Heading North

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If you edit HTML with vi, this is how all stories start. Our story, however, proceeds on a different, less obviously structured level.

Sick of limbo in Coomera, we moved down to Southport, specifically to the Southport Yacht Club Marina, in the hopes that we could head-fake all the last little details into believing that our plan to leave was for real. Tris and I took the boat down while Karin and Nicoline drove down and dropped off the "rent-a-bomb." This was actually the second "rent-a-bomb" as the first was a bit too bomb-like for comfort.

In compensation for all the "beyond the call of duty" service we'd gotten from Trevor (see previous Travelogue) and because we just like him, we took Trevor and his family (Thea & Luke) out for a daysail on Sunday. Mercifully, everything worked. The boat sailed like a dream and nothing went wrong.

The plan was to leave monday (1 Sep.) for Hervey Bay but there were a bunch of details that had to be taken care of so we couldn't get away until Tuesday, crack of dawn. No worries.

On Monday night, I discovered that in addition to my water maker upgrade kit having the wrong imperial sized plumbing parts, the water maker was incorrectly installed. In case you're thinking: "But why didn't the knucklehead fire up the water maker earlier" Well, watermakers need to be run regularly and the water in Coomera was a bit too icky to contemplate drinking. So tuesday bright and early the water maker guy was summoned to check everything, and Trevor came to sort out a few details and it wasn't until about 2 o'clock that we were actually ready to go.

In a moving ceremony, Trevor, hoisted the Australian flag to the starboard spreader. He gave us a few more electrical bits and pieces for my toolkit and bunch of bananas for luck, then cast off our dock lines. And we departed Southport watching Trevor grow smaller and smaller as we motored out into the broadwater.

'Round Moreton Island

I'd already given up on the "Hervey Bay in one hop" idea because the SE winds were too weak and inconsistent. Also, even if we were going to pretend that the winds were strong enough, we should have left at the crack of dawn so that we could find an anchorage in Hervey bay in less than total darkness the next day. The revised plan was to go around Moreton Island to Mooloolaba, roughly half the original distance.

After a bit of hand-steering as we sailed out the Gold Coast Seaway, (Trevor drove out to The Spit just to make sure that we were heading in the right direction: that being north) we switched on the autopilot, Otto. Oddly, Otto didn't seem to be doing too well as Endless Summer's course held true for a while and then started to wander. After 10 minutes of spectacular panic, in which I came oh-so-close to phoning up the autopilot guys and waxing wroth, we remembered that the autopilot has a separate switch from the sailing instruments and switched it on. Eureka! They say that intelligence decreases by 50% at sea, but in my experience that is conservative. Personally, I'm delighted to operate at any level commensurate with continued membership in phylum chordata.

I should explain that the autopilot is really important because helming is a full-time job. Without the autopilot you'd have to have two people on watch, one to helm, and one to do everything else.

Karin took the first watch while I worked on dinner. Everyone but me was a little queasy, but I figured that a spot of dinner in the cockpit might help. And things were going well with everyone but Tristan. Just after wolfing down his dinner, Tristan realized that dinner was not going to agree with him after all, and, in the grips of some land lubberly misapprehension rushed down to the port-side head to relieve himself of it. Due to his haste and and the generally bouncy nature of a boat in seaway, his accuracy left a great deal to be desired. Karin declined my gallant offer to handle the clean up, and, after a very short time in the pitching vomit smeared confines of the head was tossing her own cookies over the transom in the proper sailorly manner. Nicoline threw up out of sympathy but I could tell her heart wasn't really in it. And I ate the rest of Karin's dinner.

We watched the sun set over the Gold Coast. Soon enough it was time to switch on the red lights that we use for night time illumination because red light doesn't ruin one's night vision. On watch, we use a kitchen timer as a reminder to look around every 15 minutes. Once an hour we plot our GPS position on the chart.

Since Brisbane is a major port, there is quite a bit of ship traffic and we had to keep a sharp lookout. All told, we passed five large ships during the night, that we were aware of. The theory of passing ships safely (ie. missing them) is that you do a full horizon scan on an interval calculated based on how fast you could be closing on a collision course, how far off you can reasonably expect to see a ship, and how often you can look around without going nuts. Once you see a ship, then the fun begins. With a couple of rare exceptions, regardless of what lights are showing, if the bearing to the other ship remains the same over time you are on a collision course. Simple enough. But, a sailboat at sea is usually steering to the wind with an autopilot and the wind is constantly changing velocity and direction. So figuring out any course at all, let alone a collision course is a bit of a judgement call. Fortunately you usually have something like 20 minutes to figure the situation out before things get hairy. Ships show two white lights, one low on the bow and one high on the stern. They also show a green light on the starboard and a red light on the port. Thus, if your wits are not too addled and you're still intellectually up with the average chordate you can usually figure out which way a ship is going after 5 minutes or so of intense cogitation. With that established you can decide how to change your own course. In the iffy cases, we'd flip on the radar. It can't really help with the variable course problem but it does at least let you know how far away the ship is.

