Thursday, July 30, 2009

The cast is off!!!!!!

Bright and early Monday morning we were in the ER of the Base Hospital. It was a pleasant walk down the promenade from the marina to the hospital. Unfortunately, we learned that the only type cast they could apply in the ER would be a plaster cast. The doctor's orders from the Base Hospital in Mackay had instructed that Zachary would need a short-arm cast applied after the full-arm cast was removed. So, no joy today. They entered Zach as a patient into the Cairns system and gave us a referral to the Fracture Clinic within the hospital. The Fracture Clinic is not open on Mondays so removal of the full-arm cast would have to wait until later in the week.

After numerous attempts by phone to set an appointment with the Fracture Clinic we finally succeeded. Since the cast was overdue for removal, they jumped us ahead of others and gave us an appointment for Wednesday morning. We arrived back at the Base Hospital on schedule and within an hour Zach's arm was free. The doctor said that the arm did not require another cast. That was extremely good news! Zachary was all smiles about that!

The doctor said that if an adult had his arm casted for 7 weeks then he wouldn't be able to even straighten out the arm. Not true for an 8-year-old. They gently manipulated the arm and were surprised by Zach's flexibility. Of course, this is a kid who often relaxes watching television lying on his side with his foot up on top of his head. Oh, to have even half of that flexibility range!

The medical care system in Australia is great. It is not run on a federal level; it is operated and managed on a state level. The public system is called Base Hospitals. Since as USA citizens we are not enrolled in the medicare system in Australia, we are required to pay for medical services received at any Base Hospital. Many people in Australia are critical of their medical care system and are negative about the Base Hospitals. We have found the waiting times very minimal (compared to US hospital waiting times) and the cost is practically nothing. What would have cost us at least $5,000 in ER care in the USA was only $185.50 AUS at the Base Hospital in Mackay. The doctor visit in the Fracture Clinic at the Base Hospital here in Cairns was only $68 AUS. For an Australian Queensland resident, it would have been free. We have been very impressed with the public Australian health care system and think it would be a perfect model for the USA to copy instead of the absurd plans our House and Senate are currently drafting.

We've done a lot of walking about Cairns and learning where various stores are located. Zach complains about all the walking and doesn't understand why we can't take taxis. We think the walking is good for us all, so the kid will have to get used to it. Did a bit of provisioning trying to stock up for family arriving this Sunday night. Got a good haircut and had it highlighted. Feels good to have normal looking hair again. Found a Domino's Pizza and broke our rule about no more pizza in Australia; it was infinitely better than the truly horrible pizza we ate in Mackay, although it did not compare to Domino's in the USA. There is a McDonald's about a block from the marina. They sell fifty cent ice cream cones (yeah, I know it really isn't ice cream). We have established a new tradition for the crew of S/V BeBe -- it is required that we buy ice cream cones on the way back to the boat each time we make a walking excursion.

Winds are kicking up. Glad we are snug in the protected marina.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cairns arrival

What nasty weather for our arrival in Cairns on Sunday, July 26! It was one rainstorm after another for the entire day. Luckily we had the track from another boat into the marina; that always lessens the tension when arriving in these shallow places. You just never know how accurate the electronic charts are. We don't blindly follow tracks given to us by others, but those tracks are good guides and help us know if our charts for a new area are relatively accurate. The C-map chart for Cairns area was perfect. The entrance is very long and narrow. Depths on either side are too shallow to accommodate our boat. However, the channel markers are quite high and the channel is very well marked. Entry was a breeze.

Bill called the marina as soon as our cell phone started receiving a reliable signal. They had received our email earlier today but had not responded; but, yes, they did have a slip available for us today. Turned out that the marina actually had made 3 separate reservations for us. Every time we had emailed them an update on our arrival date, they had made a new reservation. Efficiency at its best, I suppose.

There is a large anchorage area across the small river from the marina. We dropped the anchor briefly and moved the dinghy from the davits to up on the mizzen deck. Dock access onto our boat is easiest from the stern steps, so we always prefer to dock stern-to in marinas. Having the dinghy on the mizzen deck blocks walking down the starboard side of the deck, but that slight inconvenience is far outweighed by the ease of access on the stern steps vs. having to climb up from the dock and over the side rail. We have a stainless steel tubing all around the boat -- a life rail rather than a flimsy life line and there is no gate opening. Climbing up and over is a strain on my legs and hips and it is far more comfortable to use the stern steps. This will be especially important to us during this marina stay since there will be 2 children and an infant aboard.

We backed into slip F27 without a hitch and were promptly greeted by Bob on S/V Boomerang. Bob is from our home town of Houston. Bill had met him in French Polynesia; I had met him in New Zealand. It was a surprise to see him here. Bob said he was leaving the next day; he just had to get out of this marina because he had been here too long already. Bob told us that there are probably 200 restaurants and bars within walking distance of this marina, and that one of the best ones is right at the end of our dock. Good to know! We walked all over the place trying to find the marina office to officially check in. Finally gave up and went to lunch. After lunch we eventually found the marina office and got checked in. That is when we learned about them having 3 separate reservations for us.

It rained the whole blessed day. It was nice to be tucked safely into this marina slip as the wind howled.

