Friday, 2 October 2015

Central Coast NSW

We’re back. Since arriving at our destination I’ve been a little remiss in keeping this blog up. So here’s an update.
Fondest memory of the final leg Port Stephens - Central Coast, was wizzing past Newcastle at 8 knots. I reckon we had a 4 knot current with us at that point, the East Australian current is certainly something to reckon with. Makes one wonder how we’d head the other way…
Of course the current disappeared as we passed Lake Macquarie and 12 miles out from the entrance of Broken Bay the wind turned on the nose. Choice was, tack back and forth all night (we were managing 135˚ tacking angles, some current was against us), taking 12 to 18 hours, or drop all sail and motor 6 hours at our feeble motoring pace. We chose the latter, since it was midnight and the thought of a dawn arrival was appealing. So 2 hour shifts through the night holding the tiller it was (no tiller pilot remember). Theoretically, our functioning windvane (repaired in Port Stephens - 1 hour job - I love low tech gear) could work while motoring into a strong headwind, too bad I didnt think of it at the time…
Ashiki day sail, Central Coast near Gosford, as photographed
by Graham Cox on Arion

We are settled here on the Central Coast for some time now, we have projects to look forward to, one is a haul out some time this Spring, at one of the boat yards on the Hawkesbury. The paintwork on Ashiki is looking abysmal, it would be nice to make her new again. The torn top panel of the foresail held all the way here from QLD, that's the first project, yet to be carried out, as we’re still daysailing around with it!

Arion, a steel 24' "Tom Thumb"
Great news was Raymarine replaced our ST2000+ tiller pilot for new. They saw the quite obvious bad condition of the original and gave up! I’m building a stainless steel trim tab assembly to bolt onto the rudder for the tiller pilot to drive, this should make the TP’s job much easier. Our friend Graham Cox (Arion) has had his TP for 14 years on a similar tonnage boat as Ashiki, connected to a trim tab the whole time and believes for serious use, tiller pilots don’t last connected directly to the tiller. Ours lasted little over 4 months and 2,000 Nm.

Super Storm

The big excitement was the Central Coast super storm of April, 2015. It was three days blowing 50 to 75 knots! Fortunately we were (mostly) prepared for it, the forecast was for 60 knots so we moved Ashiki to a bay protected from the Southerly. But the first night with 50 knots gusts we dragged at a rate of 20m/hour. Late at night on a heeling deck I dropped the second anchor, I wanted to let out more rode on the first anchor but that meant winching in 5m to release the snubber, which I wasnt game to do in the rain and darkness. But the second anchor did slow our dragging, which was not a real hazard since it was towards the centre of the bay. The bottom in Brisbane water is soft mud, not the most ideal holding for anchoring and neither of our anchors, 15kg Plough and a 14kg Super Sarca are up to it. I think a next size up and different design anchor (sugar scoop type?) is in our future.. 

Later that night the dinghy sank, still attached to the boat. We figured its safer under the water than on top. But we lost the oars and a pair of thongs (flip flops to you non aussies).

Couple of boats blown from their moorings during
the super storm of 2015
We had quite a restless night, all the while checking Anchor Watch (an app on the phone) to see how much we’ve dragged in the huge gusts. At daybreak, because the rain had stopped I ventured onto the foredeck to winch in the snubber and let out an extra 20m of rode, on both anchors. That would be around 45m of rode in only 4m depth. This stopped the dragging altogether and was fortunate because by mid morning the storm reached its zenith with that 75 knot gust hitting us like a sledge hammer. That’s firmly in category 2 cyclone strength by the way. Ashiki heeled and hunted around, but did not drag an inch further. I made a mental note to build a riding sail next.. (small sail for anchoring, is strung up from the stern is supposed to tame the veering around in a gale). What a difference it makes having the anchors finally holding, the stress poured from us and we both could have a decent sleep. Ashiki was still in the protection of the bay with waves no more than a foot.

The view of the coastline was different, we were downwind of a mooring field and many of the yachts were having their sails unfurled and flogging themselves to shreads. We had the foresail lowered to the deck, the main resting in it’s lazy jacks were unlashed and it never flogged, even though the luff and leach do hang down. Interesting. Graham on Arion was on a visitor mooring in another bay and saw several boats break free from their moorings and blow past him onto the oyster beds. One large plastic fantastic blew onto him and scraped along his side, his steel boat inflicting more damage on it that on his. 

