New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, & Australia
April - June 2008
We arrived back to Esprit in April and headed north back to Opua to wait for the weather to make the passage to Fiji. We left Gulf Harbour, Auckland, in a gale, but with our new enclosed cockpit were quite comfortable! A big difference than our trip to New Zealand from Tonga!
Auckland, New Zealand - Leaving Gulf Harbour in rough weather
When we arrived in Opua it was time for Jamie's 11th birthday - fortunately there was another cruising family on the boat Bauvier from Belgium with two boys Jamie's age. They helped celebrate and we quickly became friends with them.
Jamie's 11th birthday celebration with the family on "Bauvier"
After waiting for several storms to pass we decided to leave for Fiji in front of a huge low. We relied on our wisdom, sailed/motored as fast as we could, and only had to fight the storm for a few hours, while several of the other boats got caught unawares and had 24 to 48 hours of stormy weather.
Esprit underway to Fiji
The highlight of that passage was a gasoline leak from one of our jerry jugs in a rear lazarette which took the path of least resistance through the hull, into Chay's clothes cupboard, and into some of interior storage space right near the switch for the autopilot. Fortunately we identified the source, fixed the problem, aired the boat as much as we could, and prayed alot - we safely avoided what could have been a devastating explosion. We had a stowaway for part of the trip - a little bird!
Our stowaway on our passage to Fiji
We arrived in Savu Savi. Fiji after a quick 4 day passage.
Savu Savu anchorage
Catholic Church in Savu Savu Fiji
We checked in, attended Mass, waited for Bauvier to arrive, and then went exploring a few anchorages (Jamie even went to school one day) with them before heading back to Savu Savu where we left the boat to fly home in early June for Jamie to compete in the Top Ten World karate tournament at the end of June. We were able to celebrate the 4th of July with our daughter Amy and her family before returning to Fiji.
Thibeau & Olivier from S/V Bauvier with Jamie at Fijian shcool
Chay & Jamie kayaking in Fiji
Jamie diving in Fiji
Finding Nemo while diving Fiji
August 23, 2008
We arrived back in Fiji on July 7th and left Savusavu on the 14th for our Fijian adventure…our first stop was the Cousteau anchorage just a few miles from Savusavu where we cleaned the bottom of Esprit and did some snorkeling before heading out for a day passage to Makongai. We had a boisterous trip to Makongai and caught a Mahi Mahi en route…while the winds continued to howl we explored Makongai and its bay.
Chay catching a Mahi Mahi in rough seas in Fiji
By land we hiked the ruins of the leper colony (kind of eery) and the hills of the island. By sea we snorkeled and enjoyed seeing the giant clams.
Snorkeling the giant clam farm in Fiji
We moved on to Levuka the original capital of Fiji where we enjoyed 2 days of walking around and provisioning before moving on to Kandavu and the Astrolabe Reef…Levuka was quaint – it looked like an old western town….our passage to Ono in the Astrolabe Reef was an overnighter and turned out to be a quick, crazy ride . We were glad to set the hook in the nice calm western anchorage of Ono island. Here we were greeted by the acting chief and his family. We enjoyed a hike with the chief and had him and his wife on board for a little bit of fishing and dinner. With the weather about to change, we moved to the anchorage at the north end of Ono where we truly enjoyed the Fijian welcome. One of the families treated us to a wonderful Fijian dinner in their home created in a very humble kitchen.
Our last stop in this island group was Daku bay on the Island of Kandavu where we visited the village and were invited to participate in the celebration of the chief’s 70th birthday – what a special experience. Katie joined the women cooking while Chay & Jamie joined the men’s kava ring…Chay sat up front with the chief during the meal…all in all our Fijian village experiences were awesome – the Fijian people are very friendly and gracious!
Katie helping the women cook for the Chief's birthday dinner
Next stop on this leg of our trip was the Bengga lagoon and the island of Yanuca where we enjoyed the hospitality of Sharon at her resort and were able to do two great dives. The first dive was on a wreck at 70 feet and the second was on coral pinnacles – we all enjoyed these dives tremendously!