Monday morning we walked the seaside esplanade (or promenade if you prefer that word) all the way down to the Base Hospital. This walk took us past the swimming lagoon, which I am sure we will be visiting if the days are sunnier and warmer. There are playgrounds for children and nice gas B-B-Q grills for the public, exercise stations, jogging path, bicycle path, whatever one might want in a park. This is an exceptionally nice waterfront area.

The ER nurse said that the only type cast that could be applied in their department would be a plaster cast. But she gave us a referral card to the hospital Fracture Clinic, which is closed on Mondays. We called the Fracture Clinic and have an appointment for tomorrow morning. Zach is very anxious to get this full-arm cast off.

Fitzroy Island

The anchorage at Kent was somewhat active overnight during tide changes, but still comfortable enough to sleep okay. Friday dawned a beautiful day and we decided it would be a good idea to take advantage of the perfect weather and get on up north to Fitzroy Island. Forecast was for wind to be 10-15 knots from the SE and that should have provided perfect conditions for calm sail on this sunny day. As has happened so often since arriving in Australia, the actual weather conditions were not in sync with predicted conditions. Actual wind experienced was only 5-7 knots from SW, clocking to due south at 3-5 knots during the afternoon. So, instead of a beautiful sail we motored the entire 46.4 miles to Fitzroy Island.

Fitzroy Island was a very nice anchorage for our first night there. Very calm and a pretty setting. According to the guide book you can walk across the island to the light on the other side. That sounded like a good hike but it was too late in the day to do it when we arrived. Saturday dawned a bit rougher and putting the outboard on the dinghy didn't seem appealing in the waves, so we stayed aboard and watched tourists doing the tourist activities. The ferries really rocked our boat when they zoomed in and out of the anchorage. It rained off and on all day long. Maybe Sunday would be better weather and provide an opportunity for exploring the island.

Sunday the weather was worse than it had been on Saturday. All other boats left the anchorage first thing Sunday morning. It wasn't that uncomfortable aboard S/V BeBe in this anchorage. Our reservation at the marina in Cairns was for Tuesday and we had planned to stay at Fitzroy until Tuesday morning. But around noon we picked up a weather forecast that indicated the winds would continue to build from the current 20 knots up to 30 knots. That was the deciding factor. Time to move on. We don't like dealing with the anchor in 30 knot winds. We decided to take a chance and hope that the marina would have a slip available for us today. We could not call the marina because there was no cell phone signal at Fitzroy Island.

We weighed anchor and set sail for Cairns. We didn't take any photos at Fitzroy Island because the weather was so crappy the entire weekend. But here is a very short video of Zachary casting his rod and reel when we were in Mackay Marina.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Stephens Island and Kent Island

Wednesday morning I decided we had rolled long enough and it was time to move on. Every time one of the power-cat ferries would arrive or depart at the resort at Dunk Island, it would speed right in front of our boat and cause a large wake. Very inconsiderate to travel at those speeds within an anchorage. The anchorage at the next island appeared to be more exposed than Dunk Island, but it surely wouldn't be any more uncomfortable because it would not have the ferry traffic. When we raised the anchor it was covered in sticky mud -- and included a little visitor. There was a sea worm in the yucky mud; about the circumference of an adult's large finger and twice as long and wiggling vigorously. Zach got a kick out of this strange sea creature.

After motoring a whopping 12 NM we anchored on the northern side of Stephens Island in the South Barnard Island group. Actually don't know why these islands even deserve a name since they are very small and not much more than some rocks jutting out of the water. Stephens Island is the largest island and the only one that offers any place to anchor at all. We thought it was more comfortable than the ferry-plagued Dunk Island.

Thursday morning we motored another 5 NM to Kent Island in the North Barnard Islands. Kent is a small island and the anchorage area is quite small. Another sailboat was anchored when we arrived, but we managed to tuck up close enough to the beach and still be far enough away from the other sailboat. This anchorage is more comfortable than either Dunk or Stephens. Tomorrow we plan to sail to Fitzroy Island, about 48 miles north. Fitzroy will be out final stop before arriving in Cairns.

Zachary can't wait to get this full-arm cast off! It is starting to drive him crazy. The dead skin inside the cast is itchy and stinks and he wants it off so his arm can be cleaned properly. So that will be our highest priority when we arrive at the marina in Cairns.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Coonanglebah (a/k/a Dunk Island)

On Sunday Bill taught Zachary how to change the oil in the generator. The two of them climbed down into the engine room and Bill talked Zach through all the steps. Having that full cast on his arm is not really slowing the kid down. When they were finished Zachary dictated the steps to me and I wrote them in the diary he is keeping for this vacation. He is right-handed and that is the broken arm, so it isn't possible for him to write this entire summer. Now the kid knows how to change the oil in a diesel engine. His dad will have to give him a quiz on this when he gets home.