On the second night, when the worst of the storm was over (but still 40 to 50 knot gusts) I looked out and was stunned to see the surrounding hills in pitch blackness. The city had lost power, in fact, listening to the radio, land lubbers seemed to be having a rougher time of it than us. No power, trees had fallen everywhere blocking most roads, businesses and work places shut down for a couple days. All the while we were on board with full power, lights on, cooking, surfing the internet etc. Even ran the generator during the blow. The advantages of off the grid living.. 

Boats were reported to be all over the foreshore, on parks, on footpaths, it was mayhem. This was their worst storm in 15 years and we happened to arrive in time for it..

Monday, 22 June 2015

NSW and the Eureka Moment

Ashiki was eleven days in Mooloolaba thanks to a certain category 5 cyclone up Rockhampton way, then we were off with the next Nor’Easter. Mooloolaba is definitely a fun place packed with all sorts of goodies, but we had, as rough as it was, a schedule to keep. We decided to bypass the rest of Queensland, no Brisbane, no Gold Coast, places we would like to cruise next time, instead we found the East Aussie Current. It found us, more like it! Winds dropped to a zephyr but the GPS still had us a 4.5 knots.. We did see a fisherman’s buoy 5 or 6 miles off the coast, it was almost submerged with the current washing over it. It as a good 180 miles to Iluka in northern NSW but Ashiki covered 110 miles the final 24 hours. A record!  (lot of exclamation marks this paragraph!). So teepee the auto pilot decided to act up and blew fuse. As I was out of 10A fuses the rest of the way was under windvane. Still in the sleigh ride, the Clarence River mouth hoved into sight and Ashiki was turned towards the coast, there is supposedly a good swell over the bar but considering the light winds I guessed it would be alright and wasn’t worried with a night entrance. Our entry would be against an ebb flow too, but the wind would be behind us so I still thought we’d be okay. With just the foresail up and motor assistance Ashiki did the job making 2.5 knots despite the 2 knot counter current and we found ourselves anchored in Iluka’s fishing boat harbour.

Anchored behind the breakwater, Iluka NSW
It was very pleasant 6 days spent in Iluka, Ashiki’s first taste of the mighty New South Wales, meeting up with the crew of the 46’ homebuilt cat “Imagine” whom we had met in the Kimberley. The pub on the bay with views of our boat is a very fine spot indeed. Several beers and pub meals were had during our 6 day stay.

Armed with a functional teepee (and a handful of 10 & 15A fuses) we set sail south, heading straight out to sea in search of the current. When Ashiki’s instruments showed signs of radical leeway to starboard, meaning - we hit the current and our cue to turn south. In a light Nor’Easter which I would expect us to cruise along at 2 to 2.5 knots, Ashiki started off at 4 to 4.5 settling at 5 knots a few hours later. Passing Coffs Harbour around midnight we were making such good time we didn’t want to stop. Early the next day Teepee gave up. The fuse didn’t blow (15A this time, spec is for 12A but can’t buy those), its pushrod froze. Comprehensively kaput. So back to the windvane again.

10:30pm on the second night, a fresh breeze was blowing from astern and a following swell was building. At this point the current wasn’t assisting much but Ashiki was still romping along at 4.5 knots. Such conditions puts pressure on the rudder and the tiller begins to throw itself around. This is why tiller pilots don’t last more than a few months on this boat. Anyway, the tiller would often control the vane rather the other way around, being directly connected, flicking the vane over quite violently. At this time while below I heard a mighty “crack”, peeked out the companionway and saw no windvane. Then found it trailing off the stern still attached by its two sets of control lines. It had severed at the wooden base from the top of the post. So much for that, both forms of auto steering gone and neither of us wants to sit in the cockpit hand steering through the night. It is a following wind and Ashiki only steers herself with the tiller lashed if the wind is forward of the beam (roughly to windward). Motoring was out of the question, since that requires steering. It’s either hand steer or heave to. We chose the latter, opting for a good nights sleep.

Iluka Bay, the owner of this red boat decided he wanted more room. So being steel, he
cut it in half, added 10' of steel plate and welded it back together, extending the waterline by 10'. Viola, bigger boat. 


Laying in the bunk with Ashiki drifting half a knot southward I was thinking to myself that there must be a way for this boat to sail itself downwind. It’s a junk schooner with 2,000 years of development behind it, dammit, and everything we found about it handling wise has been quite amazing. Then I had what you might called a eureka moment, jumped up and headed for the cockpit. I let the mainsail out, 90˚ to the hull and sheeted the foresail in, hard, boom pointing fore and aft, lashed the tiller to the middle and sat back and watched. The boat would pick some speed downwind then try to round up, turning to port. As the wind spilled a little from the main it would catch the sheeted in foresail and push the bow back downwind again. It worked. Ashiki was mooching along, picking up speed, trying to round up then back downwind again. Not going fast, not the previous 4+ knots, but she’s managing 2.5 to 3 knots in the direction we wanted to go. I knew there was a way! Incidentally, this is actually the same setup for steering downwind when the swell picks up and we want to minimise rolling. Lucky we built a schooner, no way we could do this with a sloop.

