June 30, 2009

Keppel Islands to Percy Islands

Before we left Great Keppel, Sue and Steve showed up on Tenacious D. Sue and Steve were not only our neighbours when we were preparing for our voyage back at Gibson Marina, but they were also the only long term cruisers that we really knew, and as well as being lots of fun they did a grand job of putting up with all our stupid questions during our final months of preparation. It was great to catch up. We had a bit of a yarn over a pancake breakfast and then they had a lunch date on another boat, so we hoiked up the anchor and set off to the north.

We had a long way to go, and there was very little wind forecast, but we managed to bravely leave under sail. It may have been slow, but it was peaceful. We noticed that the water was sparkling, and dipped a bucket in to see the diatoms and flagellates swimming about. We followed a lunch of chilli tuna salad on freshly baked bread with a small bottle of champagne and some lime jelly.


As the sun set prettily over the Queensland hills, we heard the dull thump of army munitions. This whole coastline is sometimes taken over for army training, and we'd heard on the grapevine that they were using it today. This meant that our intended half-way anchorage at Port Clinton was out of the question, so we were intending to travel all night to the Percy Islands.

The military zone extends quite far out to sea, so we had to arrange our course to avoid it. Pretty soon the wind died completely, and we spent the rest of the night chugging up the military boundary line under motor. Given the forecast, we felt pretty lucky to have had the sails up for as long as we did.

Bronwyn went below and I stood the first watch. Since there was very little swell, steering was pretty easy even though we were motoring, and I found that with the aid of a head torch I could steer and read a novel at the same time. The watch passed pleasantly swiftly, punctuated by the occasional yellow star shell drifting over from the military manoeuvres on shore.

Bronwyn took over from the small wee ones until pre-dawn. A sea fog threatened to roll in from the east, but it was low on the water and left the sparkling stars bright and clear above. Thankfully the fog never developed.

I was back at the helm just before dawn, which revealed another clear blue sky but still no wind. South Percy Island was in sight all morning. Most cruisers visit Middle Island rather than South, but after staring at it for so many hours we thought we decided that rather than simply steering around it, we would stop for the night.

There was quite a lot of debris in the sea, tree trunks and large branches, as well as a substantial quantity of what seemed to be an orange algal bloom. Half way up the eastern coast, and over a mile from shore, we encountered a large yellow snake swimming by. It was a metre long and looked a lot like a python rather than a sea snake, and had tied the end of its tail up in a knot, presumably for buoyancy or for balance. It stopped and regarded us with interest when we slowed and did a circuit around it, and then began once more swimming strongly out to sea. We wondered how it could see where it was going, with its head that close to the water.


At half past two in the afternoon, we dropped anchor in a delightful sandy bay in the north eastern corner of South Percy Island.

June 28, 2009

Gladstone to Great Keppel Island

As the sun rose above the loading docks, we slipped quietly out of Gladstone. There are three routes out of Gladstone Harbour. The main shipping channel to the south - the way that we came in - would be quite a dogleg for a northerly trip. The Narrows is a shortcut direct to our destination of Keppel Bay, but is dominated by a six mile drying stretch called the Cattle Crossing and you have to be absolutely sure that not only will the tide give you enough depth to get through, but that you have enough power to fight the tide all the way to the other side before the water disappears again. The Northern Passage is a middle way, saving us about 20 miles on the shipping channel but with only a short drying area right by the bar.

Since the drying area is at the bar at the far end of the channel, we had to time our trip up to cross the bar at high tide. This meant that we were fighting the incoming tide all the way, but luckily it was only running at a knot or two. We were motoring up at about half tide, which was just enough to cover the sand banks and reefs. We had the somewhat surreal experience of navigating up thin unmarked winding channels that we could see on the chart, but to the naked eye we were zigzagging meaninglessly across an apparently unobstructed lake of unbroken water.

Bronwyn was steering, I was navigating down below.
"Thank goodness for GPS" I thought as we approached a particularly thin section. Just then, something crashed and we lost all our navigation systems. Great. I called course headings up to Bronwyn from memory while frantically changing batteries in the GPS and rebooting both computers, one as backup in case the main one didn't recover. Everything came back online just as we needed to do a sharp turn to avoid another invisible sand bar. The computers behaved from then on but, thankfully, we had now entered a marked ferry channel and the leading lights took us between a couple more reefs and out into the open sea.

