May 31, 2009

Fraser Island to Bundaberg

We left on the dawn tide, more or less, pausing only for a leisurely breakfast and a few household chores. The top end of the Great Sandy Strait isn't particularly shallow, so we weren't in fact concerned about the state of the tide, and simply followed the navigation markers to the north west. Even so, the proliferation of sandbanks and channels was a little confusing, and we were glad to find an old large-scale map in our collection which showed a lot more detail than our supposedly up to date GPS chart, which was missing most of the cardinals and channel markers.

By lunchtime we were out of the Strait and into Hervey Bay itself, sailing before the wind at a respectable 5 knots. I started up the engine and let it idle so that I could experiment some more with the water maker, reasoning that (a) it probably needed the electrical boost from the alternator, and (b) it probably needed the hydrostatic boost of the engine's water pump. In the event, I think that both assumptions were correct, because after about five minutes we got our first few spoonfuls of fresh water. Hurrah!
A couple of seconds later, the fuse blew. Ah well, back to the drawing board.

There wasn't too much swell, but we've obviously been at anchor for too long, because we both started to feel a bit nauseous. We kept up a steady stream of snacks and hot drinks, which seems to be the only reliable way of keeping it under control.

We weren't helped by the fact that there was absolutely nothing to look at. Even though Hervey Bay is more or less enclosed, the surrounding land is so flat that we had a virtually undisturbed 360 degree horizon. As far as the eye could see, we were the only thing moving. It was Sunday lunchtime, typically a busy time out on the water, but today there were no boats of any kind, not even a solitary fisherman in his tinnie. No planes passed overhead. Neither were there any birds, turtles, fish, dolphins, or dugongs. It was almost boring.

Thankfully the wind got a bit more exciting in the afternoon, and soon we were flying along at over seven knots with a large following swell. Wheeeee!

As night fell we came into sight of the commercial shipping lane into Bundaberg, lines of green and red flashing lights marching arrow-straight across the sea. It seemed to take a very long time to get into the channel itself, and through that whole time we didn't see a single other vessel. Once into the lane we dropped the sails, and discovered that although the lane was very long it was pretty narrow. It was also disconcerting that all the lights had been programmed to switch on and off simultaneously, which meant that for three seconds in every four it was pitch black and we couldn't see a thing. Then we got a single second of bright colours all the way to the horizon, and by the time we'd worked out what we were looking at it had all gone dark again.

With the help of some large-scale charts of the Burnett River entrance and the GPS we worked it out and made our way upriver past a few marinas, past the molasses plant (yum, great smell) and dropped our anchor in a few metres of water just before the cane sugar cable ferry. We'd come in at low water and were close to the edge of the river, so we had to be certain that we'd paid out enough chain to cope with the 2.5 metre tide without giving us too much swinging room for the size of the channel. We had dinner and a welcome glass of wine and did some route planning with - oh go on then - just another glass of wine and it all seemed to be working splendidly, so we went gratefully to bed for a calm and undisturbed nights rest.

May 30, 2009

North White Cliffs, Fraser Island

We left on the dawn tide.

Of course that's complete rubbish. What we actually did was have a leisurely breakfast before motoring gently out of the creek some time during the mid morning. But we did make very sure that the tide was still rising, because the Great Sandy Strait is far too shallow for us to navigate otherwise.

Large sea turtles poked their heads out to watch us go. They were very nervous, only popping their noses up long enough for a quick snort of air; by the time you'd turned your head to see them, they had gone, leaving only a spreading circular ripple. Some of the heads didn't look quite the same, and we realised after a while that some of them were dugongs rather than turtles.

There wasn't any wind, but we were happy to motor along in the sunshine, navigating from channel marker to channel marker. There were plenty of markers, but there were also plenty of sand banks and channels, and often it wasn't exactly clear whether the marker that you could see was in your channel or in an adjacent one. I wouldn't have liked to do it in the dark, or even on a cloudy day.

We only had a few hours to get through the really shallow portion of the Strait, but the 2.4 metre high tide carried us through with little cause for alarm. We did pass over a few places where we had less than a metre under the keel, confirming that we would never have gotten through at low tide.

When we reached the North White Cliffs which mark the end of the shallow portion of the passage, we plonked down our anchor for a few days of relaxation.


The beach is only a few tens of metres away, consisting of sand eroded from the overhanging cliffs overlying some exposed coal measures.


From here it is but a gentle stroll to the Mackenzie Jetty where steam trains used to haul milled timber out to waiting barges. The mill and the associated houses have all gone, but most of the jetty still stands and there's some abandoned hardware on the beach, including an old locomotive boiler.



A little inland is the site of the wartime headquarters of Australia's secret Z Squadron, from where they launched training limpet-mine missions against presumably good-humoured local boats and businesses, and real and very dangerous missions into Asia and the Pacific. Most of the base has rusted away, but the history and photographs were interesting. I was bemused to see that the old tyres from their abandoned vehicles are still practically useable after over fifty years of lying in the bush. No wonder tyres aren't welcome in landfill sites.

We're also on the edge of Kingfisher Bay where there is a small resort. We had formed high hopes of sundowner cocktails at the beach bar, but it turned out to be just a standard schnitzel-and-cheap-lager joint, so we gave it a miss. The resort itself seemed pleasant enough, but had an aura of neurosis about it, being completely surrounded by a tall dingo fence behung with pictures of slavering hounds and dire warnings about letting children play unattended. We were exhorted to "attack vigorously" if approached by angry dogs. Instead, we had a champagne picnic.


