Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sandy Straits, Moreton Bay, & Southport

12/02/06 - 12/11/06;  Sandy Straits

Finally, after four weeks docked in Bundaberg we were once again off sailing and looking for remote anchorages (something not easily found in the middle of an Australian summer).  We started off by working our way south through the Sandy Straits.  There isn't much to this area, it's rather flat, nothing really ashore, and no stores or homes, but it is peaceful and we were able to finally 'dry out' after the weeks of socializing in Bundaberg!  The Sandy Straits was our introduction to huge tides, strong currents, and shallow waters.

In addition to the normal wind watching, we had to attempt to plan our sails based on current (hopefully going with us) and tides (preferably rising or high).  Usually it was impossible to have all the elements ideal, so we'd find ourselves barely skating through shallow areas (seeing 7.5 feet quite often), pushing against current (usually a good 2 knots), and/or motoring against the winds.  In the protected waters of the Sandy Straits it was often interesting but never too rough.  Once anchored we'd experience loop-d-loops as Billabong would swing 'round and 'round, sometimes riding to the current and sometimes to the wind.

By Tuesday (5th) we'd made it to "Gary's Anchorage", a very nice (even if shallow and tight) spot, where we were finally able to get off the boat and do a bit of walking.  Of course we were quite paranoid walking in the wilderness ... after all Australia is home to some of the top poisonous snakes and spiders.  Within 30 seconds of coming ashore Chris spotted a Funnel Spider, an extremely deadly little guy.  And, as if that isn't enough, no-see-ums and mosquitoes instantly surrounded us!  Not all of the wildlife is deadly or annoying; we also spotted a number of sea hawks, a couple large turtles, and a shark fin (off in the distance).

The 7th through the 9th were quite mellow as we waited out a [weather] system passing through; including brilliant lightning storms and a constant drizzle of rain.  Finally on the 11th the weather looked good, so we pulled anchor and continued our trek south.  In order to exit (or enter coming the other way) the Sandy Straits one must cross over one of the more notorious bar crossings in the area.  Up until now we had heard a number of horror stories about bar crossings, including boats being rolled and pitched poled, so needless to say we weren't really looking forward to it.  We were patient, waited for good weather, and a day that a number of other boats crossed over as well.  In  addition, Australia has set up a terrific volunteer marine service, which reports bar conditions (among other things).  Everything looked good, but as we approached our nerves were rattling ... especially Chris'.  He was beyond antsy and anxious -- even suggesting we anchor a bit just to think it over.  We'd been thinking about nothing else for the last week, so I voted we just go for it ... get it over and done with and perhaps gain a bit of confidence with these damn things.  The Sandy Strait bar is about three miles.  The first mile is also known as "the mad mile".  Nice name eh?  It definitely held up to its reputation; it was like a washing machine with waves every which way.  We had to exit with the current going against us, otherwise the current and wind would be against each other creating even larger, usually impassable, waves.  Chris couldn't sit/stand still so he took over steering, reporting our speeds against the waves/current (one time we actually went backwards for a few moments).  Once through the mad mile the conditions improved, but now we had to watch the depths.  Here we could also see where boats could easily be rolled in worse conditions; we had some large rolling waves, but none were breaking and they were spaced decently apart, I could only imagine what hell it would be in just 10 more knots of wind.  Two miles later we were through and both breathed easily again.  Now we could settle down for the over-nighter to Moreton Bay.  We motored sailed along the coast, still amazed at how flat and small Australia looks from the coast.  Just after lunch we snagged a fish, thrilled since a number of other friends of ours who had sailed down weeks early hadn't gotten even a bite!

12/11/06 - 12/17/06;  Moreton Bay / Brisbane Area

We almost never enter any bay or anchorage at night, no matter how well lit, marked, or open ... it's just not our thing -- we don't like the added stress.  So Moreton Bay was one of our first nighttime channel entrances, and while it is well marked, we both needed to be up to navigate through it.  Entering right around midnight meant that neither of us really got any sleep during the prior night's sail, adding to the navigational challenge.  We opted to go just past Brisbane, anchoring near Karragarra Island.  We were quite excited when later in the afternoon Island Sonata, who we hadn't seen since New Cal, arrived.  We had a terrific reunion before crashing, both of us exhausted after the anticipation of the bar followed by a nearly sleepless night.

