Heading South

Index of slides from this chapter.

Since we were planning an overnight trip, there was no hurry to leave Townsville. We did some last-minute chores, said our good byes, took on diesel, and finally pointed our bows out the channel around noon. The forcast was for SE - NE winds 10 - 15 knots with the NE'ly shift being driven by the afternoon sea breeze. Our plan was to milk the sea breeze for all the easting we could and then do what we could with the remainder of the day. If we got sick of fighting easterly winds, we would never be farther than 20 miles from some sort of shelter.

As it happened, the winds were steadfastly SE so the hopeful excrescence of our bowsprit went unrequited by spinnaker or screecher. In a 4-knot SE'ly, we rounded Cape Cleveland that afternoon and started working our way up under Cape Bowling Green - so called because it is very flat, I suppose. The shipping channel runs very close to Cape Bowling Green and there was no avoiding it when we rounded Bowling Green late that night. The wind had come back up, hitting twelve knots in the gusts and keeping me right on the edge of reefing. Normally, we put the first reef in the first time we see a gust of 15 knots so 12 was pushing it for night sailing but I figured that since the need to keep a sharp lookout for ships precluded cat naps anyway, we might as well convert some of that surplus alertness into boatspeed. We did pass several ships. After rounding the cape, the winds came east enough (and eased enough) to permit one long tack back towards Cape Upstart.

Our sophisticated overnight watch system kicked in around 2am when I couldn't stay awake any longer and woke Karin for her turn at the helm. When I woke up we were just off Cape Upstart and the sunrise was turning the cumulus a brilliant shade of tangerine. The winds were about 5 knots and with a new day and mild conditions nobody wanted to rest up behind Cape Upstart so we kept on east, heading around Glouchester Island, the last obstacle before the coast bent south near the Whitsunday Islands.

The batteries were pretty low, 65%, a fact that I'd written off to the solar panels being in the shade much of the day before. As we'd shredded an alternator belt on the way down from Cairns, I popped down into the engine rooms to retension the belts before we fired up the engines to recharge the battery bank. When the batteries are that low, they will take 240 amps (@12 volts) for half an hour which is hard on the alternator belts unless they're perfectly tensioned. Anyway, when I went into the starboard engine room, I discovered that the work light was on, which helped explain some of the unexpected battery drain.

Spaghetti Australiana

Marinara with an Australian twist. An easy dinner done in 30 minutes start to finish.

  • 500 gm. spaghetti
  • 500 gm. minced (ground) lamb
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • anchovies
  • 16-oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • fresh mint, finely chopped
Peel and chop garlic. How much is a matter of taste but I'd suggest at least 5 cloves. For a more relaxed flavor cut the garlic in half and remove and discard the sprout (green thing). Don't be tempted to use the garlic press; it wastes far too much of the flavorful oil.

Add olive oil to cover the bottom of a sauce pan. With a medium temperature, fry chopped garlic until it is just golden brown. Add anchovies. They will dissolve leaving a nice salty flavor.

Add the ground lamb and increase the heat. Fry it quickly, more quickly than you think.

Add the crushed tomatoes, reduce heat and allow to simmer. As will most marinara-based sauces, you don't want to cook it too long. About 30 minutes start to finish. Just before serving, add the mint. How much is a matter of taste, but you'll probably want to use quite a lot, 20 or 30 leaves. On the boat, I use this nifty Ozzie mint that comes pre-minced in tubes which we then freeze.

Boil water for the spaghetti. Add plenty of salt, it is the only proper way to cook pasta. Al dente so the GI doesn't blow through the roof.

I find it much easier to pre mix sauce and pasta rather than serving them separately which always causes the pasta to congeal into a gluey blob before people are even halfway served. Also, you'll never run out of one and not the other.

Serve with bread (ciabatta for California foodies, thick white sandwich bread for real ockers), a good shiraz, and perhaps a salad: arugula-pear-romano works well.

We rounded Glouchester that afternoon and raced the setting sun for the shelter of Double Bay. The sea breeze kicked up and our course along the eastern shore of Glouchester Island was nearly a perfect beam reach. We rocketed through the smooth water in the lee of Grassy Island and rounded up to drop the sails right in the mouth of Double Bay. The small swell wrapped right in but we were too tired to care about a bouncy night.

Hamilton

Saturday dawned almost windless so we motored past Airlie Beach and down to Hamilton Island where we'd arranged a berth. After two days of hard sailing, we hit the place like a band of Uruk-Hai at a fancy dress ball. Showers? Not my problem. Where's your menu?

On Hamilton, everyone rents a golf cart to get around in. You just do, particularly, if you have kids who pay half of the cost out of their allowances. The golf carts are all left-hand drive but the traffic still moves on the left. Nightmare. I refused to drive. Fortunately Karin was up to the challenge. The kids, of course, were too young to drive so we never let them. Never. That would have been irresponsible.

The marina fees include access to the resort pools Karin and I got drinks named "Summer Love" at the swim-up bar in the swimming pool. Torrid Scene. Various overweight tatoo'd pierced twenty somethings drowning their sorrows at $8.50 a go.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:30 and, after failing to wake everyone fumbling around with the coffee, I rousted them out of bed {actual rousting}, or perhaps Karin did. Anyway, we drove our little cart to the end of the road and then galloped up Passage Peak to check the views.

I almost wet a finger to check the wind direction before realizing that my entire body was already soaked with sweat. The wind was easterly and quite light.