In the morning we started hand steering, holding 3.5 knots, then the wind swung to the SW which meant windward sailing where Ashiki can very efficiently sail herself with tiller lashed. We spent the rest of that day below reading and drinking tea. Normal sea life. It didn’t seem to matter being without any form of functioning auto steering devices. 

At this stage it was decided to make landfall at Port Stephens, heard it was a beautiful place and besides, I could get cracking on the windvane repairs. This would make it a good 3 days voyage from Iluka. That night we had an interesting conversation on the VHF. First we heard on ch 16 someone calling to a vessel SE of Seal Rock. Wasn’t us, we’re definitely NE of Seal Rock. Five minutes later there’s a call for the sailing vessel NE of Seal Rock. Ah, someone wants to chat with us. I answer him and he says he’s on a sailing catamaran nearby and for the past half hour he’s been try to figure out which direction we are heading. Happens he had a beef with the non standard lighting we are showing.

It’s true, we deliberately sail at night with not exactly “Collision Regulation” lighting. We’re supposed to only show our three navigation lights (red, green and white on the stern), which we do. But we also have the bright white anchor light on the mast head. Reason being, it works, huge ugly supertankers change course around us, we are really happy with that. It’s a fairly common thing to do, having seen other sailing vessels do the same. It could be a topic for a hot internet debate, but I got the idea from a cruising book, the “Pardeys” always sailed this way. But everyone has their opinion I supposed.

I think this guy on the cat was a stickler for rules. So I popped my head out the companionway and looked around, couldn’t see nought in the blackness. Eyes still accustomed to the cabin lighting I suppose. Then roughly 200m abeam of us I saw a faint dark grey triangle shape in the gloom. That was him. No lights at all, huh? Then I saw it, a very faint spec, a reddish dot towards the stern of his hull. That was it. His lighting. The guy’s boat was almost invisible! My god, I had a little chuckle.

I didn’t point this out, not wanting a flame war on ch 16, I told him we’re aware we sail with the anchor light lit and that’s how we do it. He signed off and that was the end of it.

Next day, midday we dropped anchor in Shoal Bay, in the lovely environs of Port Stephens.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Kimberley Flashback

We’re in flashback mode. I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile. Problem is, in the topics it is really hot sitting in front of the computer, thus the lack of posting about the Kimberley. Here are some pictures of our Kimberley experience during July-Sept 2014. Still the highlight of our voyage around Australia, this 2 1/2 month, 600 Nm trip without ports, towns or stopovers in civilisation. Meant lots of supplies onboard and lots of fishing. Water, fortunately was quite easy to find.

Approach to Raft Point, The Kimberley. This the place the ancient aborigines launched their mangrove trunk rafts to the nearby Montgomery Reef. The anchorage is to the right, but on closing the current began to take over, eventually we were swept at 8 knots to the left of those rocks in the centre. We were able to motorsail cross current and reach the anchorage, proving even with a small motor, cruising The Kimberley’s strong currents is not an issue.

Inside Prior Point, Ashiki had run aground here, but rising tide had us floating in 20 minutes. We were always sailing during the flood tide.

Snug anchorage inside Prior Point. We motored up the creek in the dinghy for some fishing, where I lost 2 lures, and no fish…

Really, a dinghy would do for getting ashore..
One of the many tourist boats cruising the Kimberley. These guys, and many like them in this very isolated part of the world, can be the defacto link with civilisation, any problem a cruiser may have, radio one of the many charter boats cruising by, we usually saw at least one a day, and they will help you.

Boab tree at Careening Bay, place where Phillip Parker King repaired his 60 foot ship, “Mermaid” in 1820. 

The famous “Mermaid” tree, Careening Bay.

Price Frederick Harbour rock formations. We tried to find the quartz rocks what were supposedly strewn all over the beach nearby, but found none.

Price Frederick Harbour. The guide said; anchor in front a rock resembling “John Elliot”. Couldn’t find him, but think I found Gina Rhinehart instead..

Bigge Island, home of world famous aboriginal art

The spaceman, Bigge Island.

The beach at Bigge Island, tides are 10m, it moves right up that beach. Was heading out at the time of this picture, marooning the dink.