We stayed anchored off of Karragarra Island for three nights, enjoying brief walks on Lamb and Russell Islands.  We were surprised to find that Russell Island was actually quite large, with a decent grocery store and internet access.  Both islands also have inexpensive ferry access to Brisbane, but we decided to forgo Brisbane, catching it on our way back north in the upcoming months.

On Friday (15th) we continued south, following Island Sonata (Chris called them our remote depth sounder) through the shallow channels towards the Tiger Mullet Channel and South Stradbroke Island.  Once, we hit ground, having to throw Billabong into high gear and plow through (a completely counter-intuitive act).  Just prior to our chosen anchorage Island Sonata reported 5 feet ... well, that just wasn't going to work - no plowing through that, so we anchored and waited for the tide to rise.  Chris took the dinghy and hand-held depth sounder to find the best route while I made lunch.  A few hours after lunch we figured the tide was about as good as it was going to get and went for it.  There were some interesting spots, where we are sure our keel left a few good plow marks through the mud, but we got through and were soon resting in a nice protected little spot.

The next morning we took the dinghy over to Stradbroke Island.  The island is quite bare; vast sand dunes stretching far.  It's a narrow island, so we were able to walk across and check out the ocean ... why we ALWAYS do this is beyond me ... why would people who live on a sailboat, who have traveled over 17,000 miles on the ocean feel the need to go look at it?  Whatever, we do, so we did.

The cool thing about this little stretch of land is that tons of wallaby's (small to medium-sized kangaroo) live on it.  It only took us a few steps inland to see a bunch of them hopping away.  Of course we instantly became stalkers, trying to get closer and closer, but never really succeeding.  These guys were good at hiding ... usually we didn't even see them until we'd stumble too close to a shrub they were hiding behind and BAM ... they'd come hopping out, fleeing away.

We had been admiring the large power boat we'd anchored by, so imagine our surprise when the owner dinghied by one day and invited us for margueritas ... for no other reason then he saw that we were from California, which is where he had bought his boat!  He was just on his way to pick up his son and son's girlfriend who were coming in from Southport by helicopter (nice eh?),  This is a beautiful boat, with restored wood, and tons of space ... I was in awe!  We ended up staying until nearly midnight (extremely late for cruisers used to going to bed with the sunset), and drank entirely too many marguerites ... obviously we had a fantastic time!

The next day was quite mellow (due to hangovers).  We were surprised when Island Sonata called us on the VHF saying "Stop that ice cream boat".  Ice cream boat?  Yep, we couldn't believe it either ... just like an ice cream truck, but floating!  Now how fun is that?  And here we thought we were in a secluded spot!!!

12/18/06 - 12/31/06:  Southport

On Monday (18th) we moved a few miles through the channel to Southport (officially we anchored in "Bum's Bay" just off of Seaworld).  We couldn't believe our eyes as the scenery slowly changed before us .... first a few nice homes, then islands of fancy Florida Keys style houses with docks out front, and finally high rise buildings jetting out from the sea like huge sea aliens.  Boat traffic increased and helicopters flew over head ... island life was officially over!  We were a bit hesitant about the 'big city', but it didn't take long to adjust ... obvious just by the fact that we've now been here over four weeks!

Island Sonata was trying to get to Sydney for the holidays, so they departed the following morning, while we moved to a more secure and protected spot within the anchorage (turns out that was one of our better moves).  Southport and the surrounding area is quite different than anywhere we've been in the last three years .. perhaps that is part of its lure.  We are anchored in a small, protected bay, with walking access to one of the best tourist beaches we've seen.  Within dinghy or bus ride distance are a number of different cities, offering everything from Queensland's largest mall, to high rise apartment buildings, to grassy parks.  It is unique to be anchored somewhere so calm and serene, yet within sight of high rise buildings and flowing traffic. (You can also read our BLOG description of the area by clicking here).

