdrop and it’s Christmas tree surrounded by summer flowers.


Iconic View from the cockpit

Saturday 16th December 2017

It had felt like an impossible dream, the chance to sail into Sydney Harbour. About a thousand miles south of the traditional Around the World route it had looked too far out of our way. However by spending an extra winter in the Pacific Islands we have another cyclone season to fill south of the tropics, so here we are. Tuesday afternoon we droped our anchor just metres from the opera house, the harbour bridge looming in the background.

An hour earlier we had excitedly turned into Port Jackson the entrance to Sydney Harbour and were met by a scene of frenetic activity. As we tried to concentrate on finding the channel, distractions were everywhere. Two beautiful 90ft racing boats came past, impossibly heeled over, well trained crew sitting on the rail, an international regatta of a hundred or so sailing dinghies filled the waters to our left, power boats, sailing boats, fishing launches came from behind and towards us and powering through it all, keeping determinedly to their course, were numerous large and fast ferries. We cautiously made our way through the chaos, camera poised ready to capture the first view of the city centre.

First glimpse of the centre of Sydney

We motored into Farm Cove right next to the Opera House, dropped the anchor and drank a very special “got here beer”. Unfortunately unprotected from the busy harbour it was far too bouncy to stay for long, so after taking the compulsory Opera House and Bridge shots we moved under the bridge and into Balls Bay further upstream.

Celebratory “got here beer”

Balls Bay was protected from the worst of the harbour chop but had no obvious place to leave the dingy. Determined to enjoy our first night out on the town, with our friends from Moonshadow we tied the dingy to a steep ladder on the waterfront. We climbed with difficulty on to the wharf only to find ourselves in a gated apartment complex. With no clear way out it took us a while but eventually we found the road and took a taxi to Darling Harbour for dinner. On our return, with a falling tide, the ladder was even more precarious and the now revealed bottom rungs encrusted with razor sharp Oyster shells, not exactly an ideal place for a rubber dingy. This was not going to be the place to restock.

Fantastic as it is to be in the middle of such a great city, Sydney turns out to be rather difficult for cruising yachts. The marinas are expensive and, at least until the Sydney to Hobart racing boats leave Boxing Day, all are completely full. Anchorages are few and far between and getting ashore for groceries and to enjoy the sights is proving difficult. To complicate things further the water upstream of the bridge is full of diesel from the ferries and too dirty for our watermaker.

After much googling we found a marina where for $30 we could tie up to the shopping pontoon for a few hours and visit the grocery store. We made the best of our time, I managed to get to the hairdressers, Rick took a taxi to the Chandlers and we stocked up with food but there was no fresh water. With the water tanks almost empty we motored back under the bridge and out to Rose Bay. It wasn’t the most comfortable of anchorages, Raya being rocked continuously by the harbour traffic but it had a nice beach for stretching our legs, a dock for the dingy and clean water. However with the weather deteriorating we decided a wet and bouncy trip ashore could wait and instead were entertained by a stream of motor yachts that anchored close by full to bursting with Christmas revellers. We watched as the storm approached and the sky darkened, a fleet of yachts appeared around the headland, undeterred by the lightening they raced around a mark just a few hundred metres behind us. We sat in the cockpit enjoying the action and the peculiarly atmospheric light.

Turneresque scene as the storm closes in

We have now returned to the inner harbour and are currently anchored in Blackwattle Bay right in the centre of town, there are no less than two dingy docks, shops and sights are close by and it is calm. It does have a few downsides, it sits next to a noisy flyover, it is rather shallow for us, at low tide we have just a metre to spare under our keel and the water is too contaminated for the watermaker. But with our water tanks full from our trip to Rose Bay we can at last take some time to enjoy the city.

Up the Creek

Sunday 10th December 2017

We are cocooned far up the aptly named Smiths Creek. It is very, very still, the mirror like water reflecting the trees and slabs of rock that cover the almost vertical sides of this waterway. The sun, yet to be high enough to appear above the steep hills, highlights their tops in a magical yellow glow, bird song and the incessant high pitched drone of the cicadas fills the air. I love this early morning tranquility, despite and possibly because of its fleeting nature.

A large passenger jet crosses the sky, it’s noisy engines breaking the spell and reminding me that regardless of the appearance of being deep inside the bush, we are in fact only twenty or so miles from one of the Worlds major cities and just around the corner from busy Pittwater.