May 27, 2009

Garrys Anchorage

We found ourselves at the mouth of Tin Can Bay at the southern end of the Great Sandy Strait. The Strait is an area of low-lying islands and shoaling sand banks that separates the four hundred square miles of Fraser Island from the mainland. The official chart doesn't show very much detail, but the depths shown suggest that it is practically un-navigable. In reality the Great Sandy Strait is a very popular cruising ground provided you remain vigilant about the state of the tides. Our plan was to overnight in Tin Can Bay and then ride the flood tide up to Garrys Anchorage, sleep there and then ride the next tide up to North White Cliffs.


We did start to head for Tin Can Bay, but then realised that we were so pumped with adrenalin from crossing the Mad Mile that we might as well make use of the rest of the tide and get to Garrys Anchorage a day early.

The southern part of the Strait was wide, deep and placid. Because of the high tide, we weren't able to see the sand banks which lurked in the shallows, but they were well marked with navigation beacons.

The rest of the morning was an absolute delight. The sun shone down, birds soared overhead, and we chugged in perfect solitude between endless mangrove-fringed sandy islands.


Garrys Anchorage proved easy enough to find, a calm and shallow strip of water between Fraser Island itself and the small Stewart Island. It was by now late morning. We consulted the tide tables, anchored in five metres of water, and went straight to bed.

We awoke in the afternoon. I went for a quick swim to have a look at the bottom of the boat, which was in good condition and completely free of marine growth. We lazed about and enjoyed the utter peace.

When we'd anchored at high water, we were sitting in a large and placid lake. As the tide fell, muddy banks rose eerily from the water with a damp crackling sound. It was slightly alarming to find ourselves dropping steadily into a muddy canyon, but our calculations were sound and we remained safely in the narrow channel.


It was blissfully quiet after the continual traffic of the Mooloolaba canal. We could see one other yacht in the distance, joined later in the evening by a second one, but the only sound was the piping of the oyster catchers, the slurping of the sand bars, and the gentle crackling of crustaceans underneath the hull.


On to Wide Bay Bar

Once clear of the Mooloolaba bar there was only a metre or two of swell, which was far less than we'd expected after a week of storms. Even more conveniently, the swell was coming from the same direction as the wind, so although the breeze was light we still managed to get up to a reasonable cruising speed.

I'd re-plumbed the water maker in Mooloolaba, so as soon as we got into open water I popped down below to play with it. It was much improved, but still didn't seem to be building up enough of a hydrostatic head to get a good flow. I messed about with it for a while, but then the combination of close work and a quartering swell got me feeling somewhat green, and I went back up on deck for a lie down.

By the time I'd recovered, Bronwyn was also feeling the effects of the swell - obviously our sea legs had regressed during our long stay - so she went below to rest and I took the helm.

Very soon I was very hungry. Having eaten all the snack food in the cockpit, I went hunting below. I had to rush up and down in fits and bursts, as I was hand-steering because the wind was too variable to trust that Harriet would steer a close compass course, but eventually I found a large helping of ravioli that Bronwyn had prepared before we left, bless her, although she was herself still ill and dead to the world.

It was a moonless and cloudy night, very dark indeed, and "keeping a lookout" really meant glancing around in the pitch black every now and again to see if there were any lights out there. The rest of the time was spent either staring at the compass and trying to hold a reasonable course, or marvelling at the bright luminosity of our phosphorescent bow wave.

At one point I became rather confused by a fast-moving fishing boat that was displaying no navigation lights at all. I had to get close enough to see its deck lights reflecting in its wake before I could figure out which way it was heading, and take evasive action. I'm not sure that he ever saw me.

On a separate occasion, I noticed what I took to be the masthead lights of a stationary trawler, so I gently eased over to one side to give him a wide berth. I was quite shocked when the apparently distant vessel suddenly turned into a man in oilskins standing on a metal raft only a few boat-lengths away, holding a lantern and peering into the water. It's funny what you see, out there on the ocean.

Eventually the wind died and I started the motor. This meant that steering became much more of a chore, because I couldn't just balance the sails and let her run, I had to fight her every moment because the prop really wanted to turn to put the quartering swell behind us. At around midnight I realised that I was very, very tired, and although I felt guilty about it I dragged Bronwyn up for a stint while I napped on the floor of the saloon.

A couple of hours later, I was back in the saddle. Bronwyn wasn't looking good at all, a combination of sea-sickness and the tail end of a nasty cold, and she was very glad to crawl back into bed. Luckily I was feeling quite chipper after my break, and especially so when the stars came out and the wind returned, and I found myself gliding silently beneath the Milky Way. A few hours later, Venus rose brighter than I have ever seen. It actually cast shadows on the boat and laid a Venus-beam across the water. Gorgeous.

As dawn broke we were coming abeam of Double Island Point, a common roadstead anchorage. We'd had half an idea to rest there for a few hours before risking the nearby Wide Bay Bar which was bound to be hairy after all the recent weather, but I spoke to the Tin Can Bay Coastguard on the radio and he said that it was "a bit rolly, but not too bad" before giving me the latest waypoints around the shifting shoals. Bronwyn appeared on deck feeling much improved, and was able to spell me for an hour or so across Wide Bay while I took a nap, so we decided that since we were on a perfect rising tide we might as well go for it.

Wide Bay is (don't you love Australian cartographers?) about ten miles across, and much of the north western corner is continually breaking shoals. There are leading lights on the shore, but the bay is so big that you can't really see them until it's too late, so the coastguard maintains a set of coordinates that you can follow to keep you out of trouble. We dropped the sails and got to the first waypoint easily enough, but just had to trust the course to the next one, because it looked from our vantage point as if we were motoring into a wall of breaking waves. I think that the cat behind us didn't have the coordinates, because it chickened out of the leading line three times before committing to following our trail. I don't really blame them as it did look very intimidating ahead.