Swift Bay. We found the crocodile we heard about, estimate his size at 2 to 2 1/2m. A year ago he had bitten and destroyed an inflatable dinghy leaving one cruising couple stranded on the shore for 5 days. Fortunately there is (the reason we were there) spring water nearby and the shore line rocks provided oysters. They were very lucky, another cruiser arrived in the bay, saw them waving like mad from the beach and delivered them to their catamaran with his dinghy. It is very remote out there. The moral of the story is, when rafting up on the beach in your dinghy, check you don’t raft up on top of a croc! As for us, we were able to grab 60L of drinking water.

Osprey on the yard.

Rounding Cape Voltaire.

Laundry day at Freshwater Bay. Two other boats were here, including another Junk! 
Further on up the creek, too far up for crocodiles to get to, was a sizeable swimming hole, we went there for a dip three days running and were able to completely replenish the rest of our drinking water.

Creek at Freshwater Bay. Wary of crocs!

The anchorage at Freshwater Bay. “Blue Destiny” (another Junk), “Ocean Jaywalker” and “Ashiki”, all WA cruisers.
The next day they left and two other boats arrived, “Moonshadow” (WA) and our old Broome friend, “Nikita” (QLD). The only busy anchorage we found in the Kimberley, we were alone everywhere else.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Not much Sunshine Coast

We were marooned in Tin Can Bay for 2 weeks by constant SE gales. Some days gusts were over 40 knots. There are worse places to be marooned, but Tin Can Bay is a sleepy little community, the Yacht Club has some facilities but not well patronised by the cruisers, they commented the food is a little plain, and there is a supermarket 20 minutes walk from the dock, and not much else so the place is a little on the boring side. Begs the question why the profusion of cruising boats here, the reason is Tin Can is really the last free anchorage before the NSW border, and apart from Brisbane, the coastal towns with anchorages are few and those have strict time limits. Thus Tin Can is the choice for boats staying out of cyclone territory in Queensland. 

After 2 weeks the winds were still SE, but the forecast was for them to moderate. We don’t like beating into 30 knots but 10 to 15 knots is acceptable and this was the reason for us weighing anchor that morning and taking our chances over Wide Bay bar, which is a bar with some reputation. This is how you get out of the Great Sandy Strait to continue South, its either cross this bar or sail backyards going over the top of Fraser Island, adding 3 days at least to the journey.

Ashiki raced with the current the 6 miles out of Tin Can in little over an hour and dropped anchor in a well protected bay just inside the entrance called Pelican Bay. It was the following day we embarked on the voyage over the bar, except we ran aground while still in Pelican Bay, with a falling tide… It meant a 3 hour wait for the water to come up again. By mid afternoon, afloat, we were heading towards Wide Bay into the flood. Being against the current is slower but at least the waves will be smaller than with the dreaded ebb flow. Ashiki had only one panel reefed each mast and motorsailing she was making 1.5 to 2.5 knots. Not too bad, if it hadn’t worked out there was the option of heading back to Pelican Bay. Wide Bay is a channel that runs the gaunlet of a huge line of breaking waves either side. It really is a horrible place. I was amazed that yachties consider this a regular route. One of the cruisers in Tin Can had his cockpit filled by a dumper while crossing here and I'm not surprised.. The trick is to sail along the channel, then pick the line to starboard weaving through the breakers. We watched several fishing boats pass and take the accepted route, they showed us the way. When it was time to turn all we could do is slide the hatch closed, latch the doors and sit tight in the cockpit. Ashiki did attack head on into some 2.5m steep walls coming at us, and her bows lifted over them everytime, but there were lines of breakers always directly ahead of us making us change course all over the place to avoid them. It was a stressful sail, maybe the most dangerous sailing we have done. It took 45 minutes to get through that heaving mass and out into smoother seas (not so smooth, but no dumpers at least!), as I looked back at the bar, I saw a smooth patch of water curl inward away from us and smash into white spray. A breaker from behind is difficult to see, how does anyone sail the other way I wonder??

Wide Bay, not my favourite place..

We were on our way to Mooloolaba, just need a 6 mile tack out to sea to clear Double Island Point, Ashiki was surging through the sea when Susie noted the top panel of the foresail had a tear in it and was coming apart under the weight of the 6 panels underneath. This is not good, I’m pretty sure the sail isn’t going to last through the night. We built these sails without bolt ropes, using tabling only, which I realise now is a bit of a no-no. The Chinese designed their sails as a framework of battens and bolt ropes which take all the weight of the rig, the sail cloth is lashed to this framework but it does not take the load, the cloth is there to redirect some wind, thats all. Having a junk rig without bolt ropes is a bad idea and now we are paying the price. However, being a junk rig, everything about it is easily repairable. 