We left the RMYC marina Wednesday morning and headed out of Pittwater back into Broken Bay and then down into Cowan Creek, a seven mile narrow tidal creek with a dozen or so bays and inlets joining it. Our first stop was Jerusalem Bay, where near it’s deserted head we dropped the anchor and took in the scenery. The water was deep and dark, flourishing but spindly trees appeared to grow straight from bare stone, dramatic striated outcrops of limestone rock and vertical cliff faces line the shore.

Raya anchored in Jerusalem Bay

A white breasted sea eagle, sits on nearby branches, king of all he surveys but we see few other birds. The odd splash and the success of a group of local boys with their rod, suggests the presence of fish but in the rather murky water all we see are large plump jelly fish. A few boats come and go, the attraction is a rope that hangs down the cliff face on the opposite bank, once climbed the youngsters jump the 30ft from a rocky overhang back into the water. We guess this means the jelly fish are harmless but the green water doesn’t tempt us in.

Sea Eagle takes flight

Frday morning the still water, overcast skies and light wind, instead,were perfect conditions for a trip up the mast to check the fittings, do some cleaning and a get great picture of Raya.

Raya from the top of the mast

At dusk as the angle of the sun lengthens and the light changes we appear worryingly close to the stone walls that surround us and with the dragging of our anchor a few weeks ago, even a small amount of wind keeps us nervously fixated on the anchor alarm. Our canyon like setting funnels the breeze along its length, but luckily it’s protected location amongst the complex of waterways that make up this area means that even as an infamous East Coast Low came in the winds were never too high. Our two position tracks have had us holding steady at both anchorages.

The low did however disrupt lunch with our friends from Moonshadow. Luckily we had opted not to have a BBQ, but just a few mouthfuls into our meal we were scuttling quickly below with our plates and glasses as what proved to be torrential rain started to encroached into the cockpit. Soon the downpour was accompanied by thunder and then, for a time, by marble sized hail.

Stormy weather

With the sunshine back and the weekend in full flow the hordes have arrived, Smiths Creek appears to be a popular spot. The local boats definitely prefer to tie up to moorings, with the few available buoys snapped up early, all around us boats jostle for a space with shallow enough water for there rarely used anchors and shortish chains. Hopefully things will quieten down by nightfall. Then for us it’s on to Sydney.

Jelly Fish the size of basket balls


Monday 4th December 2017

Early morning tea – Leaving Port Stephens

At first light last Tuesday morning we upped the anchor and left Fingal Bay for the 70nm trip to Pittwater. The decks were still soaked from the previous afternoons storm but the humid air of the past couple of days had gone and the sky was clear and bright. The wind hardly rose into double figures so yet again we were motoring, still the sea was calm and the temperature pleasant. As with the last trip we saw plenty of dolphins, many of whom joined us for the ride.

Dolphins riding our bow wave

We were a little anxious about our arrival in Pittwater as we had been warned that the bays were stuffed with boats on moorings and that finding a spot to anchor might be difficult. Pittwater is one of four waterways that radiate from Broken Bay, the deep protected estuary of the Hawskbury River. Just 25miles north from the centre of Sydney it is an extremely popular spot. I don’t think we have ever seen so many boats in one place, sailing yachts, motor yachts, work boats, racing dinghies, jet skis, kayaks, every sort of watercraft imaginable, all jostling for space.

A forest of masts fills our view south

Knowing we couldn’t be choosy, we picked what seemed like a clear spot behind the large mooring field in Careel Bay and dropped the anchor. Surrounding us were steep wooded slopes full of upmarket houses, the properties fronting the water all boasted extensive views, numerous balconies and private jetties. Instead of wildlife spotting, our dingy safari took us real estate viewing, a very picturesque place to live but we suspect most were just holiday homes, besides the gardeners and maintenance men there were little signs of life. Surprisingly, there was a bit of an English West Country seaside feel to it, the tangy seaweed aroma, the call of the seagulls, the enclosing high hills, we couldn’t quite put our finger on it.

Foreshore in Careel Bay, Pittwater

With permission we tied the dingy to the sea plane dock, crossed the small beach and made our way through the houses. This was the first time we had set foot ashore since we left Southport, it felt good to stretch our legs, we found a small cafe and sat down for a coffee. However this was a residential area and there was nothing else but houses, not a shop in sight, with supplies getting low and a forecast for more storms we took out the phone and found ourselves a marina berth a few miles further into the Pittwater inlet.