Jamie & Chay diving a wreck in Fiji
Jamie, Chay, & Katie diving a bombie in Fiji
After a few days here we moved to Natandola before the winds picked up at Yanuca (the anchor was just sitting on the bottom and was not going to do much good in stronger winds) …. Natandola was windy but fairly calm with some rolling –As Jamie said, “it kind of felt like we were underway while standing still”. After two nights we woke up and Chay said, “let’s go to Musket Cove”. We stayed in Musket Cove for 2 weeks where we enjoyed some snorkeling with the biggest variety of colorful fish we have seen yet, completed boat chores,, (replaced the steering cable which was in very bad condition – lucky we made it through the reefs) school, did laps in the pool, and enjoyed great cruiser barbecues each evening.
Chay & Jamie at the Musket Cove barbecue area
We left Musket Cove on the 21st and headed to Port Denerau which turned out not to be a great anchorage (we dragged anchor along with a number of other boats) so we moved out around the corner in the Bay just off the Nadi International Airport where the holding is very good. We provisioned yesterday and will do some more today. We plan to check out on Monday for Vanuatu and leave on Tuesday if the weather holds….
September - October 2008
Since we last wrote, we checked out of Fiji. After walking around Lautoka a bit and spending a restful night in Momi Bay, we departed for Vanuatu Monday morning August 26th. We had an uneventful, quick, 3 day sail to Tanna. However, we couldn’t slow Esprit down, so we arrived at 1:00 AM! Due to the numerous reefs at the entrance, we hove to outside Port Resolution and waited for daybreak to head into the anchorage. We were excited to find our friends on Jade anchored inside whom we hadn’t seen for over 2 years!!!
Dinner on Quantum Leap with Jade
The highlight of Tanna is the volcano which is quite active – we were able to visit it one late afternoon/evening and witness its awesome power – smoke, flaming boulders spewing out, and lots of loud, rumbling noise as we stood on the lip of the crater! It was quite the incredible experience.
Tanna Volcano - Vanuatu
On Monday we, along with the crew of 7 other boats, took a “taxi” to Lenakel to check in. It was quite the ride in the back of a four wheel drive pick-up truck through rough jungle, mountainous barren/ashen desert, and coastal terrain. We only got stuck once! We made several stops to complete the check-in process, did some shopping at the fresh produce market, and had a nice lunch at a small local restaurant, and then made the three hour return trip to the anchorage. We took several walks through the village, visited the small, but informative museum, and explored the beach, including the wreck of a sailboat that didn’t make it through the reefs during a storm. The anchorage got very rolly due to a large ocean swell caused by a huge 1049 high pressure system south of us, so we headed north to the next island in Vanuatu, Erromango, where we anchored in Dillon’s Bay which was protected from the swell and quite calm. We went ashore and greeted the chief who welcomed us to his village. The village is in a very pretty river valley that we took a hike along and got to see the locals doing laundry and taking a dip in the fresh water. Chay helped one of the local men troubleshoot/repair is solar panel charging system. They are given technology to use, but aren’t given the training they need to operate and maintain it. We sailed from there to the busy, city port of Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. We spent the first few days (including Katie’s birthday) anchored around the corner at Hideaway Island before obtaining a mooring at the marina. Port Vila is a bustling town with a European feel to it. Jamie enjoyed spending time with several “kid boats” and making new friends from Belgium, New Zealand, and Australia. Unfortunately, we had to say our farewells to Jade who are working their way north to Japan and home to Hong Kong! We decided to join a rally to New Caledonia because it was going to the beautiful, atoll/lagoon of Ouvea in the Loyalty Islands where a special check-in had been arranged. As this was one of the main islands we wanted to visit, it was a pretty easy decision to make. The only drawback was that check-in was for Monday, Sept 15th, which meant leaving on Saturday during a very squally, wet weather window. We saw 35 knots of wind on the nose much of the way, and blew out (shredded) our genoa foresail about 4 hours out of Ouvea! Everyone in the fleet (35 boats) said it was one of the worst passages they had ever had! Ouvea was just as beautiful as everyone had described it! We enjoyed a Kanak feast (local New Caledonian), a tour of the island that unfortunately was a bit of a bust, but a good way to get to know the other cruisers, and a barbecue on the beach with several of the other “kid boats”. Several local children joined us which made it all the more special. A few of the girls took a liking to Baden, on Chaotic Harmony, and Jamie – uh-oh! The boys were quite embarrassed and wanted nothing to do with it.