We were free! We grinned like maniacs and rushed to put the sails up. Gladstone wasn't a bad place, but it had hung over us like a black cloud because we were forced to stay there. The freedom that we'd started to take for granted had disappeared, and the lack chafed our souls.

No matter. We'd done what needed to be done, and now we were on the move again.

It was one of those perfect sailing days. We were close hauled and flying along at 6-7 knots, but the sea was calm and smooth and so it wasn't uncomfortable at all, just pure fun. We steered manually all the way.


We could take advantage of the NW winds all the way up the coast, but we knew that the final westward section toward Great Keppel Island was going to be a long hard beat into wind. Halfway through the day I fired up the computer and downloaded the GRIB files for the next three days. Technology to the rescue! GRIB files are meteorological data that can be overlain onto a suitable digital map. In this case, they showed that at about four in the afternoon we could expect a westerly change, and then another one to the SW in the evening. This was perfect! It meant that rather than taking lots of time to tack back and forth, we could just gently curve around with the wind until we arrived.

And that was exactly how it happened. After 13 hours and 58.6 miles (an average 4.5 knots, much of the latter part against an evil 1.5 knot current, so the boat was really travelling much faster than that) we dropped anchor under the Milky Way and a crescent Moon, next to Second Beach on Great Keppel Island.

After a restful sleep - how wonderful to feel the boat rocking beneath us again! - I stood on deck under the rising sun and marvelled at the blue sea, the blue sky, and the peaks, beaches and islands scattered around us. What a beautiful spot.

We had intended to spend the next day hiking over the island, but first I had to repair the electric anchor winch which had given out the night before. I quickly traced the fault to a lazy wiring job at the sharp end; I mean, if you were going to install a wiring connection at the end of the boat that spends a lot of time immersed in sea water, wouldn't you try to waterproof it a little? Apparently not. Luckily I had my trusty gas-powered soldering iron and spliced in a new section.


Standing on the bow, we realised that the water was so clear that we could see the anchor. This reminded us that we hadn't been swimming in ever such a long time, so we decided to snorkel over the reef at the end of the nearby beach instead of going for a hike.

Since we'd arrived at night, we had anchored a prudent distance from the invisible shore, and daylight revealed that we were a good 600 metres out. We donned masks and fins and set off. Half way there, Bronwyn got stung in the face by a jellyfish, but after that things started to look up.

At one end of the beach is a secluded clearing marked by a rather bizarre sculpture consisting of forty or more beach-combed floats and buoys suspended with string from a large tree. Next to it is an unusual swing and an enormous hammock fashioned from a fishing net. We spent some time lazing in the hammock in the sun, chatting idly about this and that, before putting on our fins and splashing out to the reef.

It was less a reef and more a collection of rocks fallen from the island, but it was home to as relaxed and varied collection of fish as you would find on a scuba dive. We spent a happy few hours paddling around before beginning the long swim back to Pindimara. Just as we set off, we were passed by a shoal of pike barracuda each almost a metre long. Spectacular.

June 26, 2009


The tourist board brochure claims that "Gladstone is a gourmet paradise...creating flavours you will remember long after your holiday". We are not convinced. Apart from pub food (with an honourable mention to the Queens Hotel Steak House - see previous blog entry), and a scattering of rather second rate cafes, there are only a handful of real restaurants in town, and most of those are boarded up with 'for sale' signs on them. The list of 'restaurants' in that same tourist brochure even includes the McDonalds... and mysteriously fails to mention the one diamond in the rough, the stunningly good Rock Salt in Roseberry Street. When we showed up without a reservation on a weekday evening the place was packed, although they were perfectly happy to light up a gas heater and let us sit outside on the patio. The service was cheerful, the wine list and prices acceptable, and the food very good indeed. We're counting our pennies to see if we can justify another visit before we leave.

We found a self-guided pamphlet tour of the town, which was only two kilometres long and took in all the historical attractions. Unfortunately, most of it reminded us of a similar tour that we once did in Shanghai, where we would find ourselves looking at a car park and admiring a small plinth stating "Here stands the former site of the former Korean embassy". The main highlight is the climb of 111 steps alongside the Rotary Club artificial waterfall to the top of Auckland Hill ("Spectacular... multicoloured vistas of the city... magnificently preserved buildings from times gone by"), from which vantage point you get a good view of the mineral loader, the coal loader, the power station, both bauxite refineries and the smelter.