The insects finally showed up Sunday evening where we were anchored beside Haycock Island in the southern half of the Hitchinbrook Channel. It had been a relaxing few days, but mosquitoes instantly made our decision for us -- we were moving at first light. Thank goodness it was cool enough to be comfortable inside the boat with all the ports and hatches closed up. We checked the tides and determined that rising high tide would peak at 0730 the next morning. By leaving on the rising high tide we would be able to ride the north-setting current all the way out of the long channel. Bill had rigged up a high capacity saltwater pump to wash the anchor chain as we rolled it into the anchor locker. S/V BeBe has the normal saltwater anchor wash on the bow (which I activate from the helm control), but we fully expected the chain to be coated with thick mud after having laid on the bottom of this mangrove river for 5 days. Don't want to get stinky mud down inside the anchor locker. So Bill had prepared the additional heavy-duty pump. This worked perfectly. We let Zachary sleep since this would be a perfectly calm 2+ hours motoring out of the long channel.

Shortly after we set off the linear drive on the autopilot failed again. This is the drive that we just had repaired a few weeks ago. Supposedly they had replaced the clutch; but they were supposed to return the old defective clutch to us and didn't. So we had our doubts as to whether the clutch had been replaced. The "drive stopped" problem was intermittent, so it would require using the drive several days to determine whether it was indeed repaired or not. This long calm channel was the perfect place for Bill to diagnose the problem, so I guess it was providence that it failed again in this perfect place. Bill spent the next 2 hours systematically eliminating one component at a time to diagnose the defective part. First he was thought it was the main course computer; nope, it tested fine. Plus, the rotary chain drive is driven by the same course computer and it always works perfectly. It was a relief to confirm that the course computer is okay because that is a most expensive item to replace. Then he thought it might be the A/B switch that allows us to instantly switch from the linear drive to the rotary chain drive; nope, it tested fine also.

I don't know all the things he tested to diagnose the problem, but he re-wired the linear drive connected to a volt meter and set the volt meter at the helm for me to watch. Sure enough, every time he switched to the linear drive it would first register 12.9 volts and then quickly drop to .01 volts or zero. Eventually Bill figured out that the clutch in the linear drive was drawing too many amps; the course computer would sense the abnormally high amps and then shut off the drive. And now the "new" clutch was burned up because of the excessive amps it had drawn. Bill phoned the Raymarine repair center and talked to the same technician he had been dealing with last month about this drive. The technician admitted they were at fault for not returning the original defective clutch to us and that they would replace the "new" clutch under warranty. In fact, he would try to locate a Raymarine dealer in Cairns and arrange to send them a new clutch and have them replace it for us in Cairns. Wow! That would be great! We aren't counting on that, but it sure would be nice. If it isn't possible for this to be arranged then we will have to ship the entire linear drive back to the service center and wait for its return. Since we will be in the Cairns area for 3 weeks there should be ample time to accomplish this. Since the Raymarine service center for all of Asia is located here in Australia, it is very important that we get this repaired before we leave Australia.

Zachary woke up a few minutes before we exited the Hitchinbrook Channel at 0900. He ate breakfast in the cockpit and immediately developed an active imagination. We have been watching History Channel DVD documentaries about Pearl Harbor and also the HBO DVD series "Band of Brothers" so Zach is into army fights at the moment. He declared war on Australia as a mercenary for some unknown benefactor. The more he killed, the more he would get paid. The cockpit pillows became grenade launchers and machine guns. His bed pillows became tank cannons and bazookas. He used the sport-a-seats as cover from under which he could shoot the enemy. All the stuff he had seen on "Band of Brothers." He asked me if the boat had torpedoes. Obviously that came from Pearl Harbor. He sunk every boat that came into sight and riddled the coast of mainland Australia with all kinds of weaponry. He tried to recruit his grandfather by offering vast sums of money, but Bill said he wouldn't fight with a mercenary. Zach said that I was useless in the battle because I didn't know how to operate any weapons except my hairbrush, which had been turned into a Luger. So I was put in charge of picking off any Australians who made their way within 25 feet of our boat, which wasn't many since Zach did such a thorough job with his heavier weapons. This battle lasted 3 hours. At least it gave him as much exercise as is possible in the cockpit of a boat, as he was constantly jumping from one side of the cockpit to the other to ward off the enemy from both sides.

After a fine beam-reach sail in 15kts of wind, we arrived at Dunk Island at 1245 and anchored in the ultra-shallow, rather exposed anchorage. The charts also indicate the name of this island to be Coonanglebah, but Dunk Island is a lot easier to say so it is better known as Dunk. The anchorage is off a small spit of the island on the western end of the northern side. There are lots of palm trees and a nice resort with its own small flight strip where small airplanes land several times daily. Motor-cats ferry guests to and from the resort all day long. The resort grounds are not open to anyone other than resort guests, but there are separate facilities down the beach for "day guests." Yachties like us are considered day guests. Supposedly, there is a bar, a dive shop and several shops and fast-food establishments at the day guest facilities. We haven't been ashore yet and are not sure if we will visit the island since we don't really need anything. But it is a pretty setting. The boat was rolling pretty badly all night, although all 3 of us tolerated it just fine. The anchorages from here north do not get any better. I don't know how Aaron, Lynn and BeBe are going to handle all this motion at anchor. Hopefully, they will read this and get prepared and be sure to bring the anti-seasickness medication sent by Uncle John.