For the past four days we have been tied up to the outer dock of the friendly Royal Motor Yacht Club, the fridge is now full but the weather is still very changeable. Today we are sitting out a second band of wet and windy weather, a chilly south wind blowing in through the hatches, with not much improvement expected tomorrow we have extended our stay for another couple of days.

Yesterday, on the other hand, it was lovely and taking advantage of the convenient yacht club curtesy bus, we went to the local beach. The sunshine had bought out the Sunday crowds, surfers shared the waves with a small pod of dolphins, groups of youngsters practiced their lifesaving skills and families picnicked on the orange coloured sand. As we walked down the beach, the hot surface burning our feet, taking in the happy scene in front of us we wished we’d thought to bring our swimmers. Until that was, we dipped our toes into the sea – it was freezing!

Besides the warm tropical waters, something we are beginning to miss from our Pacific island life is that nobody cared or even noticed what you are wearing. Everyone was far more interested in your journey so far, your best tips for snorkelling spots, what type of watermaker you have……. Now, however, back in the real world of shopping centres, restaurants and swish yacht clubs, the island cruiser look of crumpled clothes, home cut, sun bleached hair, bare feet and grazed shins has began to feel rather scruffy. Having arrived in Pittwater, there is a distinct possibility, that we will be shamed into breaking out the iron.

Faraday Cages in Faraway Places

Monday 27th November 2017

‘Hang on, I’ll just get the phone out of the oven’ is not a phase one uses every day, nor luckily is ‘Rick come quick we are dragging’. Port Stephens has not been one of our best stops.

The sail down from Southport was really enjoyable, we could have done with a bit more wind but the days were warm and sunny and the nights starlit. Dolphins, birds and the beaches and mountains of the New South Wales coast provided distraction. Also keeping us on our toes, whisking us southwards at occasionally over 4kts, was the Australian East Coast current. Unfortunately, this was not part of the passage plan, we were aiming to get to the entrance to Port Stephens on slack tide at first light on Saturday. We needed to slow down but still had to keep just enough boat speed through the water to give us steerage, so sails were reefed within an inch of their lives and when motoring the revs were kept as low as the engine would run. Our efforts were not in vain, after two days of fine tuning we arrived exactly as planned at 8am but we were left with the worrying thought of the more difficult job we will have when trying to get back North in the spring.

Four knots of current as we sailed south down the Australian East Coast.

Friday afternoon the sky had been streaked with high clouds, these horse tails may be beautiful but are a sure sign that the bright, calm weather, brought by a large high pressure system lingering over the Tasman sea, would soon be coming to an end.

And indeed the next day the wind began to increase as did the cloud. The combination of strong north easterly winds and shallow water made Port Stephens, with its predominantly north facing anchorages, difficult for our deep drafted boat. We had been told of a small secluded bay, that looked as if it would be protected, unfortunately it too was a bit shallow for us to anchor in very close and we remained in the outer bay exposed to the winds. However it was nice enough and we settled down for the day. We took the dingy around the wooded shore and spotted reef herons, a cormorant and oyster catchers, we ate a nice lunch and then went below to read. I couldn’t quite explain it but I began to feel something was wrong and went to investigate, shocked I realised we were dragging our anchor, slowly drifting out of the bay. Why our anchor, which has not let us down even once right across the Pacific, would suddenly after five hours holding us steady in the 20kt winds, start to drag is a mystery. Suspecting weed or a soft muddy bottom we inched into the bay as far as we dared and re-anchored putting out an absurd amount of chain, set the anchor alarm and enjoyed sundowners with our friends on Moonshadow.

As is our habit before going to bed we checked the stern light to see what it might have attracted. Sunday night we were delighted to find a large pelican lurking around our stern. With his ludicrously long beak, the fish, star struck by the light, were easy pickings.

Pelican fishing around the back of the boat

This morning the change in the weather continued, the sky was overcast and the air humid, we took Raya to look at a couple of other anchorages. We motored laboriously through the shallow channels that run between the sand banks that fill Port Stephens, but didn’t really feel happy in any of the targeted spots. Once the north winds on the back edge of the high pressure pass by, southerly winds will arrive, trapping us inside the Port for possibly a week, we decided to move on while we still could.