This encouraged us to take a number of the free 'Industry Tours', in which we were ferried every day by bus to a different plant site. The Queensland Alumina refinery was an interesting nest of pipework and towers, stained either bauxite red or alumina white depending on which part of the process was in progress. We weren't allowed out of the bus or to take photos, but we did get to see behind the scenes that are not normally visible to the public. Bronwyn was particularly struck by the large quantities of junk lying around everywhere, and we couldn't help noticing the phenomenal amount of welding and repair work that was going on. When there are hundreds of thousands of kilometres of pipework carrying hot caustic soda, I imagine that equipment doesn't last very long. On the way in, a sign proudly proclaimed "Days since last serious injury: 2"

We also visited the Boyne Smelter, where the alumina is reduced using astonishing amounts of electricity to make aluminium ingots, bars and billets for export mainly to Asia. Once turned on, it's a bad idea to turn the smelter off because the molten metal will set irreversibly in the crucibles, so there was a continual tale of keeping up the supply of electricity and making sure that they've made enough anodes to replace the ones that burn out every few days.

Another local industry is the RG Tanna coal loader that is the source of the black dust all over our deck. They take coal from bottom-dumping train cars, blend it, and then load it into bulk carriers at a rather amazing 6000 tonnes per hour. Our bus driver took us right out along the loading pier, where coal was pouring into ships from a conveyor moving at five metres per second... a barrage of statistics, but an interesting and enjoyable tour.


And now the week is over. I have sent in my final assignment, and Bronwyn has completed her final exam. We are free to go! There are nice SW winds forecast for the weekend. We're fuelled up, watered up, provisioned up. I've hosed the coal dust off the deck (again). We've washed and polished and vacuumed, charged all our rechargeable stuff using shore power, finished colour coding the anchor chain, and reinstalled our tow generator. I've even - I think - fixed the ventilation problem in the head.

We leave on the dawn tide.

June 21, 2009

Gladstone Marina

Usually when we need to stay at a marina, we rent a swing mooring and commute to land by dinghy. A mooring is usually cheaper and more private than a berth, but still allows you access to the marina's showers, laundry and other facilities. It lacks a fresh water tap and shore power, but those are not things that we regard as at all important, being largely self-sufficient with our large water tanks and wind and solar generators.

On this occasion, though, our greatest concern is revising for and taking our exams. Mine are conducted online, so I use my computer at the local library, but Bronwyn has had to arrange for an invigilator at the nearby campus of the University of Central Queensland. To make it all easier, and to ensure that we have the necessary power for late night study, we have committed ourselves to three weeks plugged in to a marina berth.


Gladstone Marina is operated by the Port Authority, whose main job is to handle the freighter traffic servicing the local coal loader, smelter and gas plant. The marina is overshadowed by the coal loader which continually lays down a thick layer of black dust while beeping loudly to let you know that, even though you might have gone to bed, they are still working. The marina is also in the middle of a refit, so there are labourers disassembling and reassembling the pontoons to the sound of power tools and local radio, backed by a loud and smoky dredger running at all hours of the day and night.


Where there is a marina, there is usually a sailing club. On the whole, we've been completely unimpressed with all the sailing clubs that we've visited so far, but we persevered with the nearby Port Curtis Sailing Club. In their favour, they poured Guinness in pint dimple jugs. Actually, that's probably the only thing in their favour. The beer was poor and overpriced, the interior lacked any kind of atmosphere, and we didn't manage to engage anybody in conversation at all. The food was... perhaps I should merely draw your attention to the sign in the gents lavatory. While extolling the advantages of paying your club membership fees, this poster tantalisingly exhorted: "Your membership entitles you to discounts at our infamous restaurant". Enough said, I think.

We had a far better time at some of the local pubs, particularly at The Grand Hotel, which is always friendly and welcoming. One night we found ourselves drinking there with some coral trout fishermen celebrating their return from a four-week stint, who later took us to The Queens, which we had previously avoided because of its unprepossessing exterior but which turned out to be a lively and fun local haunt, full of interesting characters. I was also served one of the best steaks that I have eaten in Australia. It actually came 'blue' as ordered, and I could cut it with a fork. Superb.

I joined the locals that night in their tipple of choice, Bundaberg rum and coke, after which it all got a bit messy. Much, much later we set off on the kilometre or so walk back to the marina, and somehow got completely lost, even though the town is only a few minutes across. Luckily Bronwyn flagged down the driver of a passing petrol tanker, who took pity on us and drove us home.

