Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Cairns, Queensland

A high-pressure system near Tasmania was responsible for creating the 25-to-30 knots of southeast wind we were experiencing so we gave up trying to find a comfortable anchorage behind some puny island and instead took refuge at the Marlin Marina in Cairns (pronounced 'cănz').  It also gave us the opportunity to rendezvous with our good friend, Mark, on the Fraser 41, Merkava.  I had met Mark in San Diego almost three years ago as he had just sailed down from Vancouver, B.C. and we had nearly identical itineraries for crossing the Pacific and indeed we spent a lot of time together in the last couple of years.  While we had gone south to Sydney, he stayed in Brisbane and we hadn't seen him in six months.  Our dock lines weren't completely secure as Mark pulled up in his dinghy with his crew, Sonia.  It was a great reunion and we were happy to meet Sonia.

Sonia is from Poland and just recently signed on as crew for Mark.  Even though she's only 25, she has her MBA and is also a certified Dive Master.  Her English is flawless as is her Spanish and her passport is completely chocked full of stamps.  I would call her a small woman but her seemingly boundless energy fills Rutea's cabin whenever she's aboard.

Last Saturday night, all of us (Mark, Sonia, Ruthie, Corie and I) had been invited to have dinner aboard Dick and Tricia's Malo 45, Geramar.  Sonia had plans that were going to make her late but she promised to join us as soon as she was free.  Somewhere along the line, Sonia got confused and thought that the dinner was supposed to be aboard Rutea.  She rushed from her meeting, ran down the dock, spied the American flag flying and climbed into Rutea's cockpit, announcing loudly enough for everyone aboard to hear, "Here's your Gypsy girl!"

Except that Sonia hadn't boarded Rutea.  She had climbed aboard the Island Packet 420, Galatea.  Not looking at the boats closely - after all, it was dark - she hadn't thought that there could have been two boats from the US on the same dock.  No doubt there was an awkward moment that developed as Sonia was waiting for our welcoming greetings.  Needless to say, the owner of Galatea, Dan, was a little surprised, perhaps thinking briefly that this was his lucky day.

Cairns is turning out to be a charming city of 180,000 people, perched on the edge of the enormous uninhabited expanse that makes up most of Queensland and northern Australia, for that matter.  From here to Darwin - almost 1,500 miles away - there's virtually no one so we're taking this opportunity to stock up on supplies, take care of some deferred maintenance and enjoy the last bit of civilization we're going to find for a while.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Whitsunday Islands

Just off Pinnacle Point on Hook Island - Photo by Corie

Originally, we had planned on hopping up the Queensland coast, spending our evenings tucked away in some pleasant anchorage, of which there are many.  However, Mary's time aboard was growing short (that damned calendar!) so we decided to do an overnight passage to the Whitsundays.  Besides, this gave Mary the experience of sleep deprivation, which is part and parcel of cruising on a sailboat when doing overnight passages.  Mary didn't actually stand a watch but she did stay up through  most of mine. The winds were non-existent so we were under power the entire way and we arrived under cloudy skies at Whitehaven Bay, famous for it's long beaches of fine white sand, in the early afternoon.

The Whitsundays are a very popular destination not just for people cruising on sailboats but it attracts visitors from all over the world.  The waters are filled with the wakes of passing ferries and tour boats and even though things calm down at night, the heavy traffic deprives the area of remote-destination feel.  We only spent one night at Whitehaven Bay and left early the next morning.

Pinnacle Point
Hook Island is just north of Whitsunday Island and the most northerly part is Pinnacle Point.  As we rounded the point we could see one boat hanging on a park-provided mooring.  Ruthie looked closely with the binoculars and discovered a second mooring with no one on it.  What a score!  We felt it was like getting an up front parking spot in a crowded mall.  The Marine Parks Department of Queensland establishes Reef Protection Zones and boats are prohibited from anchoring inside those well-marked areas.  However, the Parks Department also installs a few moorings that are free to anyone although certain size limits apply but we raced to snag the one that was empty.  Written on the mooring are rules for it's use, which include a 2-hour limit and we started looking around for the meter maid who would either kick us off or write us a ticket.  When the other boat in the little bay left, we relaxed and wound up spending the night.