Just before the second waypoint, a gap magically appeared in the wall of white water and we chugged through. It reminded me of the time I paddled out of a lagoon break in Samoa, with huge walls of water towering on either side and my kayak slipping unharmed in between.

Bronwyn called up the course to the third waypoint from her position below at the chart table. I turned to the west and we entered the zone known locally as "The Mad Mile".

It was completely crazy. I could just make out some leading lights in the distance, but without the waypoint course I wouldn't have believed it possible. Enormous rolling surf surged across our path, breaking into curving rollers to the left and to the right. Huge mountains of water lifted up and dropped away, sending thundering walls of water across our route. Despite my best efforts, Pindimara began to roll violently. The gunwhales were almost in the water, and we shipped some green ones across the deck. Down through the hatchway, I could see Bronwyn's knuckles tightening on the companionway banister as she tried to keep herself in her seat. The computer is held down by a velcro strap, but the GPS and cabling is not, and I could hear vague crashings and tinklings from below over the roar of the waves. Bronwyn says that she saw all of our coffee mugs leap off the shelf and then magically set back down into their positions. On deck, the binoculars leapt from their usually safe shelf under the dodger, spiralled through the air and landed unharmed on the other side.

I spied another yacht coming towards us, obviously using the same waypoints to get out to sea. He was about our size, and on several occasions I saw clear air under at least half of his hull; presumably we looked exactly the same to him. I would have loved to fire up the video camera, but I was fully occupied with staying at the helm and keeping the bow out of the water. It was all I could do to give him a cheerfully nonchalant wave as he flashed past in a welter of foam.

And then... the sun shone on the placid waters of Wide Bay Harbour, and the quiet sandy shores of Fraser Island stretched out to the north. A low-sided landing craft chugged across in front of us, laden with tourists. I looked over my shoulder. Behind us, the seas still raged, but it all looked out of focus and unreal. We had arrived.

May 26, 2009

Escape from Mooloolaba

On our ninth day trapped in Mooloolaba, we became convinced that the morrow would finally bring an end to the inclement weather. We really, really wanted to get out as soon as possible, but we had to ensure that we reached our destination, the Wide Bay Bar, in the daylight and on the rising tide, while simultaneously managing to cross the Mooloolaba bar in a reasonable depth of water. The numbers worked out to a dusk departure on the following day.

We'd already discovered that there weren't any quality drinking establishments around (the Sunshine Coast Brewery is good, but sadly out of town), so we decided to celebrate in the Wharf Tavern, which we had judged to be the roughest of the local hostelries.

Our radar seemed to be on the nose, for after requesting change for the pool table, we discovered that not only was the table broken, but the barmaid had given us some New Zealand dollar coins which wouldn't have fitted anyway.

After a few beers in a fishing town, Bronwyn always likes to mix with the trawlermen. For instance, long term readers of these annals will remember Wattie the tuna man in Lakes Entrance, who became a memorable part of our honeymoon when we discovered that the reason that the bar staff were so nervous about him drinking with us is that he had just been released from prison for stabbing the previous landlord. Here in Mooloolaba, Bronwyn was soon deep in conversation with Dave the prawn fisher, who popped off half way through to shoot up some speed, and then began calling up his mates to "sort out" a harmless young student who he had suddenly decided was a gay predator. All very charming.

Luckily I got chatting to a lovely lass who was celebrating her engagement while simultaneously plotting a career that would get her out of town. More power to your elbow, Emma! Hope to see you again soon, further up the road.

We had all day to recover from our cheap beer hangovers, and lots of time to ferry back and forth with fuel and supplies while preparing the boat for sea. After so long at anchor, it takes quite a while to get everything cleaned up and squirrelled away, but we got it all done and as the sun sank below the horizon we were chugging gently past the trawlers and out into the main channel. On the way out, we narrowly missed a bunch of unlit outrigger canoes which were invisible in the darkness, but then we were out in the ocean and free. Goodbye, Mooloolaba.

The Natives are Restless

We've been hiding from the storms that are currently destroying property all down the southern Queensland coast. Gale force winds, monstrous seas, and biblical rainfall have already claimed at least one life, and that was on land. Even if we were crazy enough to go out to sea, there's nowhere to go because the bars up and down the coast are all effectively closed to traffic.

There are a several cruising yachts packed into this little basin. Every day or so, one crew or another climbs up to the Caloundra lighthouse to see what the conditions are like out to sea, and then return shaking their heads.


One evening we noticed a harbour fisheries vessel going from yacht to yacht. Each visit seemed to involve a lot of discussion, and we assumed that they wanted to discuss fishing quotas or check our documentation, so we were a bit surprised when they arrived at our stern and began threatening us with fines and legal action for outstaying our welcome in Mooloolaba. In actual fact we were still within the ten days which local rules allow when hiding from inclement weather, but this didn't slow them down at all. With vague threats of heavy penalties, they advised us to abandon our yacht and move into a hotel.

They spent a particularly long time on one of the larger yachts which has apparently been here for quite a bit longer than us. There seemed to be lot of paperwork being passed back and forth, and next morning when I was just thinking about puttering over to ask the skipper what it had all been about, we noticed that he must have left on the dawn tide. We can't imagine where he went, and hope that he found some safe harbour before the next 55-knot gale hit.

Days passed. Endless rain hammered on the deck. Wind howled in the rigging. Flood waters surged by, battering the hull from side to side. The mud-laden river was packed with wreckage from upstream, and sometimes one of the larger pieces of debris would bump up against our hull and scrape past on its way down to the sea.

On another evening we were down below, catching up on some paperwork, when we heard a soft thump from outside. We weren't overly concerned, as it didn't sound particularly alarming and was probably just something bouncing off the deck in the storm. A little later there was another one: thump.