Most of the boats here at the marina are long-term liveaboards. This doesn't mean that there are lots of cruising sailors to talk to; on the contrary, it's more like living in a waterborne trailer park. Most of the denizens seem to live on enormous self-built trimarans, all trailing great strands of coral and mussels testament to their complete and permanent immobility.



While hosing off a couple of weeks of coal dust from Pindimara's deck this afternoon, I noticed that even our neighbour's inflatable dinghy had nearly a metre of coral beard hanging from its underside.

While waiting for service at the sailing club, I idled away some time by reading their notice board, even perusing the race standings (it was a very long wait). Since then I have now seen most of the boats listed, including all those with high handicaps, and almost all of them are trailing festoons of coral and shellfish. I'm not sure exactly who is kidding whom.


We're here in Gladstone for a very specific reason, but I must admit that life at the marina is slowly driving me stir crazy. The rhythm of our day has all changed. Because we have permanent electrical power, we no longer go to bed at dusk and wake at dawn. Instead, we laze around in the evening watching videos and reading books, and wake up whenever our neighbours start to make too much noise in the morning. I've also lost touch with the weather. Usually I feel in tune with the boat, waking reliably whenever the tide changes or whenever there's a change in the wind. At sea, at anchor, or on a mooring, the boat feels restless when there's a change in the air. Here at the marina berth, I have no idea what is happening out there. The wind gusts or the sun comes out with no warning, and I feel disconnected. Hah, listen to me. We've only been at sea for three months, and already I sound like a hoary old sea dog.

But the exams are going well. Only one more week to go.

June 13, 2009

Side trip: Kalgoorlie

One of the reasons that we had to stop in Gladstone was that I needed to get to a field course in Kalgoorlie, clear across the other side of Australia. Since both Gladstone and Kalgoorlie are mining towns, we reasoned that I would be able to get a reasonable connection. We looked into buses, trains, and cars as well as aeroplanes, but flying was by far the cheapest option, and when I boarded the planes they were awash with fluoro shirts of mine workers changing shifts.

We arrived at dawn, and I got a good look at the landscape. I had expected it to be completely flat and red, and indeed it was, but I was surprised to note that it was lush with free-standing gum trees, marching in green rows to the horizon.


As we came in for landing, we flew over a number of open-cast pits. We didn't fly over the Super-Pit, because overflying that enormous cavity was banned after the updraft caused an airliner to crash a few years ago.

For scale, the tiny truck on the far right is about ten metres wide

Since I only had about twenty kilos of luggage, mainly text books, I decided to hike in rather than catch a taxi. I like to approach a new town slowly so that I can get a better feel for it, and I certainly needed to kill some time before anything opened, so I set off. It was strange to wear shoes again after all these months, and in addition they were brand new steel-toe work boots that I had been trying to break in on the beach, which must have looked quite amusing.


It was a very pleasant walk, and I was amused to see that most of the horizon at ground level is taken up by the artificially straight lines of mine tailings. I passed some pricey-looking new residences with expensive cars outside, and a number of scrubby little trailer parks, some of them glorying under names like "your golden nugget holiday home". When I finally arrived at the hostel (The Kalgoorlie Backpackers), I found it to be clean and presentable, and after a brief snooze on a sofa I was shown to my room for the week.

Most of the days and indeed the evenings were taken up with field trips, study and revision, but I did get out to see the town once in a while.


Most of the buildings date from the late 1800s, and the town is very well preserved. Clearly the mine companies bring in a lot of money. The schools look nice, too, although all of the shops had stickers in the window announcing that they would not serve children during school hours. There are enough shops and small restaurants to make it interesting, as well as a good number of pubs.


The streets are very wide indeed, apparently a hangover from the days of horse-driven road-trains, and the council has recently gone to the effort of replanting all the central reservations and borders with native flora. The only problem with native grasses is that they aren't good to walk on, so where pedestrians might be expected to pass, they had laid down astroturf instead of concrete. This might sound a bit strange, but it provided a nice contrast with the red mud and somehow didn't look out of place at all.

When I'd been searching the internet for a hotel, I had noticed that several of them offered "brothel tours" as a standard service. I wasn't entirely sure whether they were referring to historical museums or to working girls, but I was soon to find that on the other side of the street to my hostel was 'Questa Casa', claiming inevitably to be Australia's oldest brothel, but which offered tourist visits by day and more traditional services by night.