We lifted the dingy and in pouring rain, with thunder and lightening threatening in the distance, moved out of Port Stephens to Fingal Bay. Fingal Bay lies just outside the entrance, deep and protected it will give us a fast get away in the morning for the seventy mile trip down to our next stop Pittwater. As the storm moved off, we rescued the small electronics from the oven, where they had been put, in the hope that the oven, working as a Faraday Cage, would save them if lightening did hit and were treated to a fabulous sunset. It was a stunning spot and it was a real treat to have such a bright end to a rather dull day.

Moonshadow bathed in the amazing light of the setting sun

Glitz and Glamour

Wednesday 22nd November 2017

Sun setting behind the tower blocks

It is especially nice when you go somewhere and it spectacularly exceeds your expectations.

Sunday morning our friends on Moonshadow sailed into the marina and to catch up we decided to go for dinner at an Italian restaurant that had been recommended to us. In the shadow of the brightly lit Sundale bridge and dwarfed by a forest of high rise towers it nestled by the river. We had been told that the owner of the De Vito Waterfront Restaurant is an ex opera singer and occasionally sings to the diners. As it turns out he and his wife are also the chefs and in their cooking gear both came out to entertain us. Their voices were amazing and they sang on and off throughout the evening as the customers orders allowed. The atmosphere inside the room was relaxed and happy, enhanced by a wedding party celebrating in the corner, everyone enjoying the impromptu show, certainly an evening to remember.

Singing chefs

Unfortunately for our waistlines we have done rather a lot of overeating this week, it’s difficult to resist the culinary delights on offer. About a ten minute walk from De Vitos is Tedder Ave, a road lined with restaurants and upmarket shops. Friday was my birthday and we wandered over for breakfast. As with everywhere around here the streets, houses and gardens we’re all impeccably manicured, not a leaf dared fall or a chip of paint appear.

Manicured Streets behind Mainbeach

The ladies selling the $300 t-shirts in the posh boutiques had hair coifed to within an inch of its life and wore more make up than I actually own, Ferraris and Bentleys cruised importantly by, while the mostly septuagenarian residents promenaded slowly past. The food lived up to its surroundings – breakfast was rather bigger than expected, plates full of delicious poached eggs, bacon, roast pumpkin, feta cheese, spinach……….

My birthday lunch, put off a day, was just as tasty if rather more casual, Rick cooked me one of my favourites, local prawns fried in garlic, chilli and ginger.

Silent chef

Saturday morning we were kindly taken out to see the sights a bit further afield, Phil our friend, last seen in Bahrain 26 years ago, now lives on the Gold Coast and he gave us a bit of a road tour. The rain couldn’t take away from the display of more opulence, on show this time on Sovereign Island. Huge multimillion pound houses sit cheek by jowl on the river frontage. We gawped in amazement at what people will spend their money on. Some were definitely in better taste than others, the six foot high gold lions guarding one gated entrance were probably a step to far.

A few miles further on we visited the impressive marine services at Coomera, including the large expanse of covered and uncovered hard standing at Boat Works. Surrounded by work shops, large chandlers and engineering companies, it is a tempting place to bring Raya for a week or two, if it wasn’t for the equally large daily rates.

Threading through these places and spread from Coolangatta in the south to Brisbane in the north, the finishing touches to the venues for next years Commonwealth Games are being put in place. The bright multicoloured competitors village is almost complete, the impressive aquatic complex just needs more seating erected and the route of the marathon that will run down the coast past Surfers Paradise is being prepared.

View towards Surfers Paradise

Tomorrow we say goodbye to the Gold Coast and start making our way towards Sydney. After two weeks of glitz and glamour we will be in search of a quieter spot for a few days.

Perfectly Preened Gold Coast

Thursday 16th November 2017

View from the cockpit

The mornings start crisp and early here with a 4.45am sunrise. However by six the warmth of the sun is coming through and feels good on my back, the traffic is just beginning to pick up as the first commuters make their way to work. For company I have a striated heron, he is using next doors lines as a convenient perch to fish from. He is a regular on the pontoon and has been nicknamed ‘grumpy’, with his stern expression, hunched shoulders and beady eyes, he appears to be permanently cross.