The rain slackened off for a moment, and I got up to open the bathroom window because we had been getting the occasional whiff of an unpleasant smell and I thought perhaps that we should let some ventilation into the head. While I was up, I stuck my head out of the hatch to look at the weather and was greeted by a loud thump-thump on the deck and a strong smell of stale fish.

I turned on the torch and started laughing. There were two gannets roosting in the top set of mast spreaders. Every time they let fly with some droppings, the wind whipped them back at a sixty degree angle to impact just aft of the dodger. They can't have been there for more than a few hours, but the sheer volume of guano was astounding. The floor of the cockpit, both lockers, and both solar panels were liberally coated in up to a centimetre of foul-smelling paste.


I waved my torch at the birds and they sulkily left to find another boat, but not before one of them scored a direct and very wet hit on the padlock for the locker containing the cleaning equipment.

We got the hint. It really was time to leave.

May 20, 2009

Ongoing Precipitation

All this week, south-eastern Queensland has been getting a pasting from the weather gods. We're still anchored in Mooloolaba, waiting for the rain to stop, for the wind to ease, and for the 5 metre swells to die down. The rain's been astonishing. Sometimes I put my hand out of the companionway hatch and it feels like I've stuck it under a bath tap. We hear stories of power lines down and major roads out of commission, with 150 mm or more of rain falling in just 12 hours.

The winds have been exciting, too. They were forecasting 45 and 55 knots (+/- 40%) out to sea. I haven't been monitoring our local wind speed (the indicator is on deck, in the rain) but during the nights the anchor chain has been groaning under the strain and at times Pindimara was bucking like a bronco. All around us, yachts have been dragging their anchors, which is not too great when you consider that we're packed like sardines into a canal lined with millionaire mansions. One guy on a 42 metre yacht woke up to find himself 50 metres downstream and practically inside somebody's lounge room. He wasn't the only one, and we've seen a few people motoring nervously about trying to find some extra swinging room. Our anchor has set just fine, and it hasn't moved at all... although with all the pressure on it I imagine it's pretty well dug in by now, and I'm not looking forward to trying to hoist it when we leave.

The canal water is thick and brown and full of flotsam from upstream. In a brief moment of calm I climbed the mast to fit a new anchor light, and from my vantage point I could see that the whole surface of the canal is slick with oil washed down the storm drains from the roads. There's a whole lot of water out there; the canal is running so fast that the tide didn't get a chance to come in, and Pindimara remained pointed upstream all day.

One day we went ashore to do the laundry. When we returned to the dinghy it was full of rain water, and I actually wore out my bailer trying to get rid of it. At one point, with the bailer splintered down to half its original size and a new cloudburst sweeping in from the sea, I found that I couldn't empty the boat faster than the rain was filling it. Thank goodness that all our nice clean laundry was sealed into dry-bags.

The yacht's usually pretty waterproof, but on one occasion we must have left one of the three locks on the head window ever so slightly loose. Usually this might have resulted in a few dribbles on the floor of the shower, but a couple of hours of this current downpour filled the bathroom with several inches of water, and when we got back the water was lapping at the lip of the bulkhead into the lounge. That would have been messy.

One good thing is that when the dinghy fills up overnight, we can pump the nice fresh rain water straight into our tanks, although this morning I did wonder if it would sink before I could get started.


Apart from the gale warnings, the weather forecasts are quite vague, peppered with "depending on movement" and "maybe lower". I downloaded some GRIB files and quite frankly I don't blame them. It's anybody's guess what'll happen next.

Just for fun, here's a graphic representation of the wind strength data for earlier today. Red arrows indicate Force 8 to 9. See that confused bit where all the different coloured arrows are stacked up on top of each other? That's where we are.


Since we had so much fresh water, and since the canal is not really suitable for swimming, we decided to have a bath. We have a kid's inflatable paddling pool that exactly fits inside the cockpit. Add a dinghy-full of rain water and a few pans hot from the stove, and Robert is your mother's brother.


May 18, 2009


Mooloolaba is a very curious place. From the road it looks just like a standard eastern seaboard town, with malls and surf shops and miles of perfect beach. Arriving by yacht gives you a different perspective, because the best place to drop an anchor is in the sea canal at the end of the harbour, which is an extensive network of artificial sandy channels lined with millionaires' mansions, each with one or two yachts parked at the bottom of the garden. It's like a cross between Venice and Florida.


We have stopped here for a while to do a little maintenance. Nothing major, but the masthead anchor light needs replacing, the water maker has a suction problem, and we are still badly in need of a replacement joker valve for the toilet. This latter has been annoying to us for quite some time, because we'd previously bought a cheap unbranded valve from Whitworths (ten dollars instead of near eighty for a full Jabsco service kit that contains lots of other parts that we don't need) and have regretted it ever since, because the inferior quality of the valve meant that old sewage slowly gets backwashed into the toilet bowl until it fills up. You can imagine what then happens when the toilet bowl gets sloshed around in a seaway.

There are quite a few chandleries in the Mooloolaba area, and we've managed to source all of these bits and pieces (including a genuine $35 Jabsco joker valve! Hurrah!) as well as some new toys, such as running lights for the tender. I even managed to source a couple of oil filters for the engine, which have been mysteriously like gold dust all the way up this coast.


The shops and services are widely spread around the canal system, and I've been really grateful to have the new outboard motor because it would otherwise have taken me half a day to row from one end to the other and back. It also gives us a chance to gawp at all the mansions and yachts as we trundle back and forth.