The kids arranged the cockpit cushions into a nest and slept in the cockpit. The off watch (Karin or I) slept in one of the aft cabins where we could be more or less instantly available. Actually less instantly if you sat up rapidly when called and smacked your head on the ceiling. Which I did. Nothing like a little internal phosphorescence to enhance the stuff in our wake. Karin was actually the first to notice the phosphorescence when she flushed the head but she just assumed that she was hallucinating from sleep deprivation.

For the first part of the night, winds were light, 5 - 7 knots and we kept full sails up as we worked our way generally NE. As the night wore on a storm came off the coast north of us and we jybed onto a NW course and reefed (took in some sail) in hopes of ducking around the western end of the storm. Huge lightening display, but we got nothing more than a few rain drops and by dawn were safely west of the storm. Winds were back down to 5 - 7 knots so I shook out the reef.

About 8am, we rounded Cape Moreton keeping Flinders Reef a sensible half-mile away and set a direct course for Mooloolaba only 20 knots away. Winds kicked up a bit north of Cape Moreton (reef sails), before dropping off to almost nothing (shake out reef) a few miles from Mooloolaba. Since it was a beautiful sunny day and we had nothing better to do we turned on the music and goofed around while Otto drove the boat. Ever so gradually, the sea breeze filled in and we sailed up to the Mooloolaba breakwater. We tied up to the dock at the Yacht Club almost exactly 24 hours after leaving Southport.

Mooloolaba Again

Mooloolaba was comfortingly familiar. We spent two nights in the marina did some provisioning, played on the beach. I retightened the alternator belts yet again. Each alternator can produce up to 120 amps (about 5 hp). At higher amperage levels, the belts slip on the alternator pulleys ultimately causing the pulleys to heat up and the belts to fail. So I'm experimenting with various "belt-grip" treatments, different belts, and different amounts of tension. As otto and the sailing instruments burn a fair amount of power we really need to work out the alternator kinks. Our solar panels work flawlessly, but a lot of sailing angles leave them shaded by the sails. I also when up the mast to check everything out and take the obligatory picture.

Geoff Mercer drove down from Noosa for a visit and brought us a couple of local cheeses which were delicious. We hope to catch up with him later on on Great Keppel Island.

In the meantime, the weather wasn't cooperating. No SE winds until Sunday (maybe) and just light variable land/sea breeze until then. No fast way to sail the 150 miles around Frasier Island in 5-knot variable breeze. We decided to leave on friday (5 Sep.) anyway and ride the morning SW as long as it lasted and then motor the rest of the way up to Wide Bay where we could spend the night before working our way through the Great Sandy Straights which separate Frasier Island from the mainland.

Gales further south had kicked up the swell which made sailing in a 3 knot breeze hard on the stomach so we fired up the motors after only an hour. Aside from some concern about the Wide Bay Bar and the swell was an uneventful trip. In the morning, we listened to Tin Can Bay Coastguard talk to a boat trying to cross Wide Bay at low tide against a 3 meter swell. Not something I'd ever try and I doubt that skipper will ever try it again as they turned back after taking a breaking wave over the bow. As the southerly wind had dropped off, I was pretty sure that that the swell would drop off too and we'd be transiting the bar at high tide. No worries. Aside from a long surf at 14 knots down a steepening wave as we crossed the outer bar our entry into Tin Can Inlet was uneventful.

Taking advantage of our shoal draft, we passed up on the crowded outer anchorage and tiptoed our way into the inner anchorage in Pelican Bay. I wasn't sure if we'd be able to get out with the morning's low tide but a good night's rest in an uncrowded anchorage was worth the uncertainty.

The kids tried out the new crab pot.

Pelican Bay

In the morning we had a visit from the Ragae Chef who made every one a "big brekkie" while dancing oddly round the cabin. The new crab pot was empty and the line had wrapped around rudder. Fortunately, the water was warmer than in Brisbane and the kids were up for a swim.

Worries about being unable to escape on the morning's low tide proved unfounded. I climbed to the spreaders on the mast and was able to see a reasonable looking channel out of Pelican Bay. We motored out dead slow with everyone thinking light thoughts and never had less than 1.2 meters on the depth gauge. Not having to wait for a high tide was nice because we could ride the incoming tide up Tin Can Bay towards the Sandy Straights.