All three of us spent most of our time at Dunk Island reading our respective books. Zachary is enjoying the Aragon book "Dragon Rider." I have read enough of the chapters to understand the plot and can discuss the book with Zach. It is good that he understands what he is reading enough to form strong opinions about the characters and situations. Hopefully, this will improve his reading comprehension skills over the summer.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hitchincock Channel

We departed Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island about 0730 headed about 35 miles north to Hazard Bay on Orpheus Island. Winds were about 20 knots from SW and were predicted to clock around to SE during the morning, so anchoring for the night on the west side of an island seemed like a good idea. However, the wind gods must not have talked with the Australian meteorologist because this didn't happen. We are finding that weather forecasts here in Australia are not always reliable regarding wind speeds and wind directions.

A few miles out of the bay we had another fish on the line. This time it was a small Spanish mackerel. No doubt about it. This one was perfect match to our fish identification card and was definitely a Spanish mackerel, which further convinces us that the last fish was a Walu mackerel. Bill brought it in and we stunned it with alcohol in the mouth and gills, but then Bill decided that it was too small to bother with. It was less than 5 pounds and would only feed the three of us for one meal. So we tossed it back into the sea for some future fisherman.

Winds stayed relatively high from the SW almost until noon and then dropped to almost nothing from the south directly behind us. Time to switch on the engine as we were making only 4 knots even with poled jib. We sailed past Palm Isles largest island. This is an aboriginal island and is off-limits. The guide book states that one can stop here but must have permission before going ashore. However, locals had told us that an aboriginal man had been killed by a white park officer and emotions are quite tense so we should avoid this island entirely even if it did have the best anchorage. We continued a few miles farther to Orpheus Island. Hazard Bay looked okay with the extremely light winds from the south but offered no protection from the south if the winds should increase overnight, so we continued up the island. According to the sailing guide book Little Pioneer Bay offers the best protection and is the most pleasant anchorage on Orpheus Island. We dropped the anchor twice in Little Pioneer Bay but each time find a rock bottom which would not hold the anchor properly. Funny; the guide book doesn't even mention the fact that the bottom is just large rocks and offers extremely poor holding. This bay was not for us. There were a couple of moorings but these were far too close to the fringing reef and we had no idea who owns the moorings, so we pressed on. It was only 2 p.m. so there was plenty of time to reach another island where we hoped to find a better anchorage. We headed towards Zoe Bay on the eastern side of Hitchincock Island. This wasn't far and we could easily reach there well before dark. Friends had told us they really liked Zoe Bay and the winds were suitable today for us to check it out.

Bill dropped the fishing line back into the water as soon as we left Little Pioneer Bay. Earlier I had listened to the VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) broadcast on the VHF radio and remembered that there was a 2 1/2 meter high tide at 5 p.m. today at Lucinda Point. The southern entry to the Hitchincock Channel is at Lucinda Point and it is only accessible during high tide. Depths of the approach to the channel are as shallow as 0.4 meters. We draw 2.1 meters. So we could just make it in on a 2.5 meter tide. We could reach the channel approach on a rising high tide and start making our way in. As the tide rose as we made our way inward it should be maximum just as we would be at the shallowest point. We decided to go for it. Bill went below to sit at the nav station and plot the course. Seconds later we got a solid hit on the fishing line. He came running up and I put the engine into neutral to reduce the drag. This one was a fighter! Bill said it felt like a very large fish. The rod was bending in a tight arc as he fought to reel this fighter up to the boat. He had already let out so much line to let it run that there he was concerned about losing all the line! Bill reeled and fought it for at least 5 minutes. Then the fish managed to get off the hook. We have never had this problem before but has happened half-dozen times since we arrived in Australia. This turned out to be our last bite of the day. Now we were wishing we had kept that small Spanish mackerel this morning.

We arrived at Lucinda Point at 4 o'clock and lined up on the lead lights for the approach. Bill stood on the bow to watch the depths; I was at the helm trying to keep the lead lights in perfect alignment and watch the chart on the monitor; and Zachary was in charge of watching the depth indicator. I told him to tell me when it dropped to 2 meters and then keep me posted of depths as it dropped by tenths from there. This was a nerve-wracking entrance for all 3 of us! Lowest depth we encountered was 1 meter under the keel. This happened twice, and was in the 1.2 to 1.4 meter depth several times. Each time Zach got excited as the depth increased up to over 2 meters again. We really don't like being in water this shallow!

It was shortly after 5 p.m. when we anchored near Haycock Island well inside the Hitchincock Channel. Zachary has gotten pretty good about handling these 55 to 60 mile days. The guide book states that this is the most picturesque anchorage in all of Queensland. Hitchincock Island is a very large island and this channel between the mainland is very narrow. It is basically a salt water river. Mangroves and small creeks feed off both into the mainland and into the island. The island is mountainous, as is the mainland. So this is an unusual place. This is the first mangrove area that we have visited that is not infested with noseeums. We have been anchored here at Haycock Island for the past 2 nights and have seen only 1 mosquito and no noseeums. It is cold at night so we have closed up the boat well before dark each day, so that has helped avoid insects because swarming times are normally at dawn and sunset. We don't do rivers because our boat has Micron 66 bottom paint and that paint cannot be put into fresh water, but this is just like a saltwater river. So it is our first "river" experience on a boat. The tides are substantial and create 1-3 knot currents through this channel several times daily. This has not affected us here at anchor other than to swing the boat. The water is totally flat and calm and the tidal streams are not noticeable in our big boat. A popular sailing publication in Australia is The Coastal Passage. In this month's edition there was an article about Haycock Island and the Big Daddy saltwater croc that lived in the mangroves on the western side. Shown here is the photo that accompanied that article. Note that this croc was resident in 2003. We sort of think that he probably has moved away since then. We certainly did not see any crocs during our stay at Haycock Island.