After a few days of working on the boat and on schoolwork, we got a little stir-crazy and looked around for something a bit different. As luck would have it, we happened on an advert for the Sunshine Coast Brewery, which is tucked away on an out-of-town industrial estate. A local bus driver took pity on us, and made a little diversion and dropped us off at the entrance to the park, which was a lovely thing to do and typical of the people who we meet every day here on the Queensland coast.

The brewery produces a great selection of European-style beers (we were particularly stunned by the Rye ESB and the Hefeweissen), plus some interesting variations on alcoholic ginger beer. We got chatting to Greg, the owner, and had a grand afternoon tasting all his excellent ales, after which he joined us in one for the road and took us back to town. A top man with a top brewery.


After we'd manhandled our case of beers out to the yacht, Bronwyn decided that she was still thirsty, so we took the dinghy back to shore and made our way to one of the local pubs where the beers were far inferior but we had an entertaining time drinking with some locals and watching people falling over and being bounced by the door staff.

The next morning I was feeling just a touch under the weather, so we made our way to the beach and took it easy.


Mooloolaba beach was very pleasant, and the water was calm and shallow and we were very glad to finally do some swimming. We've been conserving fresh water on the boat and haven't fancied a dip in the murky canal water, so we've been feeling pretty dirty and it was good to get clean.

May 14, 2009

Escape from Moreton Bay

We'd been in two minds about going into Mooloolaba, which was the next stop before Fraser Island. We were keen to see it, but the official charts said that it was too shallow for us to reach the area marked off for anchorage, and we preferred not to pay for a marina berth. Our cruising guide stated that depths were good, but the accompanying printed chart told a different story. We knew that Pelagic had been there before so we checked with them. Not only did they say that it was plenty deep enough, but in fact they were anchored there right now, having made a fast 33-hour trip up from Iluka while we were in Brisbane.

The forecast for the next day was for very little wind, and since we wanted to arrive in Mooloolaba before sunset we worked out our passage plan for an average speed of 4 knots. This entailed a dawn start, but in the event we lazily emerged blinking into the sunlight after a long, comfortable sleep and finally hoisted the anchor at around half past eight.

Stretching before us were the hundred square miles of shoals and sand banks that had caused us so much stress on the way in. The dangers were, of course, completely invisible, lurking just below the surface of the innocently sparkling blue sea. In the pleasant sunshine, they seemed to taunt us.

Armed once more with our slightly unreliable chart, we took up the challenge. Rather than mix it with the large ships that were streaming out of the Brisbane docks and up the dredged channel, we chose to take an older, unmarked portion of the Main Channel for as long as possible, before joining them on the marked shipping route out to sea. Although requiring some more blind navigation, this had the advantage of giving us a fast beam reach in what turned out to be a rather decent southerly. Before long we were creaming along at 8 knots between the lurking sand banks and briefly considered reefing the main, but "damn the torpedoes!" we put up with a bit of weather helm because we'd probably need every inch of sail when we turned into the northerly-running shipping channel.

During the morning, we saw a number of large tankers and freighters rumbling by ahead of us, but when we actually made the final turn there was only one left in sight, and that one far ahead of us in the haze. Despite our concerns, we had the channel to ourselves for the rest of the morning.

By early afternoon, we were almost out of the clutches of Moreton Bay. Rather than follow the final couple of doglegs in the marked channel, we cut the last corner across some 6 metre deep sand banks, which made life very interesting for a while because the shallow water amplified the swell on the beam and gave us an entertaining but very rocky ride. I believe that it was at this point that the coffee thermos emptied itself over Bronwyn's school books.

The wind was forecast to drop in the afternoon, but if anything it got a little stronger, and when we finally made it into the open sea and pointed our nose at Mooloolaba, we were running at 7-8 knots before 20-30 knots of breeze. Despite the late start, we dropped the sails and crossed the Mooloolaba bar just as the sun was setting. The bar itself presented no problems, but the school of fledgling outrigger-paddlers who straggled unheedingly across the entrance in front of us did cause us a few heart-in-mouth moments. In the end they sorted themselves out and got out of our way in good time, which was just as well because by then we were nigh-on unstoppable, lined up with the channel leads and being sucked in by the tide.

We chugged our way gently through the deepening dusk, and dropped our anchor in a few metres of water just a few boat-lengths away from Pelagic.

May 11, 2009

Mud Island

We were intending to head back to our old anchorage by the Sandhills dunes, but in order to get there we had to first round Mud Island, a long flat sandbank close to the Brisbane River shipping channel. As we came out of the lee of the island we got into some swell that had been building up as the wind crossed the bay from the other side.

The Sandhills anchorage is very picturesque, but it is rather exposed and does suffer rather from swell, particularly when the tide changes. Not only was Mud Island acting as a buffer for the south easterly swell, but it was also closer to the Main Channel that we would be taking in the morning, so we tucked in behind it and dropped the anchor.

The dinghy was absolutely filthy from its continual dunkings in the swamp mud at the Botanical Gardens, so I took advantage of our early stop to haul it up on a halyard and scrub it out.


The shallow anchorage also meant that most of our chain was still in the anchor locker. I'd been waiting for a chance to work on it, so I sat on the bow and hauled it out onto the deck. Pindimara's original chain had been marked every 5 metres by coloured spray-paint, but this had quietly eaten away the galvanisation on the chain and suddenly, one day, it rusted into a big knot and we'd had to replace the whole thing.


Not wanting to destroy our new chain with the same problem, we had marked the lengths with cable ties instead of spray paint, but were finding that these interfered with the smooth progress of the chain over the winch. In fact, while anchoring in the Brisbane River, the chain jumped completely off the gypsy and the whole seventy metres plummeted uncontrollably to the bottom. This was pretty alarming. Not only is there a lot of metal moving very fast alongside your feet, but the total stationary weight is about 100 kg and when it reaches the end, it can tear the D-ring right out so that you lose anchor, chain, and possibly quite a lot of hull. Only a couple of weeks previously I'd taken the precaution of adding a loop of tripled springy silver rope to the end of our chain, so all I could do was stand there and keep my toes clear and wait to see whether it would bounce or snap.