Tight rope walking

In fact there are lots of birds around and they are all very different than any we have seen before. It’s not just short legged herons, there are the Australian pelicans which are white with a pink beak instead of the dark feathers and dark beak we are use to, the pigeons have prominent crests on their heads and huge ibis wander through the parks and preen themselves in the shopping centre.

Ibis in the park

There is plenty of greenery to encourage them, narrow strips of park run between the inner Broadwater and the road and fill the area running north behind the Beach and ocean. Everywhere is just so, walkways for pedestrians and cyclists wind through the neatly cropped grass, water fountains are perfectly placed to fill bottles and wash sandy feet, the town planners appear to have considered every direction to enhance the views. Manicured gardens fill the grounds of the huge apartment blocks and public spaces, perfectly pruned flowering shrubs line the roads and tall structural pines soften the harsh edges of the towering buildings. A little too perfect? Maybe, but we have to admit to enjoying it all so far.

A neat and tidy five minute walk from the marina is Main Beach and the open ocean. A continuous stretch of sand runs for ten miles from the Southport Seaway, through Surfers Paradise all the way to Burliegh Head. As we stood staring out to sea, it felt very familiar, all our lives we have enjoyed watching the surf come in, the wind in our hair, but peculiarly, from the beach, this water feels like it has nothing to do with the ocean we sail in.

Back in the marina the locals are making us feel at home, the boat a couple of berths up invited us to join them for pizza, bizarrely we have hooked up with a friend we haven’t seen for 26 years who now lives on the Gold Coast and a lone yachtsman we first met in Grenada has just sailed in and is joining us for a G&T tonight.

In between walking, shopping and eating we have been working very hard, the front cabin is now clean and dry. Rick has taken advantage of our berth having a pontoon both sides to clean out and reseal between the capping rail and the hull, he has reseated the forward fairleads, rewired the reading lights and resealed all the screw holes and anything else that looked like it might let water in.

Only the test of a big sea will tell us if we have succeeded and hopefully we won’t be in one of those again for a few weeks.

Windy Welcome to Oz

Thursday 9th November 2017

A family, on an early morning walk, have just passed by on the opposite bank from our berth in the Southport Yacht Club Marina. It was a bit of a shock to hear them speak English, I haven’t quite got my head around the fact that we have actually arrived in Australia. In the marina it’s life as usual but when we leave through the gate we are back in the real world and it’s a bit disorientating. There are proper shops, good pavements and decent comms!

Tied up at the custom dock

The passage from New Caledonia continued to be smooth and fast, a Tuesday evening arrival was on the cards. We read that to cross an unknown bar was safest four hours after low tide, to ensure that all outgoing flow from the inland water and rivers was complete, we set a target for between 8-10pm. Early Monday morning the log clicked onto 20,000nm, we congratulated each other but in reality we were more concerned with the dwindling wind, by daylight we were motor sailing to keep a Tuesday arrival in our sights.

Early Monday morning the log registered 20,000nm sailed

We had been sailing parallel to another yacht since Saturday, a lone sailor in a small but fast catamaran, he turned south intent on reaching Coffs Harbour, via VHF we wished each other well and soon the AIS screen was empty again. Early on in the trip we had seen a hundred strong pod of dolphins but now there wasn’t even a bird to watch. We read, snoozed and looked out into the vast expanses of sea, however things were about to get lively.

Pulled away from our books, we found ourselves scouring the sea for bubbles, a fishing boat had come on the radio to inform us that they had been laying long lines in our path and to watch out for bubbles. Bubbles? We thought it unlikely that, with a choppy sea and the setting sun in our eyes, we would see bubbles but we searched anyway. Then just off our port side we saw a buoy, then another and another, some just metres away, bubbles we realised translated from Australian to English as buoys. The buoys were marking the hooks and lines that they had set across miles of ocean. The ‘line caught’ label on cans of tuna conjures a vision of a lone fisherman battling the elements with a rod, this experience made the cheapness of these cans make much more sense.

Then a few hours later, on my watch, which ran from 11pm until 2am, the full moon that had been lighting our way each night disappeared behind a bank of cloud, in the distance sheet lightening lit up the horizon. The barometer started to drop, the low pressure trough was arriving a day early. The winds were still light and we had a knot or two of current against us, back on came the engine.