On our final night, a few of us went out for a meal at a Thai BYO (bring your own alcohol) restaurant one night, and it fell upon me to go out and find some wine. The first place that I tried was the Exchange Hotel, one of the three main central pubs. There were the usual dress code signs on the door, including an embargo on steel toe caps after 9pm. Since I was wearing mine, I wasn't sure if they would let me in, but as it turned out the bouncer was leaning on the juke box having a chat with some mates rather than paying full attention to the door, so I presume that they don't get a lot of trouble. That was a pleasant start; I have a deep and abiding hatred for officious door staff. I ambled around a bit, peering between the guys at the bar to see if I could spot any bottles of wine amongst the racks of beer and coke, and suddenly realised that there were a couple of semi-naked girls bouncing up and down trying to get my attention. The barmaids were all wearing lingerie and little else, and a pleasant bubbly blonde laughed when I asked after wine and sent me to the Irish pub next door. I guess it isn't a wine sort of place.

Paddy's had a selection of two red wines, so I picked one and ambled back to the restaurant. Some of the guys had been to Kalgoorlie before and they laughed when I mentioned the barmaids; apparently they're called "skimpies" and work every night at the Exchange. It seems that they used to be quite ribald but there was a crackdown recently and now they're much tamer.

The Thai meal was nicely presented and very tasty, although of course (being Australia) very mild. At the end, the chef came out to see if we'd enjoyed it, and seemed on the point of apologising for using too much chilli before she took in our effusive thanks.

Having eaten and drunk everything in sight, we decided to go on to the Exchange where they were happy to serve us unlimited pints of lager and stout, but no spirits, not even over ice. I asked one of the lasses about it and she said that this was a specific rule at the Exchange; you could only drink spirits with mixers.


The pub had a pleasant blokey atmosphere. Most of the patrons were wearing fluoro shirts and boots from a day at the mines, and some were drunk enough to be dancing on the pool table and using the chalk to write on the ceiling. The skimpies came out often to chat to the drinkers and panhandle for tips ("If we get enough tips we might take some more clothes off"), and it was all very friendly and nobody hassled them. There were only two female customers, two young girls who seemed to be regulars and went everywhere together, although nobody seemed to pay them much attention, even though they weren't wearing very much either. The two of us who were still standing at two in the morning did try to make it to one of the other pubs, but it seems (thankfully... we had an exam next day) that everything closes at the same time, and we staggered back to our hotels.

As I sat on the plane home, trying to ignore the pain in my head and looking forward to a week of exams in Gladstone, I reflected that Kalgoorlie would not be a bad place to live at all.

June 4, 2009

Pancake Creek

The anchor made a few dragging noises in the night, but when I ran up on deck it clearly hadn't moved at all, so we put it down to the chain clattering over some underground rock shelf as we swung.

In the morning we got a clearer view of our anchorage. The starboard beacon about twenty metres away marked a very active shoal ground, whose frothing waves we had seen glistening in the moonlight when we arrived.


The white iso beacon on the other side of us marked a rocky outcrop projecting into the channel. There was room to get past this rock at high tide and into the inner bay and beach where we could see a number of other boats at anchor, but we were happy with our privacy and with our ability to leave quickly without worrying about either daylight or tide, so we stayed where we were.

Pancake Creek turned out to be our favourite anchorage so far, and we stayed for a couple of days. One afternoon we pumped up our inflatable kayak and went exploring.

There were many miles of secluded little beaches, some showing signs of repeated return visits in the form of home-made swings, tables, firepits and the occasional beach chair. We paddled past a few of them and then dragged the kayak up over the water line while we went ashore, where we soon found an old boardwalk. The boards themselves were almost completely rotted, but the path was still a reasonably clear and ran in a dead straight line up through the woods of the peninsula.



Although there weren't many visible flowers, the forest was delicately perfumed and alive with butterflies and birds. We passed banksia trees heavily laden with pods, and grasses bearing tall rushes several metres high.