Luckily it held, but it was time to get rid of the cable ties. To this end I obtained some water-based acrylic paint, reasoning that it might not contain quite as many noxious chemicals as the spray variety. As the sun set behind and the moon rose over Mud Island in front, I sat on the fore-deck and painstakingly brushed on two coats of primer and two coats of colour, while trying very hard not to spill any paint. This started to get quite difficult when a surprise wind blew up, thrashing the boat around and splashing me with spray. I clumsily tied down the wet and sticky chain so that it wouldn't fall over the side, and went below for dinner.


The sea started to get pretty sloppy. As we climbed into bed later that night, we were very glad that we were not in the open water on the other side of the bay.

May 10, 2009

Escape from Brisvegas

It was nice to catch up with friends, but the attractions of the bright lights wore off pretty quickly. I hadn't really noticed before, but it's hard to buy anything useful inside a city. I needed some plumbing parts and miscellaneous chandlery. Bronwyn wanted a shower and a laundry. We found some inexpensive toilet rolls, a haircut and some discounted novels, but otherwise there was precious little of value to the visiting cruiser.

It's been less than two months since we quit our careers and started sailing, but I was surprised to find how hard it was to relate to urban life. I was being bombarded with solutions that I didn't need to problems that I didn't have. Even the process of going out for a meal or for a beer seemed needlessly over-complicated, and it was always a relief to return to the boat where she bobbed quietly on the edge of the swamp at the Botanical Gardens.

We'd been in Brisbane for a week, and we'd seen everybody who wanted to visit us, so it was time to move on. Unfortunately we were almost completely out of both fuel and water, and we hadn't found anywhere where we could obtain either of those two essentials. Luckily we remembered that we'd seen a fuel bowser downriver at the city limits, so hoping that (a) it was open on Sunday, and (b) that it had drinking water, we hauled up the anchor and set off. We figured that we had enough fuel to make it that far, and if it was closed, then we'd tie up and go to sleep until it opened on Monday.

It was great to be moving again. The sun was shining and we got to see a lot of details that we'd missed on our arrival, when we'd been more concerned about lining up the leading lights in the gathering dusk. The great wool stores from the early 1900s were particularly impressive, enormous blocky brick buildings that seemed to run for miles. Presumably these used to be dockside facilities, but a great many slender modern houses have been squeezed onto what must be a new, reclaimed waterline, each with its own personal dock, although the docks were usually empty.

The fuel dock under the Gateway Bridge not only had water, but also very cheap diesel, which was quite a surprise especially when the attendant confirmed that this was now the only fuel dock left in the Brisbane area. On our travels we've come across dockside diesel that is almost twice the price of its roadside equivalent. I began to relax, and spent a happy half hour chatting to the attendant while Bronwyn filled the water tanks.

Fuelled and watered, we let the tide suck us down the shipping channel and out into Moreton Bay. The heat of the sun, the direction of the wind, the depth of the water, the course of the yacht ahead of us; these were important, these were reality. I felt the gritty crowded feel of the city slip away, and danced a little jig at the helm while Bronwyn rustled up some fresh home-made won-ton soup in the galley. When she brought the steaming aromatic bowls up into the cockpit, she remarked that this was the first time that she'd seen me properly smiling all week. I don't think that she was joking.

May 7, 2009


We remained anchored by the Sandhills dunes (imaginative Australian cartographers strike again...) in Moreton Bay for a few more days until all the weekend visitors had gone, and then hoisted our sails and headed across to the mouth of the Brisbane River. We had a nice beam reach at a consistent eight knots. Pindimara never used to go this fast. Either the boat's changed, or we have.

We'd been keeping half an eye on some distant rain clouds which were scudding past out to sea, and about half way across the bay we noticed a twister dropping down from the cloud base. We double-checked and it was definitely passing by outside the bay, but it was quite a fascinating sight. Neither of us had ever seen one before.


Long term readers of this blog will know that we have been following the exploits of Bob on Capricorn, also circumnavigating in a Bavaria but quite a few months ahead of us. In fact he had been coming up the NSW coast behind us, and when the waterspout formed, he was unlucky enough to be on the other side of Moreton Island and directly beneath it. His furler jammed and he got very wet, but luckily survived the experience without injury.

We arrived at the main Brisbane shipping channel and dropped sails for the long motor up the river to the city centre. We were sharing the relatively narrow lane with some seriously large commercial shipping, although they were travelling slowly to minimise their bow waves and some had time to wave cheerfully from the flying bridge.

Much of the first part of the Brisbane River is taken up by LPG tanker facilities, and the smell of leaking gas was pretty strong. On the other hand, there was lots to see and the depths and leading lights were uniformly excellent. Several hours later we found ourselves chugging underneath the girders of Story Bridge and into the heart of Brisbane itself.


Many cruising guides mention the cheap pile berths by the Botanical Gardens, but we were aware of a lot of discussion in blogs and fora that suggested that they were permanently clogged with old hulks. We telephoned the Port Authority who run the pile berths, and they were quite definite that not only were the berths only for short term transient cruisers, but that there were currently a number of berths free, and gave us a list of berth numbers.

On our arrival, though, it was quite clear that not only were there no free berths, but that quite a number of boats didn't look like they had been capable of moving for some years.


We dropped anchor around the bend and found good holding close to some mangroves, and when we later investigated the pile berths on foot, we found a large sign stating that the berths were available for a monthly rate, directly contradicting our Port Authority spokesperson.