We've spent the last two weeks of December alternating between lazy days on the boat, to walking the various cities until our feet ached.  It's seems that every mall we visited was impossibly bigger then the last!  As Christmas approached we watched in fascination as boat after boat piled into Bum's Bay ... and even when we thought it impossible for another boat to fit, still more came.  Apparently beaching and boating during the holidays is huge here.  As we dingy around the bay we are also quite surprised to find that we appear to be the only foreign flagged vessel in the anchorage!  We found it quite amusing to hear the conversations of people passing Billabong ... it usually goes something like this;  "Hey, there's a Billabong", "Is that an American Flag", "California? ... but their name is Billabong" and so on.  I can honestly say that I have heard such conversations at least 15 times over the last two weeks!  (In case you don't know, Billabong is an Australian word).

As for the holidays, we joined some locals a few days before Christmas for a little dock party.  Again they were surprised to hear we'd sailed "all the way" from California.  On Christmas Eve the locals on a boat that was anchored behind us invited us over for drinks ... which ended up going until around midnight.  The one thing we've learned about Ozzie's is that boy can they drink!!!   Christmas was just the two of us and quite mellow.  We relaxed in the cockpit and enjoyed watching some of the boating action around us.  On the 26th, aka Boxing Day, we went ashore for family phone calls and to check out the Boxing Day sales.  We actually had our Christmas dinner that night, and enjoyed way too many hours watching the TV series 24 (our gift to ourselves for Christmas).  For New Year's eve it was once again just the two of us (along with the other 150 boats anchored here of course).  Originally we were going to try and get to Sydney via train, but were shocked to find out how expensive land travel around here is.  So it was a mellow New Year's, but fun with some game playing and at least three different fire work shows within easy view.
Continue reading "Sandy Straits, Moreton Bay, & Southport"...

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

City Lights

Current Location: Southport - Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast, Australia
Current Position: 27º56.81' S 153º25.39' E
Next Destination: Working our way down the coast to Sydney … maybe!

I don’t think of myself as a city girl … actually anything but. And I know Chris is far from a hip city boy. No, we both seem to prefer the small towns, isolated villages, and “in the middle of nowhere” locations. So I was surprised to find myself extremely excited as we worked our way down the channels, towards the towering high rises of Southport & Surfer’s Paradise. A city, I was thinking, a real city … at last! It seemed unreal to have Billabong anchored within site of the huge buildings and rushing traffic.

Anxious to explore we wolfed down lunch and headed ashore. But where to begin? The streets ran in every direction and the shops were endless. We ended up at a gigantic indoor mall. The food court alone took up an entire floor and offered more cuisines then we’ve seen in our entire three years cruising. It also finally dawned on us that is was almost Christmas … sale advertisements and Christmas decorations surrounded us (we even got to see Santa!). I instantly got shopper’s fever – not good for someone with no income! Not that it mattered, I was dragged away as we headed to the marine store across town (oh joy). The marine store was not a total flop though, as across the street was a fancy specialty food market, where we finally replenished our stock of aged gouda.

That night we relaxed in the cockpit, watching the sun set and the lights flicker on around us. It was a fantastic site as the city lights came to life. We were in a perfect location … part of city, yet far enough away to enjoy a calm relaxing environment. I was beginning to like it here!

We had heard this area described as being similar to both South Florida and Anaheim. So true! The theme parks are abundant (in fact we are anchored within swimming distance to Sea World); including a Ripley’s, a Wax Museum, and of course a Hard Rock Cafe. Multi-million dollar homes line the water ways, where pleasure boats are docked, and high rise apartment buildings tower over everything.

On our second day we took the dinghy in and cruised through the waterways, jaws open in awe at both the high rises and the expensive homes. We explored the touristy area of Surfer’s Paradise … where Chris made the mistake of taking me down a street lined with Gucci, Prada, Tiffany, and other high-end shops I hadn’t seen (or worn) since cruising!!! I showed excellent restraint though – mostly by moving quickly!

With our boat in a secure, calm & peaceful location, and the city surrounding us, we find ourselves considering staying a bit. Perhaps through the holidays, maybe even longer. I suppose that sooner or later we’ll tire of the city and people, but for now it feels like its own kind of paradise!