Thomas Island

NE winds had been a constant 1 day away for about a week and the trip south from Hamilton was another such day. We motored for the better part of an hour before the wind started to blow out of the N in a sort of desultory fashion. We punted on our original plan to revisit Goldsmith Island and aimed for nearby Thomas instead.

I figured that taking a north-facing anchorage would almost certainly cause the northerlies to kick up but we awoke to a glassy calm.

Digby

More motoring. After an early start, I took a gamble and headed us east of the rhumb-line in hopes that the wind would again come from the north and give us a decent spinnaker run for the afternoon.

After motoring until very nearly two o'clock, the north wind filled in enough to make a spinnaker run worthwhile. Barely. Sometimes the wind blew as hard as 6 knots.

We had the anchorage at Digby to ourselves. The evening's low tide revealed a beach that we hadn't seen on our previous visit. Given the easy landing, a shore party composed of Karin, Nicoline and myself launched the dingy while Tristan rigged a hammock up for a read. How did that child get so smart so young? Anyway, the shore party fossicked around the exposed littoral for a bit before being discovered by a truely savage breed of mosquito. Clearly, we were the first fresh meat in quite a while.

Later in the cabin the whole family watches Karin hunt mosquitos while I provide a heroic Star Wars voice over from mosquito perspective:

"M5 this is M7, she's onto me and I can't shake her!"

"Steady M7, find a dark background."

"She's too fast..." (WHUMM - sound of one hand slapping) "... I can't keep away."

"Steady M7..."

(WHOP)

"... radio static ..."

"M7?"

Island Head Creek

The hope was that we could make it straight from Digby Island to Island Head Creek (of snake boarding fame) in one hop. However, we needed to find out of Island Head Creek was open to civilian craft. If not, we'd stay at the Percies and then make an overnight run down to Rosslyn Bay. After receiving a bewildering barrage of coordinates from VMR East Mackay and carefully plotting them into an artistic looking star formation which I rather doubted represented the true boundaries of the exclusion zone for the current set of war games in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, I contacted VMR Thirsty Sound who was able to tell me point-blank that Island Head Creek was indeed open to recreational craft.

Strewn across the chart were a variety of hasty plots, some sporting early AM time notations: 03:15. Memories of a much less pleasant trip which I now erased to make way for a regularly spaced series of plots leading more-or-less directly to our destination.

At 3:30 (PM), the sea breeze, in full cry, still refused to come east of due north and with 20 nm left to go (due south) and a thunderhead coming up it seemed doubtful that we'd make it in before dark with sails. Down with the sails, thus. The engines gave us a nice ride in. With the breeze dead aft we averaged better than 10 knots.

A few of miles off the entrance, the winds shifted about 180 degrees in just a few minutes. Made me really glad we didn't have the sails up.

Unlike the previous stay in Island Head Creek, we were completely alone in the first branch of the creek. No snakes either.

Rosslyn Bay

Right out of Island Head Creek, we set full main and spinnaker in a gentle 5 - 8 knots of breeze.

Just before lunch the winds started to come up to the point that I was seeing true wind speeds in the twelves. As we were running with the wind, it didn't feel that bad at all but the danger with carrying lots of sail downwind is what will happen should you ever stop going with the wind: suddenly you'll have the full force of the wind on the sails: 4 to 10 times as much force as the boat feels when moving with the wind.

During lunch the winds continued to build and soon enough we had to reef the main which we managed without rounding up.

The natural jibe took us away from the coast, around North Keppel island, and then left us with an eight-mile beam reach from North Keppel in to the Marina at Rosslyn Bay. Jibing back and forth between the coast and North Keppel was unattractive because the sea breeze would be strongest there and the water is very shoal: a sure recipe for a very bouncy, wet ride. We jibed as soon as the distinctive volcanic plug to the south of Rosslyn Bay cleared North Keppel and took off like a rocket ship. The wind gusted as high as 24 knots and the boat speed never went lower than 10.

Further

We were all exhausted after seven days of sailing. I personally resolved this by sleeping for 12 hours and not listening to weather forecasts for a couple of days. Karin dismissed school for a couple of days. Everybody took showers, some rather unwillingly.

We reprovisioned in Yeppoon, I changed the oil in both engines and now we're ready to go again. A recent irukanji sting at Keppel, and a coming SE change after what has been more than two weeks of northerly weather decided us to sail overnight to Bundaberg on the last of the northerly breeze. That will allow us to motor through the Great Sandy Straights durning the southerly and to be ready for the hop from Wide Bay to Mooloolaba as soon as the southerly eases.

The temperature here is about 33 during the day and it gets all the way down to 26 at night. Chilly when you're used to 35 during the day and 30 at night. Time to unpack the comforters.

Just a few miles south of us lies Cape Capricorn. South of that, and we'll no longer be in the tropics.

Last night we saw a huge thunderstorm just south of us. Continuous lightening discharge for almost an hour. I was really glad we weren't underneath it. Reading the papers this morning, we discovered that a huge band of storms had savaged much of the east coast. Gale force winds, roofs blown off, etc.

Yachtie Details

Upwind Performance

The trip from Townsville to Double Bay was pretty indicative of the sort of upwind performance we get. In 27 hours we covered 127 miles (motorboat course), nearly all of it hard on the wind. As I always forget to reset the trip log, I don't know the miles we actually sailed but I suspect it is pretty close to 1.5 * 127. At any rate, that translates into an average VMG (upwind velocity) of 4.5 knots, this in winds which ranged from 5 to 12 knots. We carried full sails for the whole trip.