Susie dropped the foresail, leaving the main up she pointed Ashiki into the wind leaving us in a hove to position. I put on my harness, clipped in and walked to the bow with a length of 6mm line. Standing right on the bow roller with the deck heaving over 1m waves I felt very safe in the harness. I simply tied the yard and top batten together at the luff, walked back to the cockpit, raised sail and bore off, Ashiki ploughing through the waves once again. That line became a bolt rope for the top panel and the 20cm rip in the sail cloth went no further. I effected a near permanent fix while at sea in a few minutes. A rip somewhere on a bermudan rig would mean its going to rip the whole length or width of the sail and replacing the sail is the only fix, if you had a spare.. or motoring back to port.  We don’t need to worry about it for now, plan to repair it at our leisure when in NSW, over 500 miles away (we’re sewing in webbing bolt ropes luff and leech). Even when the builder screws up the junk rig is unbelievably forgiving, repairs are too easy.

There is the East Australian Current around here, somewhere, just not where we are. Ashiki was 9 miles off the beach but looks like we’re in the counter current, which flows the wrong way. It took a few more tacks to get around Double Island Pt nodding along at 2 knots in plenty of wind. I could tell its an adverse current because the tacking angles were 135˚. In other words we were going backwards on the outward tack. We finally cleared the point next morning and admired the hills on the coast was we headed toward Noosa. The SE was picking up again and Ashiki was riding a little rough, by mid afternoon we started to think of an anchorage at Noosa Heads. The guide doesn’t say anything favourable about the place, but at least it looks to be sheltered from the wind. Couple hours before sunset we were dropping anchor just inside the shark traps off Noosa’s golden beaches, there were surfers along all the breaks. No wind waves but there were long ocean swells coming in making Ashiki roll. Not perfect but settled enough to cook dinner. 

Then we saw the strong wind warning for Sunshine Coast region for tomorrow, do we really want to stay overnight in an unprotected anchorage? We decided Mooloolaba was the place to go since it has a calm river to anchor in but is another 20 miles, punching into everything. I estimated a good 10 hours to get there. After a meal and a little rest Ashiki was on her way again, pounding to windward in 20 knots now and tacking backwards, thanks to that counter current. Maybe 20 miles out finds the East Aussie current, we don’t know.

We beat up wind through the night and by morning the winds were around 25 knots and the surface was more foam than blue water. This was becoming rough. Somewhere along the way I realised I had forgotten how to optimise sailing to windward. I had the more panels up in the foresail than the main, because the foresail always seems to do most of the work. For some reason I raised the main one panel (became 5 panels to the foresails 6) and Ashiki sailed 1 point closer to the wind! Raised another panel, so equal number of panels fore and main, she sailed another point closer.. (one point is approx 5˚). A new rule to never forget sailing schooner to windward - always keep the rig balanced.

Little worse for wear after 4,000+ miles of tropical sailing,
Ashiki at anchor in Mooloolaba.

Interesting reading the guide book, it says Mooloolaba is an all weather entrance. No problems I thought, except... our book is 20 years out of date, since then the river had silted up, courtesy of the mangrove destruction and canal dredging, a bar had grown at the mouth and now rollers sweep over it! Furthermore, there is a crowd on the groyne waiting for unfortunate victims like us. It's a kind of Mooloolaba blood sport sitting at the river mouth watching yachts deal with the treacherous bar crossing. There appeared to be a lull in the breakers as we approached at 2 knots, against both wind and current, but that didn't stop a 1.5m wave lift and carry Ashiki 10m to starboard, at least she held her course and to her credit kept horizontal, no rolling, she eventually nosed into the river. Speed dropped to 1 knot with the motor at full throttle. The crowd, obviously disappointed we didn't capsize or something...,  had begun to disperse and wandered slowly up the breakwater, over taking us. This is how we wound up safe and sound in the protected waters of Mooloolah River.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Dark & Stormy in Bundaberg

Susie favourite drink at the Bundaberg RSL, one thing about the east coast as distinct from the west, they have cheap clubs subsidised by gambling. Can always find a good feed at bargain prices whether an RSL, football, surf or bowls club. We perused the Bundaberg environs for a week, anchoring in front of downtown on the Burnett River, mainly provisioning and indulging in the local eats. 

Downtown Bundy

It’s a working town, not your tourist ghetto, and the same size as Mandurah, in fact several of QLD’s major coastal towns are this size (MacKay, Rockhampton, Maryborough all around 80,000 pop) and is a welcome bit of civilisation. Susie was pleased as punch to finally get her hands on a copy of Alan Lucas’s (affectionately known as “Run-Aground” to his customers)  “Cruising the New South Wales Coast”. An up to date edition this time, the QLD guide I bought was 20 years out of date, because I’m cheap :). “Run-Aground” does write a good guide providing the drum on an awful lot of anchorages.