Continue reading "City Lights"...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Learning to Sail .... in Australia

Current Location: Gary's Anchorage, Sandy Straits, Australia
Current Position: 25º37.79' S 152º58.38' E
Next Destination: Working our way down the coast to Sydney

After three years of cruising, you would think that we'd have 'it'
down-pat by now. So, it continues to surprise me that just about every
place we go, there is something new to learn -- some new 'thing' to have
to deal with.

In Australia that 'thing' is tides, currents, and sand bars (plus hail
storms, which I'm still hoping we will miss out on). Sure, everywhere
we've been there have been tides, and the currents that come and go with
them, but not like here. Traveling through the Sandy Straits we have been
dealing with 8-12 foot tides - in 2 meter depths! We draw 2m (meaning we
hit bottom at anything under 2 meters) -- so you can imagine just how
important getting high tide right has become! In fact we have found just
over 2.5 meters and that was close to high tide. As for currents, we are
experiencing 2-4 knots. Great when it's going with us, but a bitch when
it's against us (since our average motoring/sailing speed is 5-5.5 knots,
you can imagine that going against 4 knots is not entirely fun - or
speedy). Anchoring especially has become interesting. We have to allow
for extra depth to ensure we aren't sitting on the bottom when the tide
goes out, and when the current pushes the boat one way, while the wind is
trying to push her another, it can turn into a lumpy dance. The same goes
for when we are traveling in wind against tide/current situations - the
chop produced makes for a bumpy ride!

And finally there are the sand bars. Nice shallow sandy bars, perfect for
creating surfing waves (great if you are a surfer, not so great if you are
a sailor). We haven't been over the 'serious' bar yet (Great Wide Bar at
one end of the Sandy Straits), but it is continuously on our minds. We've
heard enough bar crossing horror stories to fill our nightmares for the
next months (boats rolling & pitch polling when they catch a wave wrong
crossing over a bar). Needless to say we are waiting for very settled
weather for our 'first time'!!!

Other then re-learning how to sail (in these new conditions), our time
since leaving Bundaberg has been quite relaxing. We left Bundaberg on
Saturday, December 2nd, and have been moving slowly through the Sandy
Straits, making our way south. It is good for both of us to be out of the
marina and 'city', as we find it easier to relax when not surrounded by so
many things to do! It is easy for us to get caught up in the hustle of
town-life and forgo down time and the simple pleasures of a good book.
Since leaving Chris is back to his book a day reading frenzy! The winds
have been blowing pretty steadily from the South-South East, which of
course is the direction we need to go to get to Brisbane and then Sydney -
so we are just hanging, being patient and waiting for lighter conditions
(or a wind shift). It looks like on possibly Monday or Tuesday we will
have decent enough conditions to cross the bar and head to Brisbane (a
quick overnight trip).

Continue reading "Learning to Sail .... in Australia"...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Bundaberg & Nambour Area

10/28/06 -  11/03/06:  Passage & Arrival

When we were looking for a weather window to Oz, Chris asked me what kind of conditions I would be happy with.  I replied, "10-15 aft of the beam".  "That's way too little [wind]" he told me, but I was talking apparent, and after our 'rough' year I wanted something tame ... something boring.  Good & bad, we didn't quite get 10-15 apparent, usually we had less.  On one hand the seas were smooth and the sun was out; it was fantastic.  On the other hand we motored about half-way to Australia ... the noise and diesel fumes bugging both of us.  In the end though neither of us could complain (in fact whenever we make it somewhere safe, regardless of the trip, we tend not to complain)!  The most excitement in the trip was when a whale shadowed us for a wee bit, and at one point surfaced right behind three fishing lures we were trolling.  We were lucky he didn't snag a hook and relieved when he lost interest in Billabong.  Our trip ended nicely when Chris brought in a 4 ft Wahoo the morning of our arrival.  For a few more details on our passage and arrival click here to read our BLOGs.