The track eventually led out onto the dunes and finally up to Burnett Head itself, where we found a lovingly restored lighthouse with pristine white out-buildings. We met the caretaker, who was part of the voluntary group that maintain it and who was doing his one-month live-in stint for the year. He claimed that the fully automated light, which we had seen at a distance of 20 miles, is powered by only a 100 watt bulb. He also told us that our boardwalk was the original mule track that was used to ferry supplies up from Pancake Creek, but that now they came by "Larc", which is an amphibious tourist bus that regularly visits the seaward side of Bustard Head.

We strolled out a little way along the Larc track which gave us a tremendous view across Pancake Creek's (non-navigable) rear entrance and inner waterways. It looks like a tempting cruising ground for a shallow-draft dinghy or perhaps even a trailer-sailer, and we'd love to come back and spend some more time there.


Back in Pancake Creek we stopped for a refreshing sunset bathe on the beach before paddling back to the boat where we played cribbage and drank wine while our yorkshire pudding baked in the oven.

It's a great spot, but since it's out of range of both telephone and internet, we couldn't stay for too long because it was time for both of us to do our exams. I needed to fly to Kalgoorlie for a field course, and Bronwyn needed to find a university that would provide her with an invigilator; nearby Gladstone seemed ideal because it had a marina, an airport, and a university. We set sail and had a very pleasant trip, arriving in the late afternoon.

The port was curiously quiet. We sailed along the wide commercial shipping channel, surrounded by enormous gravel loaders and industrial plant, all of which were shut down and silent. Just when I was beginning to entertain fanciful theories about a worldwide plague virus that had struck everybody down while we were away, a bulk carrier emerged from behind a headland and thundered gently by.


June 2, 2009

Burnett River to Bustard Head

Motoring out of Port Bundaberg, we gave way to a couple of fishing trawlers coming in after a night's work. They were accompanied by the usual flocks of seagulls eager to catch the guts and scraps thrown overboard as the fishermen cleaned their catch, but in addition they were accompanied by at least half a dozen sea eagles also vying for the same thing.


We must have missed a good party, too, because somebody had driven their ute into the river.


Once out into the open sea and running at a useful six knots, I fired up the engine and idled it to play with the water maker, which was now running through a shiny new circuit breaker. It worked beautifully, generating ten litres of water in three hours. Not exactly enough for a bath, but sufficient to maintain our independence from marina water. My next task is to see if I can power it using the tow generator rather than the engine, but the tow generator is out of service at the moment because I have cannibalised some of its parts to fix something else.

Although the weather was beautiful, we could see the occasional squall moving past in the distance. We've noticed that they do usually march past either out to sea or inland of us, leaving the strip just offshore generally free from rain. Later that afternoon, though, an almost invisible squall came out of a double rainbow in a cloudless sky and hit us broadside. The rain was so perfectly horizontal that one side of the cockpit stayed completely dry while the other ran with storm water, soaking us instantly. After a minute or so the squall moved on, leaving behind it a much improved wind direction that enabled us to put the swell behind us as night fell and we headed for the reefs of Bustard Head's innovatively named Inner, Middle and Outer rocks.

It was now quite dark and we were navigating by GPS again, aided by the two lighthouses on the shore. Just as we arrived at the gap between Outer and Middle Rocks, another squall came through to the south of us and eclipsed the lights; quite a feat in the case of Bustard Head which is rated at 19 mile visibility and we were only a couple of miles away. A big swell picked us up and we surfed through in complete darkness, very exhilarating.

We were heading for Pancake Creek, a sheltered patch of water under the double peninsular of Bustard Head and Clews Point. We had a number of charts which disagreed on the navigation markers that we might find. Popping up and down between cockpit and chart table, I quickly realised that the reality was different from any of them. I was getting very nervous; the admiralty charts showed us approaching shoals and rocks, in the dark and carried along by the tide. Bronwyn, however, was at the helm and had been watching the instruments. She was confident that the depths were looking OK, so we ran the gap and stopped only a few boat lengths between a port marker on a rock, a starboard marker on a roaring shoal, and some sort of iso marker on a rock ridge. The anchor bounced a few times on rock and then caught solidly in the fast-flowing current. A few minutes was enough to convince us that we weren't drifting anywhere, so we put out a little more chain to counter the rising tide - but not too much to allow us to swing and hit any of the three navigation lights - and went to sleep.


We were anchored in what was technically Bundaberg Port rather than in the town itself, which is a few miles upstream. It is theoretically possible to take a keel boat all the way up to Bundaberg itself, but there was a shallow section that would only be passable on a good tide and we were happy where we were, so we unlimbered the tender and prepared ourselves for a little expedition.