This place is popular with fishermen but is so large that we rarely see more than a couple of small fishing boats at a time. Zachary had lost all his small fishing lures with unsuccessful bites while fishing with Jamie at Horseshoe Bay, but he wanted to fish here after he saw all the local fishermen out. So Bill made a small fishing lure for Zach out of the wrapper from a granola bar. They were out fishing for less than an hour before Zach managed to lose this lure also. The previous lure were lost when fish bit and the line snapped when he was reeling them in. This lure was lost when the hook caught on rocks. This time he also lost all his line. So there will be no more fishing with that small rod. Bill has promised that they will try fishing from the dinghy again today, but this time Zachary will use one of our regular rod and reels. Don't know how he will be able to handle the larger and heavier rod with his broken arm. Maybe I will be forced to go in the dinghy with them on the next fishing expedition.

There are several anchorages within the Hitchincock Channel as well as a couple of places on the northern side of the island. I am perfectly happy to stay right here rather than deal with muddy chain and anchor more than once (and you know it must be a muddy bottom in this area with all the mangroves and mountains). But we might check out another anchorage if Bill gets stir-crazy. There is a marina near the northern channel entrance that is supposed to be very nice. It is plagued with silting and we do not know if the entrance is deep enough for us to gain entrance. No real reason for us to go into a marina anyway. We have sufficient provisions to last until we reach Cairns and Sailmail handles email so we can live without internet. We are about 100 miles from Cairns now and don't want to arrive there until end of July, so there is plenty of time to chill out here in this river.

I just finished reading "Flyboys" by James Bradley, author of "Flags of our Fathers." This is an historically accurate book that should be required reading for everyone. Bradley takes an impartial viewpoint of this war and revealed both the good and the bad of both Japan and America. Many things we were taught in high school about the Pacific war in WWII are revealed to be wrong, some of which are disinformation forced upon the public by our own government (re: Hirohito). This is a disturbing book about some very unpleasant true events; not a pleasant read; but one that should be read by everyone, especially those who criticize America's use of the atomic bombs. Those 2 bombs killed fewer people than the just first 2 1/2 hours of fire bombing of Tokyo during that war. If we had continued the fire bombing as planned then many more Japanese would have died. The atomic bombs had no effect on the surrender by Japan; Japan surrendered because of the fire bombing. Another surprising fact was that during Teddy Roosevelt's term as president during the early 1900's, the official USA policy during the war in the Phillipine Islands was to kil every man, woman and child over the age of 10 years. And we pretty much did exactly that. And people complain about some things the US government does today!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

As you can see by this photo the wind died just as suddenly as it had started, so the boys got to go fishing by themselves. We made Zachary wear a life vest since he probably wouldn't be able to swim very long with his arm in a cast. Jamie handled the dinghy like a pro. Of course, what would one expect of a child who has lived aboard a boat and been cruising the Pacific Ocean for 6 years.

Jamie caught a rock fish, but his parents couldn't positively identify it as an edible species so they threw it back into the sea. Zachary got several bites but each time the fish broke the line and stole the lure. The line on his rod and reel is very low test strength and the fish were too big for it. All the small lures are now gone so we used pieces from the mackerel we caught the other day and baited the final hook with that. Zach got another bite on the bait but something really strange happened. The hook disappeared! The bait was still on the end of the fishing line and the knot was still tied, but the hook was gone! We have no idea how that could happen. The boys had a great time fishing even without catching anything for dinner.

We went ashore to buy milk, bread and eggs for the next week or so. Don't know if we will find any more stores between here and Cairns. Bill and Zach walked the beach while I sat in the shade and admired the scenery. Horseshoe Bay is a perfect place to anchor for weeks if we had the time to do so. A pretty palm-tree lined beach protected by shark nets; several restaurants; mokes or cars for rent to explore the island; jet skis and paddle boats for rent on the beach as well as several other aquatic devices to ride or be pulled on; and even an occasional bus to Nelly Bay where one can catch a ferry to Townsville for a day outing. Wish we had more time to sit here and enjoy, but we were delayed with Zach's broken arm and have a deadline to reach Cairns by last week of July so we can be prepared for guests to arrive August 1. And we hope to spend a few days at Hitchinbrook Island along the way, so it is time to move on.

Tomorrow morning we leave -- next destination is Orpheus Island, about 35 miles north of here. Tonight we had drinks and snacks on S/V Esprit and said goodbye. They are also headed north but at a slower pace. They might catch up with us in Cairns just before we depart for Darwin next month. The photo at right was taken as we sailed up the eastern side of Magnetic Island. Some of the rock formations looked like carved art works.