The bay was beautiful, calm, remote and for most of the time we were there, we had it all to ourselves.  Regardless, we felt a little guilty for spending 24 hours on a mooring with a 2-hour limit so the next day we went to cast off for other destinations.  We started our trusty diesel, just like so many times in the past and it ran fine - for about 30 seconds before sputtering and dieing.  It took Ruthie and me over an hour to find the problem (a manual transfer pump on the final fuel filter froze) but by then we had taken almost the entire fuel delivery system apart and put it back together.  We're now running the engine without a final fuel filter which would scare the hell out of most diesel mechanics.  Once the engine was running again, we motored around to the west side of Hook Island to Stonehaven Bay where we found a whole field of empty mooring buoys inside the Reef Protection Zone.  Emboldened by getting away with our lengthy stay a Pinnacle Point, we grabbed a mooring that was close to the beach and settled in for a two-day stay.

Alas, we couldn't prevent the day from arriving when we would have to take Mary to the airport and after 21 very fun days, we motored over to Hamilton Island where the airport was right on the edge of the bay.  It was kind of scary to see what appeared to be huge 737s coming in for a landing just above the tops of the masts.  No sooner had Mary left, we had the dinghy secured in it's davits and we departed for Townsville, about 150 miles to the north.  The winds were forecast to be very light and I had set my expectations for motoring the entire way but a 15-knot southeasterly breeze filled in.  With the genoa poled out to starboard, the main prevented off to port, we sailed all night into a beautiful setting moon.  It was so magical that even the heavy freighter traffic didn't disturb my revery.  The entrance to the Breakwater Marina in Townsville is very shallow and for the most part we only had 1 foot of water under the keel.  Townsville is a bustling little beach-side community with lots of attractions for visitors.  Unfortunately, it's beautiful beaches are currently closed to swimming as there are deadly box jellyfish in the water.  After a few repairs, we'll be underway again although we'll time our departure to be at high tide!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Southern Queensland

Red Emperor Fish
Returning to Bundaberg was a milestone of sorts:  It was where we had first made landfall in Australia and after the last 600 miles, it represented the start of exploring new places up the Queensland coast.  The stay at the Bundaberg Port Marina allowed us to re-provision easily and pick up our friend, Mary, who is joining us for a few weeks.  Shortly after Mary was on board, we sailed to Pancake Creek, a secure anchorage even if the holding was questionable.  There had been a forecast for 30+ knots of southeast wind so we enjoyed the calm waters and were in the company of several boats that we know.

Pancake Creek - Photo by Corie
 The winds were light as we started out for Lady Musgrave Island, he furthest south island in the Great Barrier Reef.  Eventually the wind filled in and we had a nice sail for part of the 36-mile passage.  Once inside the lagoon, we were completely delighted as it was everything that we had hoped for.  Even at high tide, when the ocean waves break over the protecting reef, it was calm enough for us.

Lady Musgrave Island - Photo by Corie
Photo by Corie
Some cruisers go wherever they want, whenever they want.  On board Rutea, we tend to travel only when we can find weather that is conducive to our level of comfort.  I take no shame in admitting that we're fair-weather sailors.  When a massive high pressure ridge formed over the Tasman Sea, it meant that we were in for some strong southeasterly winds.  At first, we just hunkered down in the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island but when it appeared that there wasn't going to be any let up, we hoisted the anchor early one morning and sailed in very squally conditions back to the Australia mainland, making landfall at Cape Capricorn, which just so happens to be right at the Tropic of Capricorn..  Our arrival there was late in the afternoon and in calmer conditions, it might have been a pleasant anchorage.  However, since the wind had been blowing at 25-30 knots for almost a week solid, we rolled badly at anchor and no one got any sleep.  Early the next morning, we pulled into the marina at Rosslyn Bay, just 40 miles north.  I felt a little ashamed but almost the entire fleet that we had been traveling with had done the same thing.  The wind continues to howl.