Jamie & friends building a fort on the beautiful beach of Ouvea
Our next stop was the Island of Lifou where we anchored with 5 other boats from the rally. We were able to catch a ride to the town of We to do some provisioning, get some money, and see the small marina where several cruisers stop. The kind man who drove us was a Swiss teacher who was on sabbatical doing research on integration of Kanaks into the French schools. At Jamie’s suggestion, we enjoyed a dinghy raft up lunch with 4 other boats, all from New Zealand, who had never done that kind of dinghy pot-luck event before! It was fun to pass on a cruising tradition.
Dinghy raft up & potluck dinner
We were anxious to catch up with our friends on Bauvier, so we did an overnight trade winds on the nose passage (23 hours) to the Isles de Pins at the southern end of New Caledonia. However, when pulling up anchor in Lifou our windlass broke so Chay & Katie had to bring the anchor up by hand with Jamie at the helm. We were greeted by Bauvier who hosted a wonderful extended happy hour on their boat, where we, along with the family on Wakalele, were able to share stories and catch up, and the children enjoyed playing together. Of course before we could enjoy that gathering we had to anchor by hand which turned out to be extra difficult because the chain was all tangled in the anchor locker after our rough ride south – so with Jamie at the helm again, Katie in the anchor locker below deck, and Chay on deck feeding the chain out we finally set the anchor! Jamie is getting to be such a great skipper, able to easily maneuver a 33,000 lb. boat in tight quarters! Needless to say Chay spent the next two days fixing the windlass! During the rest of our stay in Isle de Pins we enjoyed crepes and coffee on Wakalele, a barbecue on the beach, pizza night on Esprit with Bauvier and Wakalele, and a torrential rainstorm which of course hit at night with high winds! We also took several hikes around the island exploring the old prison ruins (where French political dissidents were sent in the late 1800’s) and trying to find the path to the top of the “mountain” (we never did find it). Jamie enjoyed playing on the beach – especially in the tree that they could climb in and build “houses”.
Anchorage & beach at Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
We are now anchored in Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia, where we arrived yesterday after a beautiful sail! We broke the trip up into two parts from Isle de Pins – the first night we anchored in a very muddy, but fairly calm, anchorage that was full of flies! We closed the hatches and stayed below decks! We are preparing for our passage to Australia with the usual long list of things to do before leaving on that 800 mile passage. We are already watching the weather and trying to time the next high pressure system (hopefully not too high) that comes across from OZ.….
November 16, 2008
Well, here we are back in Boulder City, NV. Since we last wrote we enjoyed the very French city of Noumea including attending Mass at the Cathedral, visiting the Aquarium and New Caledonia and Maritime Museums, and of course consuming too many croissants – especially the chocolate ones! Jamie had his McDonald’s fix and was able to spend some more time with his friends on Bauvier and Wakalele. The anchorage was the race course for the New Caledonia yacht club’s weekly “beer can races” – this made for some exciting moments as the racing boats maneuvered through and around those of us at anchor. We all enjoyed one last traditional Friday night pizza night on Esprit before going our separate ways. Wakalele returned to New Zealand to start a new life as innkeepers of a ski lodge and Bauvier followed us by a week to Australia where they were headed to Sydney for the holidays with cruising friends they met on their 2006 crossing. Our trip to Australia was a good one and we celebrated our land fall in Bundaberg with our traditional beer and chips, but only after clearing customs and quarantine which proved to be straight forward.
Jamie & Chay raising the Australian courtesy flag and the yellow quarantine flag
They didn’t take our buttered microwave popcorn as we had feared they might – guess we didn’t need to eat 3 bags before customs arrived! We saved the champagne to share with our friends on Bauvier who arrived a week after we did. Our time in Bundaberg was short but fun – it is a delightful city – much bigger than we thought. We took in the Shalom High School Market (swap meet), attended church, and did some sight seeing of the surrounding area. Jamie made a new friend, Henry, and along with the boys on Bauvier spent hours “just playing.” Everyone is extremely friendly and helpful and everything is cheaper than in New Zealand or the islands. When we weren’t playing tourist we were preparing Esprit to be left on the hard for a few months while we traveled back to the states for the holidays. We cleared the decks and took everything down on the outside including sails, dodger, cockpit enclosure, surfboard, etc…The haul out went smoothly and the yard did an extremely professional job of putting Esprit in the cradle. Hauling out is always a nerve racking experience – especially for Chay who has to do the maneuvering of Esprit while Katie makes sure we stay off the pylons. We missed Jamie’s on-board assistance this time since he was on shore photographing the haul-out process rather than helping us on board.