As usual, the wind was blowing straight from where we wanted to go. But it was only blowing 5 knots and the day was too nice to spoil with motoring so I whined until everybody agreed to try sailing for a bit. It turned out to be one of the nicest moments of the trip. ES works really well to the windward in light airs, two areas in which cats are supposed to struggle. We were making more than 4 knots of boatspeed in a 5-knot breeze. Every 20 minutes or so we'd tack. In between tacks Karin and Nicoline worked on recorder playing and Tristan did some math homework.

Eventually, Tin Can Bay became narrow enough to make tacking pretty onerous so we switched on the motor and chugged through the Great Sandy Straights.

Kingfisher Bay

Since there were already a lot of boats anchored off the Kingfisher resort and since the forecast was for N to NW winds which would create a bouncy lee-shore anchorage, we decided to anchor a bit south of the Kingfisher resort at a place called McKenzie's Jetty. We had the place to ourselves. No need to worry about other boats dragging anchor or decamping in the middle of the night. As it turned out, it was a calm night anyway.

The next morning we all felt too tired to move on and decided to try and hike to a lake on Frasier Island that was mentioned in a rather "en passant" way as being 6 km from McKenzie's Jetty by one of the sailing guidebooks. We didn't have a Frasier Island map but there was a trail head complete with signs for Mckenzie's Lake on the beach so we packed a light lunch and some swimming togs and headed out. The landscape was pretty unremarkable, just rolling hills with scrub vegetation but everyone was too jazzed at the prospect of a pristine fresh water swim to complain.

Seven or eight kilometers later we were walking along a jeep road minutes from our third "we're turning around in 10 minutes unless things start looking more hopeful" deadline when we flag down a passing Jeep filled with Germans who maintain that the last lake they saw was twenty minutes driving away. Bugger!

Sweaty, blistered, running low on food and water, and, no doubt, menaced by the [myriad lurking dangers] of the Frasier Island bush of which we were unaware as we had no guide book, we turned back.

When we left the beach we notice a few patches sand balls, about this size of peas. When we got back, the tide was much further out and we were astonished to see that the sand ball patches now covered the entire beach. As we walked along the beach, what I though was just some dark colored sand moved, revealing the sand-ball makers to be thousands of little round crabs.

Bundaberg

After our second night at Mckenzie's Jetty we awoke to another calm morning and decided to motor through the remainder of the Great Sandy Straights to Hervey Bay, and then, if the wind had filled in, to sail to Bundaberg.

Hervey Bay is a bit like the Santa Barbara coast. The Australian coast ceases to head north and instead bends back to the north-west. Frasier Island sticks a long way out to the north-north-east and blocks much of the swell from further south. It was basically dead calm when we started, but after 20 nm of motoring out to the fairway buoy which marks the start of the Great Sandy Straights the wind was starting to come up. We had a beautiful 30 mile spinnaker run down the bay with winds building to about 10 - 12 knots. With the autopilot set to keep the apparent wind angle at 60 degrees we were pretty consitently running faster than the true wind. I softened the angle to 75 - 80 after we started getting gusts into the low teens. The deeper course was closer to the Burnett river mouth anyway. Three jibes, and only one hourglass which I fixed by pulling the snuffer down over the top of hourglass.

For non-sailors, an "hourglass" refers to the shape of the spinnaker after an unsuccessful jibe. Basically, the bottom half of the spinnaker has been pulled onto the new side, but there's a twist in the middle (the narrow part of the hourglass) and the top half is still inflated on the old side. The trick to jibing an asymetric is to let out the old spinnaker sheet as the stern of the boat goes through the wind. If you let it out and just the right speed, and turn the boat at the right rate and yell at the crew manning the new spinnaker sheet at just the right time everything works. With us it sounds like:

"Jibe-Oh!"

"OK, now"

"No wait, I'm steering back"

"What do you mean you can't pull it?"

"Oh, forgot to let go of my end"

Etc.

We're improving.

Otto decided to croak a couple of miles from the fairway buoy. It turns out that the compass is hypersensitive to any metal. It is also right below the counter which at the time of failure was laden with grubby pots and pans that we had tossed there to deal with later.

We stayed at the Port of Bundaberg Marina which is about 15 km from the town of Bundaberg.

Gladstone

It is well know that the prevailing wind along Australia's east coast is south easterly. Pilots charts show this and any local will tell you that it is easier to go north than south. But in the last few weeks of cruising, we've only had one or two days of lackluster SE breeze. So we were sitting in Bundaberg Port Marina and still the forcast was for NW winds 10 - 15 kts, changing NE with the afternoon seabreeze.

Wednesday it blew hard out of the north. Thursday we awoke to a dead calm and a forecast for a 15-knot NE sea breeze in the afternoon. Seemed plausible that we could motor through the calm, perhaps favoring the east a bit so as to have a nice angle on the sea breeze when it arrived. The tides were wrong for the first potential anchorage at the Town of 1770 (where Captain Cook first landed on OZ) but we should be able to make it to the next anchorage north, Pancake Creek, which has a much deeper bar and can be entered in most conditions.