Bundy Whales

Strange bikes they have nowadays..

But no lolling about for us, winds were turning Northerly and it was time to look lively, start hand cranking the anchor windlass and run with the ebb embarking on the 52 mile voyage to the Great Sandy Strait - bordered by Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. The nor’easter was a headwind for us on the Burnett, so it was bald faced motoring for 2 hours, through the endless sugar cane fields, buzzed by endless Saturday morning fishing dinghies. As everywhere, they were quite curious about this boat of ours, wrong colours, strange sail bundle.. 

Cane farmer has a schooner, on the Burnett River 

Finally out the harbour and able to point the bows south east to catch the breeze we’re able to connect up the tiller pilot and enjoy a brisk beam reach in the afternoon sun, averaging 4.5 knots for much of the leg despite the nasty coral crusted hull. It was past midnight we were in the lee of Fraser Island, Hervey Bay to starboard and looking for an anchorage as the tide had turned against us. It meant crossing the strait across shallows to a place called Moon Point. To help fight the tide the Tohatsu was employed in a spot of motorsailing, and we promptly ran aground. Fortunately it was a rising tide and with a 20 minute wait we were off again, and dropped anchor at 2am.

The morning being a Sunday, the straits were full of recreational boaties and sailors from nearby Hervey Bay, enjoying the summer sun, and a rare thing that is during a QLD wet season. It would have been tempting to visit this town, but the only anchorage area had a harbour/marine built on top of it, and no anchoring allowed. We just don’t feel inclined to pay for docking our boat and the stress of manoeuvring around a crowded marina for the privilege. I suppose we are so accustomed to anchoring out. Thus we set TP for down the strait with all panels up, we had 6 hours of this tide and had better make the most of it. Ashiki silently sailed the winding navigation channel with the scenic views of Fraser Island to Port and dropped anchor at the half way point before sunset just at the tide was turning, next to a mosquito infested mangrove bank.. In the morning the flood tide was travelling the same direction as last nights ebb! Didn’t make sense. Of course! We’re in the middle of an island, the flood wraps around both ends of the island from the ocean and meets in the middle - where we happened to anchor. We motorsailed against the 1 knot current and in a couple hours the ebb started to help us. Believe it or not, Ashiki blew past MY anchorage..  yes, its actualy called “Gary’s Anchorage” (!), only a mile down the stream which had 6 or 7 boats swinging to their chains. Run-Aground’s guide book said it was full of sandflies so don’t think we missed out staying at MY anchorage.
Fraser Island - largest sand island in the world

Great Sandy Strait - lots of shallows to negotiate

At this point we weren’t sure if we were going to continue after Fraser Island and out to sea through Wide Bay bar. But I had read a little about this place called Tin Can Bay which exits off to starboard before Wide Bay and on a whim decided to visit the place. I don’t think the tide was right for a Wide Bay car crossing anyway, I’ll need to study for that contingency later. The south easter was picking up and Ashiki close hauled along the flat waters of the bottom part of the straits, here known as Wide Bay Harbour, before turning down Tin Can Inlet, a 6 mile close haul on the other tack to the township. We were sailing head on into the ebb tide, but if there is enough wind, we can do that. Ashiki heeled over with 3 panels reefed each sail, held 2.5 knots the whole way, I’d say the counter current was 2 knots, so she was making good use of her cambered panels into the 20 knot breeze. Coming up to the anchorage we could see it was crowded, must be close to a hundred vessels here, half of them occupied. At that point we had turned a little off the wind so Susie dropped the main to keep speed down to reasonable levels in the busy bay. As we neared the part of the anchorage we wanted Susie released the foresail halyard and nothing happened. It’s a common enough occurrence on our junk, when the boat is off the wind and on a port tack the yard is pressed onto the mast and held there. No problem, we know this boat, I waited till there was a gap between anchored boats to port and turned Ashiki beam on to the wind, relieving pressure from the yard and it came tumbling down then righted Ashiki to her original course. With the help of another cruiser, sitting in his cockpit with beer in hand, we avoided a shallow and we chose a spot not far from the Yacht Club anchoring in 6m. We’re in the northern edge of the Sunshine Coast, officially South East Queensland.

An hour later a dinghy cam alongside and (another) Gary introduced himself, he sails a junk rigged schooner too, on a 38’ Herreshoff lee boarder. He noticed us sailing on a beam reach with foresail only saying his boat can’t do that, his would fall off as it doesn’t have enough lateral resistance. Our little fin keel must be doing something right! 