Still in Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island

As happens so often out here, the weather forecast changed. After the light northerly winds for a couple of days instead of clocking back north and then down to southeast, the winds kicked up strongly from the southwest. That is fine because this bay is on the north side of the island and we are sheltered from either southwest, south or southeast winds. This morning we moved the boat closer in toward shore to provide greater shelter (and to make a shorter dinghy trip ashore). Winds are sustained 30 knots in this tucked-up area of the bay, and gusting much higher. This is a far cry from the weather forecast. Hopefully things will calm down to predicted levels this afternoon. The 12-year-old boy, Jamie, on S/V Espirit had asked Zachary to go fishing with him in their dinghy this afternoon. I think Zachary was really looking forward to just the 2 boys being off by themselves in a dinghy in this bay. But that won't happen if the winds remain so strong.

Magnetic Island is the home to koalas and platypuses (platypii ? ) and other strange creatures. We had planned to walk some trails this morning and look for wildlife, but that plan was before the winds kicked up so strong. Now I am not so sure we want a wet dinghy ride into the waves just to see some koalas. After all, we have seen koalas many times in the Houston zoo.

The crew of S/V Espirit joined us for beer-battered fish fry night before last. The fish that we had caught appeared to be a Spanish mackerel to us except it had wide vertical stripes down the sides. We figured that was just how they looked in this part of the world; our fish identification info is all for Atlantic fish, not Pacific. Later we learned from a friend in Fiji that this type mackerel is called a Walu (at least that is what they call it in Fiji). Whether it is called a Spanish mackerel or a Walu or some other name, it tastes delicious! We enjoyed getting to know Chay and Katie, and Zachary enjoyed playing with their son Jamie. Jamie holds a second-degree black belt in karate and placed second in worldwide competition for forms and weapons in karate last year. Zachary holds a yellow belt and was impressed that a kid not much older than himself has a second-degree black belt. Jamie is in 8th grade level education because he skipped one grade; a very nice boy and a good playmate for Zachary in spite of the 4 year difference in their ages. Jamie spent hours on our boat one afternoon playing DS games with Zach.

The agent in Indonesia emailed our CAIT (cruising permit) already. He had insisted we submit the application 12 weeks in advance of arrival in Indonesia. We submitted the documents and wired the funds ($240 USD) on June 27 and already have received the CAIT! Certainly did not take 12 weeks, but you just never know with governmental agencies so I guess it was best to do it with plenty of time to spare. The CAIT requires you to list every place you might stop in Indonesia. We had planned to arrive at Benoa, Bali and clear out from the same place. We would visit just Bali and simply sail through the rest of Indonesia. But when we received the CAIT it indicated a whole bunch of destinations for us to stop in Indonesia. The agent said that for an additional $250 USD we could clear in at Kupang. This would allow us to visit Komodo (to see the dragons) and numerous other anchorages/islands enroute to Bali. Then we could sail through Indonesia and clear out at Nongsa, Batam (just across the shipping strait from Singapore). The agent said we could stay as long as 90 days in Indonesia if we clear in at Kupang; but we can only stay 20 days if we clear in/out at Bali. If we do the 20 days at Bali then we will be given a Visa-On-Arrival. But clearing in at Kupang and staying anything longer than 20 days will require us to obtain a Social Visa from the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin.

Our time to spend in Indonesia is pretty tight because we want to be in Phuket, Thailand, by early December; so there is no way we can spend 90 days in Indonesia. But we could spend less time in Singapore and less time in Malaysia and increase our time in Indonesia by a couple of weeks, so the Kupang route sounds feasible. We told the agent that we will wait until we arrive in Darwin to decide whether it will be 20 days in Bali only or the Kupang route for 30 to 40 days. Indonesia has never been of any interest to either Bill or me (only Bali); but so many people have told us how much they loved Indonesia that maybe it is a place that we shouldn't skip.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cape Upstart and up to Magnetic Island

We didn't stay long at Gloucester Island. The next morning we decided to move across the enormous bay and around a tip of land to Queen's Beach. Unfortunately, by the time we reached that tip of land north of Bowen the winds and seas were such that Queen's Beach appeared unpleasant. So we continued onward. The next possible anchorage also did not look appealing in the weather conditions, so we continued onward to Upstart Bay. What started out to be a 12 mile sail tuned into a 58 mile sail.

The guide book described the head of the bay as being the more comfortable and more interesting so we motored the additional 5 miles to the end of the bay. There are supposed to be several creeks and small rivers that empty into Upstart Bay in that area. I don't know what the author of this guide book thinks is appealing about this spot! The winds continued to build overnight and the first thing the next morning we motored back to the entry to Upstart Bay and anchored in Sharks Bay. This was a far more comfortable and pretty anchorage.

The volunteer coast guard started broadcasting inquiries about a small sailboat that was missing long before our arrival at Upstart Bay. Search and rescue helicopters flew over us several times to confirm that none of the 3 boats anchored in Upstart Bay was the missing boat. This small sailboat supposedly did not have a VHF radio and was reported missing by a relative when he did not reach the intended destination on time. After 2 days of searching for this boat it was finally spotted by a helicopter. It was underway and doing just fine. We cannot believe that rescue helicopters had to be dispatched simply because this guy did not have a VHF radio, or even a cell phone for that matter. He could have reported his whereabouts to his relative with a cell phone where he was sailing as this was a close coastal area. We think this sailor should be forced to pay for this search and rescue effort that he caused by being too cheap and/or inconsiderate to report in. If he wasn't going to report in then he shouldn't have told his relative that he would arrive at a specific location by a specific time. Jeeez!