It's all worked out well because we're very happy with our anchorage, which is only a short row from a Botanical Gardens piling where, with a little acrobatic effort at low tide, we can tie up our dinghy in safety and stroll into town, where we've been meeting up with various friends, and have drunk far too much expensive Belgian beer for our budget.


The city's been a bit of a shock to the system. Each morning the joggers sprint past as fast as they can with a desperate look in their eyes and headphones jacked into their ears. In the streets, everybody is hurrying around without paying any attention to anything. When we sit down in a cafe, waitresses rush up before we have a chance to get comfortable, and we find that we are infringing rules about who can sit where and when. We're finding it all a bit manic, even Bronwyn who is a self-avowed city kid and was looking forward to some bright lights. It is strange to think that only a few short months ago we were part of this same madding crowd, but already that whole life seems impossibly remote.

May 4, 2009

Computer Geek? I think not. Surfer Boy? Perhaps...

The Scene: Kounungai (Moreton Island)

The Proof:

The puppeteer:

May 3, 2009

Running Blind

The official Hydrographic chart of Moreton Bay shows two beaconed channels that lead from the sea and through the shifting sand shoals to the bay itself. The biggest is the North West Channel, which is dredged to at least 15 metres and carries large cargo and cruise liner traffic to Brisbane. This can only be accessed from the far north of the entrance, some five hours away from our current position as we bobbed around in the rain, swell and darkness. Much closer to us was the North East Channel, and connecting us to it were two unmarked but still navigable channels known as the Inner and Outer Freeman. The Inner Freeman was far too shallow and had a notorious bar, but the Outer Freeman seemed to offer us good depths all the way across, apart from a bit at the far end where it dropped to six metres of shifting sands at either of two spurs that lead onto the North East Passage. With our 2 metre keel, this still gave us at least 4 metres of clear water even at the lowest tide.

The downside of this plan, of course, was that it was pitch dark and pouring with rain, and we were tired and had never been here before. On the other hand, our chart was only a month old and we had practised navigating with GPS at close quarters in the Solitary Islands. We really needed to get out of the swell, which was making us sick. We decided to go for it.

Navigating Pindimara by instruments requires co-ordinated teamwork and perfect trust. At the helm, Bronwyn was driving completely blind, focussed on steering a course by compass alone. This is very difficult. Usually you pick a distant object on the required bearing and aim for it, but Moreton Bay at night is a very confusing place. The shoaling area alone covers over a hundred square miles and is criss-crossed with channel markers and scattered with warning beacons both far and near, providing the helm with a shifting landscape of colour with few stable markers. Bronwyn's only option was to stare eagle-eyed at the red glow of the compass and to try to compensate for drift and windage.

Down below, my whole world consisted of a small blinking cursor that represented our GPS position on the chart, and the shouted depth soundings from the helm. I had to judge from the cursor's continually updated orientation and position how we were being affected by any currents or rips, and to call up course amendments as required, as well as trying to interpret Bronwyn's depth soundings in the light of the chart contours in front of me. Every few minutes I would pop my head out of the companionway and take a compass bearing on one of the few static lighthouses as backup; electronics can fail, and charts can be wrong.

At first (after a short break when I had to run up on deck and lose my dinner over the side) it all went well, with the depth soundings corresponding well to the chart. We successfully negotiated a couple of unseen shoals, and were approaching the zone of 6 metre shifting sands. It was time to decide whether to take the relatively wide northerly passage, or the more southerly gutter. The latter was two miles long and only 500 metres wide, but would cut an hour off our journey time. It was already midnight. The currents were manageable. We headed south.

The bottom rose rapidly as the sides of the gutter closed in. Just as we passed the 6 metre contour, Bronwyn called out "four", which was perfect because the sounder measures depth from the bottom of our 2 metre keel. I breathed a sigh of relief. The gutter was where it was supposed to be.

A following current began to push us along. Bronwyn called out "Three" and then "Two". I stared at the chart, which showed us perfectly centred in the six-metre gutter. The sand must have shifted. We had a hasty discussion and agreed that if we came too close to bottoming out - or indeed hit - then Bronwyn would turn sharply to port and try to retrace her course, although this was going to be increasingly difficult as the current continued to sweep us along. We knew that on either side of us, invisible in the darkness, were the two large and impenetrable Venus Banks. Presumably either one or both had been leaking or drifting into the gutter. Bronwyn called out "One point eight!"

We were one mile in, with another mile to go. If we made it through, then we would emerge right on top of a flashing red channel marker delineating the edge of the North East Channel. I called up the bearing, and Bronwyn said that she couldn't see the light. I ran up on deck with a couple of check bearings on surrounding lighthouses, but we seemed to be exactly where we were supposed to be, albeit in scarily shallow water. Perhaps the red beacon was hidden behind a sand bank. Perhaps.

How deep were we now? One point six metres. This wasn't so good. We were deep in a maze of continually shifting channels, in the pitch dark in the middle of the night, our gutter was steadily disappearing from under us and the channel that we were heading for had gone missing.

I know how scary it is to be driving blind when you know that you're lost, so summoning my best confident voice I called up course corrections to port and to starboard to see if by some miracle I could find deeper water. Bronwyn, on the other hand, knows how scary it is to be sitting there extemporising when your tools have failed and everything depends on you, so she omitted to mention that we now only had 60 centimetres under the keel. The minutes passed as we quested back and forth, sometimes a bit deeper and sometimes a bit shallower, never quite hitting the bottom but never quite gaining any depth. Then at about 1 am Bronwyn called "Two metres! Three!" and we were through.

There was still no sign of the beacon, even though it was supposed to be only 500 metres away, so I called a course change that would bring us out right on top of it. We arrived, and there was nothing there. Where was the channel?