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Leaving the Tropics

We wanted to stop at Great Keppel because of its fame, being heavily promoted in the 70’s. “Get Wrecked on Great Keppel” I think was the promo.

Well, the place is near dead, the big resort is closed, from lack of water, or a cyclone a decade ago..  depends who tells you..
In its place there’s very little left. There’s a water shortage so no use resupplying and no shop to provision. But at least the beach is nice, it’s white, like a WA beach…  The only tourism left are the Rockhampton locals arriving on the daily ferry, which rafts up on the beach and drops a ramp. The anchorage is not the best either, on the first night we dragged 80m. But we were a fair distance from the other boats, anchoring closer in found better holding. But it was a rolly anchorage (we pitched, other boats rolled). Then a sizable ketch attached itself to a mooring ball near us, which appeared to be too close. So we went to the trouble of re-anchoring Ashiki 100m away. Then we saw the ketch release itself from the mooring and anchor out. Thanks, all our trouble for nothing! Half an hour later the Rockhampton ferry picked up the mooring, looks like it was them who told the ketch to shove off, it was their mooring. Next day a catamaran wanted to anchor on top of us, Susie popped her head out the companionway and let the guy on the bow know that’s a little close to us. He apologised and moved elsewhere.

We didnt do any exploring of the island outside the settlement area, we looked around the resort ghost town, fenced off. There’s a sign showing off the proposal, colossal $1 billion project complete with canal and marina. Its approval was withdrawn by Canberra on environmental grounds, the investors are back on the drawing board me thinks.  One plus for Great Keppel, the one pub on the island serves up very decent meals.

Then the weather forecast turned ominous, a 65 knot gale was predicted and the Coast Guard even motored past checking on boats in the anchorage if they knew of the weather warning. My preparation consisted of dropping a second anchor and hoping for the best. Actually, our second anchor, the cheap (and heavier) plough, we believe is better than the SARCA. It has never let go in sand while the SARCA has, usually by unsetting itself in 180˚ wind changes and tide reversals. The plough has a hinged stock and has never dragged even in tidal streams. Several boats upped anchor and headed for Roslyn Bay marina eight miles away, many stayed here with us. Result was, we waited and the most we got was 20 knots. The big blow never came.

I noticed a few folks were braving the jellies and swimming without stinger suits, so I threw on some full length clothing, mask and goggles, jumped in to check out the hull. What I saw was the rest of the Great Barrier Reef on the keel. Big fat chunks of white coral, plenty to slow a boat. That explains the loss of 1 knot going to windward and motoring. Hmmm.

Four days at Great Keppel and winds were ripe for our exit. We weighed anchor without bothering to motor and started our 120 mile passage to Bundaberg. Since we’ve drunk plenty of their rum we might as well see the place too!

One of 23 ore carriers off Rockhampton

Cruising downwind

Eight hours later we rounded Cape Capricorn and officially sailed out of the tropics. This is significant as our mission from Darwin was to get out of the tropics as quickly as reasonably possible during cyclone season. There were no cyclones in QLD so far this wet season (this being mid January). We’ve have been quite fortunate as there was a risk to this voyage. The consolation was the QLD coast has many cyclone holes to escape to when the seagull droppings hit the fan. Though we’ll really feel better when we’re in NSW, the border being another 350 miles to go.

I counted 23 ore carriers anchored in the roads off Rockhampton, providing quite the obstacle course for Ashiki, towards Gladstone there were another load but being very dark I wasn’t sure how many. This is the second biggest port in Australia (after WA’s Port Hedland #1).

24 hours later after a very fine sail, we were absolutely surrounded by thunder storms, 360˚. The air was thick with static. Storm cells were moving seemingly everywhere, the wind was varying from all angles, quite a hand full to keep up with setting sail. At one point while both of us were in the cockpit (most the time we are down below), the wind died off almost completely, then I saw a ripple in the distance, it appeared to be coming at us fast. We dived for the halyards and reduced three panels on each mast a few seconds before a 40 knot squall hit us. It took us all of 5 to 10 seconds to reef and we pulled it off. Ashiki heeled only 15 to 20˚ and drama averted and highlighted yet again the advantage of the junk rig. But the fork lightning continued, I didn’t like it one bit and couldn't watch. If one of those things hits us it’s the end of all our electronics for a start. Worst case is a hole blown in the hull and we sink! Hopefully the bonding of the masts would prevent that. I stayed below for most of the show, waiting for Ashiki to sail out of the cauldron. Susie was happy to watch, calling it nature’s fireworks, listening to her making “ooo” and “aaah” sounds. At one point she saw a lightning hit the water only one or two hundred metres from Ashiki! Sheesh, glad I didn’t see that… 