11/4/06 - 11/13/06:  Port to Port Rally Events

Our first week in Bundaberg was consumed by various social events put on by the Port to Port Rally.  We ate and drank and ate some more.  We also spotted our first kangaroos!  During one of the Rally BBQs an excited man came running in, announcing there were kangaroos out in the field across the street.  It was funny to watch all the tourist pour out of the tent to go stare at these creatures that were just standing there (eating), much in the same manner as a deer in the headlights.  I tried to get Chris to chase after them so that we could all see them hop, but lucky for him one took off hopping on its own, while I squealed with joy!  The local Australians probably think we are all just a wee bit crazy, after all they see kangaroos nearly daily (just another form of road kill around here).  When one man didn't get up to rush out of the tent the excited man said, "Hey come on there our kangaroos!", to which the local boringly replied "I'm Australian, mate!".

During the day we managed to bus into the 'city' a few times; where we found a 'real' indoor mall and both Kmart & Target!  Yes, it is hard to believe that we are so easily impressed and excited!  The week ended with a tour of the Bundaberg Rum factory and a visit to the local (huge) hardware store.  We covered most of the week, including details on Chris' impressive 'invention' (as seen right) in our BLOGs, so I won't bother to go into all again (click here to see the BLOGs).

11/14/06 - 11/19/06

This was pretty much a 'down' week for us.  After all the drinking and eating during the previous week we needed a bit of time off (not to mention some exercise).  We still managed to be social, including visiting with an older couple we had met at one of the P2P Rally events.  Joan and Fred, both in their eighties, had us over to their house for an excellent meal (honey prawns), and entertained us with stories from their past, including some interesting tales from Africa.  If we have learned anything from our travels, it is about hospitality and the kindness of locals to complete strangers.

One of the highlights of the week was the purchase of a small-ish 12 volt freezer.  A freezer at last!  For the most part Chris had always claimed freezers were a luxury we didn't really need ... and of course three years without proves he is right, but ahh the joy of having one!  In truth, I owe it to his growing interest in fishing ... the only way he can fish more (and catch more) is if we can preserve it for longer periods (ie freeze it).  While I'm excited about more fish, my real joy comes from the tinkling sound of ice cubes clunking against the side of my glass!!!

11/20/06 - 11/27/06:  Thanksgiving in Nambour

We were quite excited to finally bring Billabong to Australia, as when we purchased her she was originally registered in Mooloolaba, Australia, and her previous owners now reside in Australia.  So we had been looking forward to visiting Steve & Lynne and bringing Billabong back to her roots!

Monday we hopped aboard a bus and after five, mostly boring, hours arrived in Nambour.  Steve brought us to their house, which he had built himself, and instantly we were in love with the place.  The house is simple, uncluttered, and airy; surrounded by a walk-around deck and filled with endless windows.  The yard is vast and green, with a terrific garden, papaya trees and perfect palm trees.  And best yet, tons of exotic colorful birds visited hourly, enjoying the feeders, mini pond and bird bath.  Chris instantly grew worried; how would he ever drag me away from this land paradise, back aboard Billabong?

We ended up staying a week.  Enjoying time on the deck watching the birds, various street fairs and farmer's markets, a few scenic drives, and a visit to Mooloolaba.  With the huge kitchen and terrific garden we did a lot of cooking & eating (what's new there), including a fantastic traditional Thanksgiving meal.   We also took advantage of endless power, lots of water, decent internet, and the good 'ol T.V.!  It was especially good that Steve and Chris could talk boat stuff, while Lynne and I could talk anything but!  We loved every minute of it, but still missed Billabong and felt the itch to finally move on and begin trekking south.  So we returned to the boat on Monday with plans to get the boat ready and start looking for a good weather window south.

11/27/06 - 12/01/06

The next four days were spent cleaning and organizing ... basically trying to get all the crap put back away!  We celebrated a second Thanksgiving with some of the cruisers and said goodbye to some friends who wouldn't be going South.  We also, finally, after months of indecision, decided that we would not ship our boat from Australia to the Mediterranean, but rather would join the Darwin to Indonesia Rally in July 2007.  This was a huge decision for us, and we'd spent a number of days and nights debating our next steps after Australia.  We still aren't sure what we'll do after Thailand ... but hey, that's a whole 'nother year away!!!
Continue reading "Bundaberg & Nambour Area"...