We put the motor into neutral and drifted under our triple-reefed main in what the chart said was the middle of the North East Channel. There should have been a line of coloured beacons stretching out to the north, but although the far horizon sparkled with other lights, our channel was nowhere to be seen. The Port Authority must have removed the markers without informing the Hydrographic Survey, because our chart had only been updated a month before.


Here and there in the darkness we could make out the riding lights of tinnies and small fishing boats, and occasionally one would shine a torch at us in apparent disbelief. What on earth is that great big yacht doing out here?

We couldn't drift forever in these conflicting currents, so we went back to our instruments. Luckily the southernmost end of the North Eastern Channel was originally marked not by a navigation marker but by a westerly danger light, which was still in place. This gave us a friendly flashing point to aim for, and within half an hour we had squeezed between the danger marker and Moreton Island and were within clear sight of the main, North Western Channel.

The main channel was packed with seriously large container ships and cruise liners, edging slowly through the darkness and probably terrified of running down a fisherman. We chose to stay well away, and went looking for somewhere to anchor.

The obvious places were along the edge of Moreton Island, but first we needed to pass over a dumping ground for unexploded military ordinance. After that we tried for Sholl Bank at Tangalooma, but the anchor bounced off impenetrable gravel. At least it gave us a chance to drop the mainsail. It was three o'clock in the morning and we were very, very tired.

We pored over the chart, and settled on a remote and fairly sheltered bay about eight miles away. We worked our way through the last of the shoals and into Moreton Bay proper, where we found ourselves bashing into enormous head-on swells. We were so tired now that we were motoring in thirty-minute shifts, grabbing alternate naps in the cockpit in between.

The first tinges of dawn touched the horizon ahead, and I simultaneously spotted the shore-based navigation light at Kounungai which marked our chosen anchorage. This piece of Moreton Island was supposed to be uninhabited, so what were all those extra white lights along the shore?

The dawn light grew stronger and I started to laugh out loud. They were the mast-head anchor lights of other boats! Obviously the holding was good. We dropped the pick in ten metres and, ignoring the bouncing swell, fell into a long, deep and exhausted sleep.

May 2, 2009

Having a Swell Time

We left the Gold Coast on the dawn tide.

I just love that expression. It sounds like something out of an old pirate movie. In actual fact, with the tide turning at dawn, and wanting to wait for at least the third hour of flood before crossing the bar, what it really means is that we had a leisurely breakfast, prepared the boat for sea, and were lifting anchor at about ten o'clock. But "leaving on the dawn tide" sounds so much more impressive.

We had no problems going out of the Gold Coast Seaway, apart from "are those people in the water?". A quick check with the binoculars revealed that there were indeed a number of surfers swimming across the bar entrance, in amongst the continual trawler, fishing and yacht traffic. Crazy. But a passing police launch manoeuvred politely around one pair who were doggedly paddling down the main channel, so I suppose that this must be normal Surfers Paradise behaviour.

Despite our careful timing of the tide, there was still a bit of an incoming rip, presumably due to some kind of tidal overrun. Bronwyn kept the power hard on coming out of the bar (no smoke! A change of oil and cleaning the air filter seemed to have fixed that one) while I went down into the saloon to check on the location of the nearby shoaling reefs. Once into the open sea, Bronwyn kept the power on directly into incoming swells, running up each wave and launching off the top to drop into the face of the next one. Down below, I was trying to stay on the chart table seat while juggling a pile of eIectronics and paperwork, and I had some idea of what it must be like to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel. I was feeling a bit battered when I emerged blinking into the sunlight.

We rounded the shoals and set off northward, heading for Moreton Bay and Brisbane. It was a beautiful day and we had a perfect light following wind. We experimented for a bit with flying the jib only, just to see what it was like, but quickly switched to the main and found ourselves running at six to eight knots. The only slight difficulty was a quartering swell which made steering quite an energetic task. When the swell approaches the boat on a diagonal, you have to corkscrew up and down each face as it passes under the boat. Still, we were fresh and rested and I enjoyed the exercise for a while before turning control over to the tireless Harriet. Being used to the NSW forecasts which only try to predict swell heights to within the nearest metre or so and are often wildly inaccurate (eg "Swell: SE 1 to 2 metres" may well turn out to be more than 3), we were quite amused to see that the Queensland forecast was a bit more precise; apparently we could expect to be sailing in exactly 1.7 metres of swell.


There were very few marine hazards on the charts, so we just concentrated in sailing as straight a line as possible. The Eastern Australian Current did have one last go at us around one headland, but after that it seemed to give up. Cashing in on this bonus, we decided to head straight across one large bay instead of hugging the coast, because that would put the swell directly behind us and to tell the truth we were getting a bit tired of the constant pounding. As we got into deeper water, a combination of fair winds and following surf got us up to eight knots, and we had to revise our timetable. We had planned to sail through the night so that we would arrive at Moreton Bay in daylight to negotiate the shoals across the entrance, but it looked like we were going to arrive in the middle of the night instead.

Keeping a lookout, I saw a squall racing towards us and shouted to Bronwyn, who was preparing a meal in the galley. She calmly asked me for a time check for her rice. Exactly seven minutes later we were were triple-reefed and back on track, and Bronwyn went back down and took the rice off the stove just as the squall hit us with 35 knots and a flurry of rain. As soon as it had passed, dinner was served.


The rain and the swell kept on harrying us but Pindimara was flying, and by late evening we were approaching the notorious Moreton Bay shoals in pitch darkness and zero visibility. One option would be to stand out to sea and wait for dawn, but we were feeling battered and bruised and just wanted to get out of the swell, so we hove to and got out the charts.