Ashiki was making way only a couple hours from the mouth of the Burnett River, entrance to Bundaberg, and what a relief it was to eventually look back and see all the thundering storm cells miles astern. We managed to survive that one! The race was on to reach the mouth river by midnight, before the tide turned against us. But what bad luck the wind happen to back to the West making it a headwind for our entry into the river. Looks like our little 6hp will have its work cut out for it. Ashiki motored at 2.5 knots the outer channel and made the Port of Bundaberg just at slack tide (high tide, no current - theoretically). After a tense little motor in the dark, identifying the sometimes confusing channel markers, passing the marina, fishing docks and port facilities we dropped anchor just outside the port limit as no anchoring in the port area is allowed. Plan is to motor onto Bundaberg itself, 8 miles upstream with the flood at 7am the following morning.

Another thunder storm, Bundaberg anchorage

Monday, 2 March 2015

Great Keppel

After ten days waiting out the SE gales on Magnetic we were on our way again, after the first 24 hours close hauled and one tack the wind backed to the north and Ashiki commenced a glorious reach toward Airlie Beach. We made the 124 Nm in under two days, the last 24hrs covering a creditable 85 Nm, and approached the built up resort town of Airlie Beach at dawn. It looked like a mini Monte Carlo with buildings ascending the mountain slopes, an interesting place to explore maybe, but as we closed in the gloom we saw the boats at anchor, maybe a hundred of them, all heaving, bows violently rocking up and down against strong onshore Northerly. Not very appealing so we gave it a miss and try the other Airlie anchorage, Shute Bay which would be sheltered. As we rounded the point, the Northerly stayed as strong as ever and even though the sight of the Whitsunday Islands was tempting, we really didn’t want to waste this wind. Our mission was to get to NSW after all thus set Ashiki gull winged and surged on through the Whitsunday Passage at 5 to 6 knots. We can always explore these islands next year on the return voyage north. The winds increased throughout the day, and being behind us Ashiki, like most boats tends to roll side to side when sailing downwind in swell.  To minimise this we ended up sailing with main only and 4 panels of the foresail sheeted in the middle. 

Engineless again
We anchored in Sandy Bay that evening, a few miles north of MacKay. The next morning the outboard stalled after weighing anchor and refused to start again. Seemed to be an issue with either flooding or fuel hose but I couldn’t coax it to do anything. The wind was very light and we ghosted along at 1.5 knots as I changed the spark plug. Without luck we crawled for 10 miles to a settlement called Bucasia on the chart, decided today was a dead loss as far as making miles were concerned and anchored, engineless, a mile off the beach. Bucasia turned out to be a Northern suburb of MacKay, we dinghied ashore and walked a mile to the local shops to stock up on fresh goods. At least we ate well that night, but I was confident the motor would start if I gave it a rest overnight, a rest from me attempting to start it that is, I had spent most the day yanking on the start cord and grew a new blister to show for it.

Engined again
Next morning the motor started second pull. Strange beast. It pushed us the 5 miles around the point in the sunny near calm conditions. Passing the thriving metropolis of MacKay to starboard, winds remained on the beam but light, but we were quite content to turn off the motor and cruise at 2.5 knots for the rest of the day, with 170 miles to go to Great Keppel Island. 

What was next was three days and two nights of gentle cruising, sunny days and nights of lightning thunder storms over the distant shore. This seems to be the rule over most of Australia, well the part we have cruised, is regular thunderstorms over land through summer months. Us being out to sea we avoid this electrical activity, but it is an entertainment each night. We passed over Viscount shoals, weaved through Northumberland Islands and rounded Shoal Water Bay. Not fast but at least we could hold the rhumb line, the gods still providing the NE winds we need. At one point the Tiller Pilot started acting strangely, changing course in a random manner. Susie thought it was a faulty connection under deck, I said nah, it’s Raymarine, their tiller pilot likes to recalibrate itself and act strange anyway. To placate her I pulled out the multimeter and checked the voltages around the circuit. 11.8V at the plug on deck and 12.8V at the battery. Well 11.8V isnt great but is still enough to run a tiller pilot, but why the one volt difference? I found a loose connection at the battery…  Fixed that and TP resumed working properly. Doh!

After entering the anchorage at North Keppel Island in the dark, we made the last six miles into the beach anchorage on Great Keppel Island the following morning, completing a 375 mile passage from Magnetic Island.

Great Keppel Island anchorage