Townsville

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We still wanted to see a bit more of the Whitsundays so we set course east for Hayman Island. Snorkled at Blue Perl Bay but decided to spend the night in Nara Inlet because the NE wind hadn't dropped off as the weather forcast suggested. Big surprise. We successfully held off one of the big racing maxi yachts on the run down Whitsunday Passage. Upwind, first reef to first reef. Of course, they might not have been racing. The next morning we went for more snorkling at Border Island, then on down to the famous Whitehaven Beach.

The famous Whitehaven Beach suffered under a continuous amphibious and airborn assault. Float plans, helicopters, fast cats, tinnies, kayaks: every form of conveyance known to man was there in abundance. The beach is indeed white and very fine. We confirmed this after swimming ashore, Navy Seal style. It also made nice sand sculptures.

Curiosity satisfied, we swam back to the boat and headed north. Both of the kids were desperate to snorkle Manta Ray Bay on the north coast of Hook Island. The anchorage would probably be too bouncy with the ESE winds, but you never know. So off we went. All the snorkling spots were either untenable or full. Most are provided with moorings which supposed to have a two hour time limit but in practise possession seems to be nine tenths of the law. And so back to Nara which is big enough to handle all comers.

And Nara Inlet has the most fantastic mud on the bottom.

Two Hops

We left Hook Island for Townsville with the notion that we might go overnight if the weather was clement. Instead we got a solid 20 kts from the ESE: first reef weather and a bouncy ride as we surfed down the steep seas. Averaged about 10 kts of boatspeed all day, higer when we hand steered. Otto doesn't steer very well in windvane mode deep downwind (deeper than 90° apparent). With all the surfing, the apparent wind changes too much and Otto blindly chases it instead of waiting for the next wave like a human helmsman would. Picking a wave at the end of a set gives minutes of surfing at 13, 14, 15 knots.

Waves come in sets, forming at the back and moving forward where they gradually die away. Like the top of a tractor tread, the waves move twice as fast as the set that contains them. This is why picking a big wave for a surf often yields a disappointing ride while picking a little one just after several big ones can yield a surf that goes and goes and goes. And suddenly it is over and I look at the log expecting to see 5 or 6 and see that we're still doing 11 knots.

In the afternoon we decide to pull in under Cape Upstart and sleep. This takes us back across the traffic lanes and we have to jybe a couple of times to avoid ships. At one point we have three to keep track of. The last set of jibes puts us further north than we need be so we actually harden up a bit to come in under the cape. The winds were blowing twenty knots steady and I was hand steering. Just a few miles and we're in the lee of the cape. Ahead of us a light resolves gradually into a fishing boat on the same course. "He's probably running in to the bay for the night" I think. We were coming up on him pretty fast, actually really fast 13, 14 knots on the log. We're on a parallel course about 200 meters to the port of him when I lose sight of him in the jib. No worries. No. Worries! He's turned 90 degrees to port. What the hell?! Disgruntled Ozzie gibberish on the radio. No time to talk. We rocket past 100 meters off his bow. Scared the hell out of both of us.

Cape Upstart is an easy night anchorage. Just run in until the depth sounder reads 7 meters and drop anchor. Silence.

The next day is easier but still first reef most of the day. As the sun sets the wind drops off and after dinner we finally get to shake out the reef as we try and pick out the leads against the lights of Townsville.

On our last jybe into Townsville, a kingfisher of some sort made a crash landing on deck. Clearly a land bird, he tried a number of different spots before settling down on the jib sheet in the lee of the cabin. A miserable bundle of wet feathers, he stayed with us until close to Magnetic Island. A close scrape for him: "Glad to help you out, mate."

While named for a magnetic deviation noted by Cook's crew the deviation has never been substantiated and doesn't appear on modern charts. The old salt at the maritime museum reckoned that the "magnetic deviation" was really a compass problem caused by illicit consumption of the alchohol in which the card floated.

Animals

The Billabong Wildlife sanctuary offers nearly unlimited animal holding opportunity:

The kids had been looking forward to it ever since they first saw the various animal-holding pictures in a brochure back in Mackay.

Missing

  • The foggy coolness of a monday morning: Coffee in hand, towel and wetsuit packed, and the familiar drone of a VW van coming down the street.

  • 7:30am: Good mornings from Bob and the crew in Rockaway. Sweat cooling on my back during the 10:30 coffee break.

  • Meg and Chris dropping in at 11pm for a drink. "Everything was closed, so..."

  • The unexpected phone call from Jim. "Crespi looks really good right now and I can break away for an hour..."

  • Fourth of July at the Phillip's.

