Whitsundays

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Index of slides.

Mackay

Like almost everything else, our stay in Mackay dragged on longer than we anticipated. First there were repairs to the daggerboards, then we had to wait for the parts for the port-side head (now fully functional), then a replacement for the defective compass which had to be installed, swung and tested. Somewhere in there Karin took a quick trip down to Noosa to visit Dianna while the kids and I entertained ourselves ("Tomb Raider" - worthy of every avoidance manuver).

Somewhere in the middle of all that we sailed over to Brampton Island for a few days where the starboard diesel ceased working and I discovered that we can motor forwards with one engine but not in reverse. After consulting the holy texts (Yanmar engine manual, Nigel Calder) Ship's First Engineer Meyer was pleased to report that the problem was an air leak caused by one of two suspect hose clamps. Ships stores had hose clamps of every size and description except the little itty bitty ones that failed. Jury rigging, while promising, didn't work, and the Bosun forgot about the old constrictor knot pulled really fucking tight trick so we sailed back to Mackay with only one operable motor. The sailing part was easy but getting into the slip was quite the trick.

Normally, with two functional motors, manuvering a cat is much easier than a monohull. The monohull requires some speed, either forward or reverse, before the rudder becomes effective. Controlled docking is thus an exercise in slowing down at the last possible moment when you're right beside the thing you intend to tie up to. Uncontrolled docking is both spectacular to watch and more common than one might suspect. In contrast, the cat requires no speed at all to control. The usual docking manuver is just to stop in front of the desired slip. Rotate 90° in place and then back in while enjoying the envious gaze of any nearby monohullers.

No envious gazes to be seen this time. We tried out a couple of tight circles in the harbour and it went so well that I decided to try backing in to the slip with one motor. Unfortunately, backing up with one motor was next to impossible. No matter how carefully I tried to ease on the throttle, the boat was basically uncontrollable. All we could do was crab slowly to the windward or turn hard to port. After a few panic stricken attempts to use this impoverished movement repertoire to good effect we wound up with the bows more or less pointing in the direction of the desired slip. With spectators looking decidedly more worried than envious I gave up on backing in. Throttles forward and everyone scrambles to move fenders and lines to the other side of the boat. Done.

Stoney Creek Ranch

Goldsmith Island

Finally time to leave Mackay. With the now usual north winds we had an easy run under first reef to Goldsmith Island.

Shaw Island - Roberta Bay

So what do you do all day? Well, when we went to leave Roberta Bay, we disovered that the previous day's move to the shallowest portion of the bay was somewhat too agressive. There was barely a meter of water over the anchor at the morning's low tide. ES herself was at the end of 20 meters of chain in water that was about 1.5 meters deep. We were floating comfortably, but we couldn't move in over the anchor without running aground or coming very close to it. We waited a bit for the tide to come up which is actually easier to do than you might expect because, with a 4 metre tidal range, the tide comes up quite rapidly.

When we had an additional 20cm of water we tried to pick up the anchor. The usual drill is to motor forward while winching up the chain and shouting back and forth.

"Uurrrr, Urrrrr" (the winch)

"More port" (the foredeck hand, indicating to the helmsman that the boat needs to turn to port in order to follow the chain)

"Bub, bub, bbbrooom" (the starbord diesel, throttling up)

"Where's the chain now" (the helmsman, wondering if he's turned enough port or not)

"Uurrrr, Urrrrr, URRRRRR Ying!" (the winch, very agitated)

"What the?!!" (Both crew, very agitated)

"" (the winch)

What has just happened is that the daggerboards, as always, half down, have touched the sand, and that the winch, trying gamely to pull a 6 ton boat (now aground on hard sand) toward a 50 lb anchor (well set in the same hard sand) had asked the electrical system for about 500 amps which request was abruptly declined by an 80 amp fuse with the words "over my dead body." Sic transit gloria...

Anyway. After 20 minutes during which the ship's engineer moved the boxes of rice, flour, flashlights and dried fruit which impeded acces to the electrical panel, located a spare fuse, located an allen wrench to unscrew the fuse, located a second allen wrench which actually fit, installed the new fuse, and then put everything back, the tide had come up enough to retrieve the anchor in the usual manner. Fortunately, there were no spectators.

Off we went, wiser and only $20 poorer (the cost of the spare fuse). In the future, we'll be a bit more conservative with tidal ranges.

We motored for half an hour or so to recharge the batteries and also to get up a narrow channel against a 2-knot tidal current. Then, having winds around the 15 knot mark, we raised sails to the first reef and set about working our way upwind to Whitsunday Island. In order to stay out of the fully developed swell we stayed under the south shore of Whitsunday and tacked back and forth. While doing this we noticed that the jib seemed to luff a little on one tack but not on the other. Also, the rudder angle indicator on the instruments was off again. So: several things to experiment with as we tacked back and forth. And, the no doubt aptly named, Surprise Rock to avoid.

When we arrived at Turtle Bay around noon, we were stunned to find 30 boats already there with more on the way from all directions. An anchoring death match.