So on with the motor and out we go. I checked the diesel gauges before we left and it looked like we should have plenty to make it to Gladstone if need be. The wind didn't waste much time in resuming it's usual direction (dead ahead) and we hammered straight into it. Gotta get there. I really wanted to eat pancakes for breakfast at Pancake creek, then hike up to the Bustard Head lighthouse.

The day as pretty uneventfull until we were actually rounding Bustard Head. Of course it was when we were trying to thread our way between Middle and Outer Rocks when both engines quit.

Only one thing that would make both engines quit at the same time and that was fuel. Gauges still looked OK, but perhaps they were stuck. We rolled out the jib so that we'd be able to steer the boat while I dumped the emergency jerry can of diesel into the emptiest of the two tanks. Sadly, you can't just restart a diesel when it has run dry. First you must bleed any air out of the fuel lines. This requires climbing down into the engine rooms, unscrewing a bleed valve and then hand pumping (finger pumping really) diesel until no more air comes out the bleed valve. At that point, retighten the bleed valve and yell up to Karin to try the engine. Repeat until the engine runs reliably. And ditto for the other engine.

Forty minutes later I watched the sun go down while trying to reckon litres per hour fuel consumption, wash diesel off of my hands and feet, and figure out a course into Pancake creek. It wasn't going to be. Huge case of heebie jeebies. We turned around. Too dark and too unknown.

After some consideration, we decided that the most prudent thing to do would be to sail in to Gladstone, saving whatever diesel remained for docking or getting out of the way of ship traffic. Since the wind was still gusting into the low teens and we'd had enough stress for the night, we went with the first reef.

Magic. The boat motion was so much easier than motoring in the same conditions. The full moon rose, the kids went to bed and we had a dream-like sail. We tack North a couple of times then wove our way westward through the dozen or so ships anchored outside Port Curtis. The lights channel markers looked like an airplane runway. Handily, the wind bent as we neared the coast so that we could sail most of the U-shaped channel without tacking.

Around midnight the wind started to drop off. The tide was ebbing and the bend in the channel finally forced us to tack back and forth. Karin is really good at pointing high, but after making only 50 yards on a green marker in 40 minutes of tacking we decided to sail out of the channel and anchor until the tide changed in the morning.

We did a textbook anchor under sail (textbook because neither of us had ever done it in real life) and stumbled into bed around 2 am.

Next morning it was dead calm. Karin set a deadline of 8 am for either sailing or phoning someone to ferry some fuel out to us, but I managed to stretch the brekkie dishes out to 8:30 when a 3-knot breeze filled in. We sailed off the anchor and tacked lazily up into Gladstone Harbour. Around noon, we got to the enterance to the marina. I was sure that the engines would cut out at some critical moment but they worked perfectly right up to the fuel dock.

Gladstone is Queensland's most industrial city being home to the states largest power plant, various mining companies, two alumina smelters, and, just west of the marina, a bulk coal loading warf. I shouldn't have to tell you that the wind blew hard out of the west for the next two days.

Epilogue

We've spent three nights in Gladstone and are planning on heading on the Great Keppel Island tomorrow, Wednesday 17 September or possibly Thursday if the weather looks vile. I think that we're much closer to kicking our case of getthereitis. Every sailing experience has been great, while motoring is just so-so. Perhaps ES is trying to teach us something. From now on, we're going to try and sail more and motor less, even If that means taking an extra day or going out overnight. That's why we got a sail boat.

Yachtie Details

Mooloolaba

The channel into Mooloolaba has a bizarre hook towards the beach instead of the usual straight run lined up with the breakwaters. The bend is so improbable that I interpreted the red buoys as "shark nets/beach boundary don't go here" instead of the correct "red left returning." The tide was high and the swell was quite small so there were about 2.5 meters of water over the shoals which was plenty for our purposes.

Bundaberg Port Marina

The marina is just inside the mouth of the Burnett river. The channel beacons are all lighted so you can come in day or night. As the marina is brand new, all the facilities are in good shape.

V-Belts

In Gladstone, Gladstone Air Cleaners Supply, 07 4972 3411, carries a full inventory of Gates V-belts including the toothed variety. They're at 91 Hansen St., about 2 km walking from the marina.

Bino Raves

Just today Karin said that the Fujinon binoculars were "the best thing you've ever bought". They are fabulous. Nothing like squinting into the setting sun while trying to pick out a green channel marker against green forest. Grab the Fujinons and bang there it is. The exit pupils are as large as the lenses on most binoculars so you don't even need to take sunglasses off.

My only complaint concerns the built-in compass which seems "sticky". I'd skip it next time.