This whole outboard motor thing is still new to us, so we didn't know how long it would take us to motor the six miles into town and back, with or against the tides and with or against the prevailing winds. We packed a variety of clothes and some spare fuel, and set off.

The river is very wide and, as we found when I flamboyantly decided to cut a corner, quite shallow enough in places to beach an eight-foot dinghy. One bank seems to be mainly mangroves, while the other is taken up with a sugar cane plantation. A little way along, we chugged past what is presumably the cane farmer's house, very nice indeed with a large ketch moored at the bottom of the garden.

This was the only boat that we saw on the river, and we were once again surprised at how quiet it is here. We have come to expect that waterways are always packed with fishermen in tinnies and people in runabouts, but there had been nothing moving at the port and there was nobody around here. Only when we reached the outskirts of the town did we see one or two men with rods standing on the shore.

Mind you, we were grateful for the peace. The headwind was opposing the incoming tide and we had to contend with some pretty large waves without the additional excitement from the wakes of full-bore fishing tinnies.

It's almost six miles from the Cane Ferry to Bundaberg, and we discovered that the Walker Bay with its 3hp outboard will run for five miles before it runs out of fuel. The whole journey took about an hour an a half. So now we know.

Bundaberg itself was small and compact, and contained the kinds of stores that suggested that people come in from the country to get supplies. The most interesting architecture was (as usual) to be seen in the pubs, which stood on every corner.


Since we were standing at the centre of the mighty Bundaberg rum empire, I expected to see a great many rum-related motifs and interesting rum products for sale, but this wasn't the case at all. Even the pubs didn't carry anything more elaborate than the usual Bundy-and-coke in a can.

We had intended to visit the distillery, but by the time we got there it had closed for the day. We had heard, though, that the tasting room does not present the usual display of grand old vintages that you might expect, but instead focusses on all the different mixers that you can put into your Bundy to make it taste better. This seems reasonable to me, because - grand old Australian institution as it may be - it does taste pretty nasty on its own.

We had with us a fairly esoteric shopping list, but the town managed to come up trumps with the whole thing; Croc boat shoes, a circuit breaker, a European pillow case, an adjustable wrench, a computer fan and a cribbage board. We even found somebody to make us a three metre steel leash for the tender.

Spotting an Indian restaurant, we decided to splash out on a celebratory meal. It wasn't open yet, so we waited over indifferent beer outside an indifferent pub, counting the teenage mothers as they strutted past in the gathering dusk.

The restaurant itself occupied a fine old corner building, possibly an old bank or post office, and had been rather lovingly restored with hardwood dado rails and original brass electrical fittings overlain by the usual Indian restaurant colour scheme but executed with rather more taste than usual. We asked for the wine list but they turned out to be BYO, so Bronwyn popped out to find some wine while I ordered a vindaloo and a jalfrezi.


Some time later, Bronwyn had still not returned. I drank my third glass of water and grinned helplessly at the waitress who was hovering uncertainly in the wings. Another two couples arrived and ordered, and then finally the door opened and Bronwyn arrived triumphantly brandishing a bottle of white. There were, it seems, only two places in town where you could buy wine. The RSL wouldn't serve her unless she was a member, and she couldn't become a member without a driving licence, although they were happy for her to drink at the bar. The off-sales counter at the neighbouring pub was happy to sell her a bottle until they discovered that they had run out of brown paper bags. Apparently this was a big deal, because they refused to sell her wine without a bag. Eventually they came to an agreement where she paid the more expensive pub price, and then they "forgot" to open it and Bronwyn smuggled it out under her jacket. I'm sure that there is some logic in that somewhere.

Finally we were all set to enjoy our meal. I had deliberately ordered both dishes "hot" because the Australian taste is for very bland food and we fancied a bit of spice. In the event, I suspect that the chef merely wafted a couple of chillies over the pan before putting them away for the next mad Englishman, because even the vindaloo was exceptionally mild. Still, the dishes were well made and the staff friendly, and we had a lovely evening. It made a nice change for somebody else to do the cooking and the washing up.

It was full dark by the time we left the restaurant and made our way down to the river to our tender, but the river was smooth and calm and the clouds drew back to reveal a crescent moon. We motored back along past the fields of sugar cane, with the moonlight glinting off the water and the Milky Way shining above. It was absolutely glorious.