Now, the etiquette of anchoring is quite strict: first come first served. Latecomers need work around everyone already there, keeping in mind the radius of the swinging circle about the anchor (3 to 5 times the depth and don't forget the tide), whether the boats already there are liable to swing with the tide or with the wind, and how litigous the owner appears to be. But our proven ability to anchor shallow is an ace in the hole: smaller swinging radius and fewer boats competing for skinny water. So, we wove our way right to the head of the bay and found a likely looking gap in the coral with nobody in it. Our first try put us a little too close to the neighboring boat so we winched the anchor back aboard so we could retry a little further from the neighbors.

Just as we were starting to manoeuver for the second attempt something went wrong with the starbord engine. I looked back in horror to see the dingy's painter twanging like a guitar string as the whole targa bar shook. The painter had come loose and gotten wrapped around the prop.

"Bugger!"

I shut down the engine right away, shouted to Karin to lower the anchor now and went scrambling for mask and snorkle. Spent the next half hour mostly under water trying to distangle dingy painter from the prop while wondering if the anchor had set (it hadn't), if we were drifting toward the reef or the neighbor (the neighbor). Fortunately, everything worked out. Our new neighbors came over in the dingy to see if they could help. Karin let out a bit more scope and the anchor set just in time to keep us clear of the other boat.

Being a high-tech boat, we had a high-tech dingy painter, actually a bit of dyneema line left over from the spool used for the lifelines. High tech line, aside from being preternaturally strong, is fiendishly hard to untie or cut. I had to stand upside down on the hull in order to pull some of the wraps clear. I got the last bit of rope out of the prop just in time for us to get then anchor down in the originally intended spot. Much to the disappointment of two or three maurading power boats who were closing for the kill. They always pick on the weakest of the herd. In a little while calm and dignity were restored and we were a part of the spectators, not the attraction.

Whitsunday Island - Turtle Bay

Turtle bay turned out to be one of the nicer anchorages. It was well sheltered from the northerly winds and had a couple of nice beaches and decent snorkling. The first evening we watched in astonishment as bigger fish cornered an entire school of bait fish right in the middle of the anchorage. The trapped school churned the water white with some of the hunters leaping clean out of the water in pursuit. Out of nowhere, dozens of dingies appeared, each with a couple of fishermen aboard and soon the hunters become the hunted. Karin and the kids hopped in the dingy in hopes of landing dinner but had no luck. Half an hour later, when the feedng frenzy was over, they motored back empty handed to find me on the transom with a meter long spotted mackerel.

"I caught a fish! I caught a fish!"

I said, neglecting to mention that a neighboring dingy had just given it to me: one of the smaller ones of the five or six fish that were flopping in the bottom of their boat.

The next day we met Dwight and Meagan on the beach. We're learning to strike up acquaintances quickly and so a casual conversation turned into an invite for a drink on our boat which turned into an appointment for beach cricket the next day. The custom among cruisers is always to bring one's own food and drink. It feels a little odd, but I think it serves to keep the social gears greased as boats may have different quantities of food and drink aboard and always unpredictable cruising schedules may not allow for a reciprocal invitation.

Arlie Beach

Airlie Beach is one of those post-modern tourist traps in which the very reason for coming has been abstracted away. It is a bit like Fisherman's Warf in San Francisco, except that instead of forming a token presence, the warf and fishermen never existed at all. Like all that deconstructionist French stuff you pretended to understand in college. The beach is just rocks at low tide and you can't swim in the ocean from November to March because of the danger of jellyfish stings. There is, however, a beautiful new swimming "lagoon" in a waterside park. The predominate form of business seems to be booking offices (roughly one every 10 metres or so) which all book the same 20 or so trips to the Whitsundays (on a classic yacht, in a rubber boat, in a submarine, on a plane in a helicopter, etc. "I do not like them Sam-I-am..."). So, you come to Airlie to get to somewhere else...

They did have a great fireworks display on halloween which made up for a lot.

Logbook from the Sea of Cortez

This had been in my intend to read basket for a while and I had the good fortune to stumble across a ratty old paperback in used book store in Mackay. Only a couple of pages missing. Should be required reading. These days I find the symbolism in Steinbeck's fiction a bit too heavy handed, but, constrained (loosely) by the intention to describe real life, he really fires on all cylinders. Like a sniff of whisky, somehow, the adumbration of The Black Perl is better than the real thing.

The Captain's Report

Tristan must reckon himself fortunate that clumsiness is not a flogging offense. Day 1: spill the Captain's (full) coffee all over the dinette fully loaded with books and art projects. As the dinette has a fiddle rail damage was mostly confined to books and art projects. Day 2: spill his own hot chocolate. But, it had the travel lid on and it was his, not the captains so he reconed this to be an improvement. Day 3: spill his own (full) hot chocolate all over his bunk. We are considering getting him a stainless dog food bowl (large size) and bolting it to the table.

Yachtie Details

Boats

La Dane
Len and Cheryle docked their catamaran in the slip next to ours in Mackay. Len has been very active in the Oz multihull scene for many years and was a fount of useful advice. He helped me take ES out for a sea trial of the new compass while Karin was away at Noosa.

Qui Bono
Joop and Anne-Lies docked across from us in Mackay. Like almost everyone else, they're heading south for the summer.