Another American boat arrived at Cape Upstart late Saturday afternoon. This is the first American boat we have seen since arriving in Australia. In fact, this is the first non-Australian or non-New Zealand boat that we have seen since arriving in Australia. It was too rough to put the dinghy into the water in order to go over to say hello, but we talked via radio and learned that they are also headed north up the coast and that they have a 12-year-old boy aboard. They were leaving before sunrise on Sunday morning in hopes of reaching Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island in one day. They thought this was about 60 miles, but the charts indicated this was really 70 miles -- pretty ambitious for a one-day sail with daylight arrival. I woke up at 4:45 a.m. and noticed that their boat was not in the same place. Took me several minutes to realize that I was seeing not their anchor light but their stern light. They were already about 3 miles out of the anchorage. Neither Bill nor I felt like going back to sleep so decided to weigh anchor and follow them.

This was a great day of sailing. We poled out the jib and dropped in a fishing line while Zachary slept in the cockpit. When he was finally good and awake he played DS and was happy as a clam. He used both DS units and set them side-by-side to transfer characters between games.

Several times the reel spun out as if we had a bite but each time the fish managed to spit out the lure. Note that these lures have 3 treble hooks so I don't know how the fish manage to get these lures out of their mouths once hooked, but they do. Once Bill had a real fighter on the line and he said it felt like a big one. But less than half-way in the fish managed to get free of the hooks. Finally, though, we got a solid bite!

Zach got all excited as Bill reeled in the fish and gaffed it. Zach says he caught this fish because we wouldn't have had a line in the water if it wasn't for him. By this time I had furled in the jib and had the engine running. We do this every time we catch a fish so that the boat will slow down and make it less difficult for Bill to reel it in. I held the rod while Bill held the gaffed fish and Zachary got the squirt bottle of alcohol out of the tackle box. Zach was also able to use the autopilot to change course to make it less rolly and to adjust the throttle. Glad he is a fast learner.

Zach didn't know about the little alcohol trick. We squirted alcohol into the fish's mouth and gills and he instantly stopped fighting. I explained to Zach that the fish was not yet dead, but the alcohol stuns the fish for awhile and makes it quit moving so Bill could run a line through its mouth and gills to use to hold the fish. Bill tied the line to a halyard and raised the fish on the side of the boat. Made a good place to gut it and let the innards drop straight down into the water. Would have been perfect if this had been the leeward side instead of the windward side. I brought up the large wooden cutting board and Bill filleted the fish on the mizzen deck. Then he tossed the head and spine overboard. I thought this method worked better than any other place we have tried cleaning fish. Bill thought it was still messy so I dont' know if he will try it this way again.

First fish caught since our arrival in Australian waters, and it was a decent-sized Spanish mackerel -- about 15 pounds.

The other boat (S/V Espirit with Shea, Katie and son Jamie) was smaller than BeBe and sailed slightly slower. We passed them while dealing with bringing in the fish, and we talked via radio several times and learned they left San Diego 6 years ago. They decided to stop at Cape Cleveland but we pressed onward to Horseshoe Bay on the northern side of Magnetic Island. Ended up sailing just over 70 miles today and Zach tolerated it nicely. Catching the fish helped a lot to alleviate boredom.

This is a very nice anchorage, probably the best anchorage we have seen since arriving in Australia. Winds are predicted to change direction and be very light from the north to northwest and then back around north again and then back to southeast. This wind variation will take several days but never at high speeds. So being anchored on the northern side of this island during northly winds doesn't worry us since the winds aren't predicted to be any higher than 7 knots. S/V Espirit arrived in Horseshoe Bay around noon today. We have invited them over for a fish fry tonight and Zach will get to meet a new friend. We plan to stay here until Thursday morning so they should enjoy a few days playing together.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Gloucester Island

Thursday, July 9, 2009
20.04.150S; 148.26.300E

Winds kicked up considerably overnight and we almost canceled departure from Whitehaven Beach this morning in order to wait for a calmer day. But by 0730 it seemed as though the winds might be starting to die down a bit so we weighed anchor and set sail. Seas were a bit rough, around 2 meter waves. We made Zach move from his berth to a sleeping position in the cockpit because we thought there would be too much motion for him down below deck. He was a real trouper -- didn't get seasick and tolerated the 52 mile sail quite well.

We are moored behind Passage Islet on the southwest tip of Gloucester Island. It has been a long time since we have picked-up a mooring ball for the night; last time was in Vava'U in the Kingdom of Tonga last September. There is a resort of sorts nearby. Tomorrow we will take the dinghy over there and find out how much this mooring is costing us. Might stay here a day or two. We still have about 375 NM to reach Cairns by end of this month so we are not in a big hurry. And the farther north we go the fewer the anchorage choices, so best to enjoy the good anchorages when we can.