  • Koffietijd, gezelligheid, iedereen blij wat te vertellen of gewoon van elkaar te genieten. En even nog een stukje taart.

  • Bonfires on the beach. The smell of scorched seaweed. Wes setting up a camp kitchen with hot chocolate for all. Friends showing up unexpectedly.

  • Yet another fabulous meal in the city.

  • Emerald's back yard in Berkeley where everything grows.

  • Margaritas for all at the KOA. Distant thunder of the traffic on 101 and the smell of manure.

  • San Francisco at dawn. My week to drive.

  • Snooker with Wes and Steve. Will we wake up in jail? No one is sure.

  • De lange Nederlandse zomer avonden. Buiten in de tuin spelen de kinderen nog een half uurtje hoewel het al lang bedtijd is.

  • A late-night martini with Chris: "You want the truth? You're not ready for the truth."

  • Crespi 7am. Mist orange in the rays of the rising sun. Pea green sea with white foam. No reference points to judge the line-up, big sets, and that jittery feeling in the stomach.

  • You never need to dock a house.

Departure

We spent a week in Townsville. During that time we:
  • Added two more solar panels for a total of 5, 300 watts. This should enable us to anchor indefinitely without running the engines to recharge the batteries.

  • Installed a grounding wire on the mast. Since we have carbon fibre chainplates, a lightening strike has the potential to more-or-less destroy the boat. Solution is to bolt a heavy gauge aluminium ("Aahlooominuum" as the Ozzies tease me) wire to the mast and then lead it through the deck into the anchor locker. From there we can lower it into the water as needed.

  • Upgraded the watermaker to two pumps. Say you walk past a boat and from inside you hear:

    "Unh, Unh"

    "Thump, Thump"

    "...so damn tight"

    "Thump, Thump, oh OUCH!"

    Someone is probably working on their water maker. After several hours of struggle, I got everything put back together. Flipped the switch and both motors and fans ran. No blown fuses. But all it did was blow bubbles out the brine discharge hose. Hmmm... Must be a suction leak on the input side. I reread the manual on low preassure connections. An O-ring? Didn't remember seeing one of those. But there they are lying in the bottom of the plastic bag: two O-rings. Undo the connections, install the O-rings and Shazaam! We have twice as much fresh water.

  • Had the LPG solenoid valve repaired because the first time I went to change the tank I didn't realize that it was a reverse thread. After five minutes of bronze-mangling brute force I put the inner cromagnon on hold and started to think: "Aargh Tarzan must think. No way this thing could be this hard to do." Karin read the label on the tank "...gently tighten left-handed nut..." "Ooh! Tarzan's head hurt"

  • Got the weatherfax reception working. This allows us to get weather maps and forcasts while at sea.

  • Bought food for a couple of months.

And now we've filled up on diesel and propane, paid the marina bill, cleared out with customs and tomorrow morning we're off. 600 miles of Coral Sea between us and Samarai. The wind is screaming today but forcast to drop lower tomorrow, lower still on Sunday and Monday. Isobars nice and wide. Smooth sailing?

And so we'll be off. A tiny mote of sound and light and hope on a big ocean. La Traviata, extra virgin olive oil, 20 pounds of rice, and an extra first reef line. Well equipped.

Yachtie Details

Townsville

Townsville is a delightful port. For starters the marina (Breakwater Marina) is close to town, within walking distance of downtown and stores for provisioning. Right next to the marina is a huge public swimming pool (the Tobruk Baths) and a free water park featuring "the big bucket," a 500-gallon bucket which dumps on a throng of delighted nippers every half hour or so. Along the beach, a beautiful park runs for miles, The Strand. The usual picnic tables and public gas barbecues.

On The Strand opposite the customs house where one goes to clear out in Victorian splendor under the baleful gaze of a stuffed leopard is the Anzac Memorial. Even the smallest town has one. From the first world war a list of names, among them 3 Sheehans. It is like a punch in the stomach. This was a small town then and that was probably an entire family. Private Ryan a hundred times over.

The marina itself is small and older, but still satisfactory in every way. We shared F-finger with a marvelous collection of cruising (and sessile) characters. First place where we really connected with lots of real cruisers.

Boats

William J.
Jim and Irene shared an anchorage with us at Digby Island. Subsequently, we ran into them in Townsville and exchanged visits. They're heading back home, near Brissie, for the summer. They have a house on the water just a few miles from the power cables that we remembered crossing under last year when we took the inside passage to Moreton bay.

Kavenga
Torsten, Silke and Britta invited us to their home above Townsville and regaled us with sea stories and good cheer.