As Tuesday dawned the barometer slowly started to rise again bringing with it increased winds, much increased winds and the sea began to build. The comment in the log for midday Tuesday, about 60nm out from Southport, reads : Bloody horrible. At 1pm : Still bloody horrible. By 3pm we were in full wet weather gear and we were sailing through 50kt gusts and 4m waves. The local marine forecast came on the VHF informing us that the current weather was wind SE15-20kts, swell 11/2-2m, we wondered which bit of ocean they were looking at, certainly not our bit.

Finally an hour later as we approached land things did begin to improve and we radioed Seaway Tower who monitor the bar and entrance to Broadwater the inner seaway that leads down to Southport. It was with some relief that he reported the entrance calm and it was safe to proceed.

Now all we had to do in our rather soggy and tired state was to navigate in the dark through a narrow channel, find the marina and berth the boat in a 2kt current. A slightly tense half hour but by 9.30pm, we were tucked up in bed. Phew!

We have now checked in with customs, had the boat pulled apart by quarantine officers in search of mini beasts and had great fun at the supermarket stocking back up with food. Most of the boat is beginning to look clean and tidy again, except unfortunately for the front cabin. All the water that came over the bows at the end to our passage has proved the small leak we thought we may have solved is still there. The cleaning, drying and fixing of that will have to wait until another day.

Whoops, I may have been a little over enthusiastic as I wiped down one of the water triggered life jackets.

Go, Stay, Gone


Saturday 4th November 2017

Friday morning we left New Caledonia in a bit of a rush having just the day before decided that we would have to postpone our passage for another week – the weather forecasts have been tricky.

So far so good, we have calmish seas and a SE wind blowing us along at between 7 and 8kts. The passage plan has us arriving early Wednesday morning for the incoming tide across the bar. Bars are new to us and like passes have fearsome reputations and many of the harbours on the East coast of Australia have them. An area of shallow water lays across the entrance and when combined with the almost permanent large swell that arrives on the shore, can, on an ebbing tide, cause large breaking waves, not something you want to encounter on a sailing yacht.

We had been expecting the light winds we have at present but they are in a perfect direction and with the just a 1m swell we are storming along and can possibly make the earlier tide and possibly give ourselves a better land fall weatherwise if we can keep it up. Time will tell.

Full moon rise 250 miles out at sea

Our last day, ever, anchored in a pretty bay in the Pacific Islands turned out appropriately enough to be Ricks birthday. It was a lovely day, we swam and read, dugongs and turtles joined us and the winds were gentle. Since being on the boat we have pretty much given up on presents, so with our one precious pack of bacon I cooked him a fry up for breakfast and we BBQ lamb chops for supper with a beautiful sunset as a back drop.

Sunset in Baie Papaye

Then it was back to reality. A one hour motor and Sunday found us anchored again in Port Moselle. The day promised to be sunny and calm and the locals were taking advantage of the conditions, it was like being at sea. The whole fleet of motor boats from Noumea was going out to enjoy a day off in the islands leaving rocky water in their wake. We went ashore and did a bit of  essential shopping and had lunch, returning just in time to take another battering from the boats as they all returned to their marina berths.

That evening while enjoying the company of our friends from Atla we noticed the racing catamaran anchored in front of us was getting gradually closer, her anchor must have been dislodged by the turbulent waters, with no one onboard there was little we could do but put out some fenders and hope the anchor would re catch. After a rather sleepless night of continuous checking she luckily kept her distance but we were glad to move and get tied up in the marina to start our preparations to leave.

We shopped, cooked, checked the boat over and obsessed over the weather forecasts. On Monday, Friday was looking good for departure to Coffs Harbour on the Australian east coast. By Wednesday however there was the threat of a small but lively low forming in the Tasman sea.

Rick checking the steering quadrant

Thursday what had looked like a perfect passage now looked horrible for our arrival with not only the low hovering but a front forming. Frustrated, we abandoned our morning plans to visit the three offices required to check out of New Caledonia, had a delightful lunch at the Art Cafe and started considering going back out into the islands for a few days.

Then would you believe it, when Friday dawned the forecast low had fizzled and gone south and if we kept a bit north and entered the country at Southport instead of Coffs, we might miss the worst of the front. Our departure was back on and by midday we had cast off.

Fingers crossed we have made the right decision.