There are supposed to be some bush trails near the resort. Looking forward to getting off the boat for some hiking exercise and exploring tomorrow. Still enjoying the cold nights and pleasantly warm days. Weather is this area is wonderful.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Whitsunday Islands

Can't remember what our last update to this site was about, so might be repeating things. We left the marina last week and sailed out to Shaw Island for a few nights. This provided a much needed break from marina life. I saw what I thought was a seal or sea lion swimming about quarter mile away from our anchored boat. Later I learned that there are no sea lions or seals in this area so it had to be an Australian snubbed fin dolphin. We also saw some very large turtles and a few smaller green turtles. On the way back both our fishing reels went off at almost the same time, but the lines got tangled and by the time we got them both in there was no fish still on the hooks. A man at the marina later told us that it probably was Spanish mackerel because they were running where we were sailing at the time. Zach learned how to steer the boat using the autopilot. We were surprised how quickly he understood wind angles and following a plotted course. He can read a chart pretty darn well, better than some adults we know.

Saturday night was the Monster Truck Show. It would cost $95 for the 3 of us or $100 for a family of four, so we told Zachary he could ask one friend to go with us. He chose Kate -- not because she is a pretty blonde girl but because she is the "calmest" of all the kids he met at the marina (that is his description, not ours). She couldn't go but her younger brother John was available and eager to see the big trucks. It was a bit cold for us sitting in the bleachers for this outdoor activity, so we ended up leaving shortly after intermission. But we had seen the monster trucks, the monster motorcycle, the jet van, the dirt bike race and the dirt bikes jumping over 12 parked cars. There was even a huge crane that dropped a Holden and a Ford. (A Holden is a brand of automobile manufactured in Australia.) I don't know what the attraction was about dropping cars from over 100 feet in the air, but the little kids loved watching it. The highlight of the evening was a spectacular fireworks show. Far better than we would ever have expected in this small town. BTW, since it was July 4th they played the American anthem as well as the Australian antem. It was nice to see that at least 90% of the audience stood for the US anthem, so some goodwill still exists for the USA.

The x-ray Sunday morning showed that Zachary's bones had not shifted further and that calcification was forming around all points of the break and thickly joining the ends of the broken bone. Looked like it was rapidly growing together. The doctor said that with a child this young the bone would remodel as he grows so everything looked good. We had planned to pick up the final items of bread, milk and eggs after the hospital visit but soon learned that all supermarkets in Mackay are closed on Sundays. So we picked up one bottle of milk from the expensive marina superette and departed around 11 a.m. Zachary's parting words to his new friends were "Don't forget everything I taught you." He had taught them out to play poker and how to play several DS games. I'm sure his parents will be grateful and will think of Zach as they tell their kids that they cannot have DS games.

Seas were a bit rough outside the breakwater of the marina and we immediately changed our destination to a more sheltered anchorage. Darn!! We had wanted to anchor at Ball Bay in hopes of seeing the wild kangaroos that supposedly play on the beach there, but that bay would be too exposed in these seas. So we changed course and headed to Goldsmith Island in the James Smith Group of the Cumberland Islands. This was a perfect anchorage -- shallower entrance than we like with our 2.1 meter draft but very comfortable once inside. The next morning we changed destination plans once again. We had planned to go to Shaw Island but wind was from unfavorable direction. Rather than motor we changed our destination to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Absolutely everyone had told us we must visit Whitehaven as it is the prettiest beach in Queensland. En route we passed Pentecost Island; it looks more like it belongs in French Polynesia than in Australia.

We have been at Whitehaven Beach for 2 nights and will stay here at least one more night. This is the longest beach we have visited since starting cruising. The sand is like powdered sugar and almost as white. A really pretty place and a calm anchorage in the southeast winds. The 5-meter tides twice daily can be a challenge when leaving your dinghy on the beach for any length of time. We watched other dinghies get stranded way up the beach as the tide went out or float off as the tide came in, so Bill brought our dinghy anchor and a very long rode and securely set our dinghy anchor well ashore, leaving the dinghy floating as the tide receded. Made it easy for us to retrieve our dinghy.

Each day large day-tourist boats arrive with hordes of passengers to fill sections of this long beach. It costs about $150 per person to come out here for the day, which is certainly more than we would ever pay for a day on a beach. A sea plane also arrives at least once per day. He landed right in front of our anchored boat one time. Then he motors right to the edge of the beach for his passengers to exit the plane.

Yesterday we walked the beach until our feet hurt. Then came back to the boat and let Zachary play in the water while sitting in a bosun's seat suspended from the mizzen boom. I controlled a halyard with the electric winch and raised and lowered him at his commands.

He wanted us to get in the water with him, but we don't do cold water. The water temp is 76F and that is too cold for Bill and me.

No fish caught yet. Zachary's casting reel broke when we were at Shaw Island -- the handle fell off and was lost at sea. The other casting reel onboard is a spinning reel and he can't do it using only his left hand. Bill tried to buy a new reel but can reels are scarce in Mackay. The one he did find was far, far too expensive. Zachary said that Bill needed to save his reputation that "Papa can fix anything." So once we arrived at Whitehaven Beach Bill managed to manufacture a handle for the can reel. It looks strange because the scale is all wrong for the reel, but it works fine and Zach has no trouble using it. Since Zachary can occupy himself casting for hours, it was mandatory that we have a functioning casting rod and reel for him to use.

This morning a couple of whales swam through the pass between Haslewood Island and Whitehaven Beach. From the size of the spouts it appeared that one was much larger than the other, so there were probably mom and calf. Zach said the dorsal fin looked like Orcas, which, if true, means that these are really porpoises and not whales. Orcas or killer whales are not really whales; they are the largest porpoises.