Esprit in the travel lift moving to the hard stand
Then we began our long trip back to the states…3 nights in a motel in Bundaberg since we couldn’t stay on Esprit in dry storage…a shuttle bus trip to Hervey Bay…an airplane trip to Sydney…1 night in a motel in Sydney…2 flights home from Sydney to Las Vegas…we think making a passage is easier! Since we arrived home in Boulder City on October 28th we have celebrated Halloween and taken a trip to the mountains of Big Bear, CA where it unexpectedly snowed and Katie & Jamie had to push the car up the hill!! Jamie is continuing his home schooling, attending youth group at church, and is getting back into his Karate routine…Chay and Katie are busy marketing our business to keep it going through these down times…and now we are getting the house ready for Christmas and the holidays. We will be spending the Thanksgiving Holiday in Big Bear and are looking forward to spending time with family and friends, including the crew from Nueva Vida, over the Holidays…
March 15, 2009
Time sure does fly! We had a calm, quiet Thanksgiving at our cabin in Big Bear…we enjoyed family time as we decorated both the Big Bear and Boulder City houses for Christmas…once again we (as Criterium-McWilliam Engineers) participated in the Boulder City Christmas Parade of Lights with the Porsche decked out in lights and Jamie sitting through the sun roof throwing candy canes to the kids…We took our granddaughters Trinity (6) & Tasha (3) on the Santa Train Ride here in Boulder City…Tasha loved the trains, but wasn’t too sure about Santa!...Our Criterium family joined us for our annual Christmas party…Nueva Vida (our cruising friends from Vancouver Island, Canada) were able to visit for a few days – it was great to spend time with them…Amy & Beau and their two daughters joined us for Christmas dinner…Tasha just loves running the trains with Grandpa and Trinity loves playing with Uncle Jamie…Chay & Jamie were treated to a night at the UFC fights with Amy & Beau – quite the experience!...off to Buffalo for our 16th wedding anniversary…it was coooolllllldddddd!!!!..but great to spend time with Katie’s mom and brother and his family…..Katie’s niece Sarah joined us for ice skating at the outdoor rink in downtown Buffalo and had a great time – it even snowed lightly, adding to our wintertime experience….Katie’s mom threw a surprise party for our anniversary so we were able to see most of Katie’s Buffalo family including aunts, uncles, and cousins galore which was a really good time…We had a pleasant visit with Chay’s mom and sister at the end of January…Jamie competed in the National Black Belt tournament in Los Angeles bringing home a first & third….since Jamie was studying about the Catholic missions in California as part of his history class, we visited the Mission San Juan Capistrano with Chay’s mom – truly a peaceful bit of history….Valentine’s Day was spent in Vancouver Island, British Columbia with our friends Nueva Vida on their boat….snow and ice on the docks!!...Jamie was able to share his taekwondo competition experience with Arlene, Nathan & Tyler – he took two firsts!....We once again had a great time visiting with this wonderful family…Jamie got certified for scuba diving – his instructor said Jamie could be his dive buddy any day!...Chay & Katie took a wreck diving class so now we can all enjoy the adventure even more!...we’ve been busy with annual doctor’s appointments as we prepare to return to Esprit…Trinity & Tasha enjoyed a couple of sleep-overs with Big Daddy, Grandma & Uncle Jamie…Jamie successfully tested for his 2nd degree black belt which included knowing all of his lower rank material and breaking 4 boards…Katie moved from purple belt to blue belt but not before successfully breaking her first board….Jamie completed 7th grade and is now an 11 year old 8th grader – he and Katie are enjoying their school break…Jamie ended his tournament year at Spring Nationals here in Las Vegas with a first in weapons and second in forms…Katie will walked in the “March for Life” to raise funds (she raised over $1,000!!!) for First Choice Pregnancy Services a pro-life Christian clinic in Las Vegas…All of this is in addition to tending to our business – Chay has taught many continuing education classes for Realtors and continues to do inspections…We head back to Esprit in April for a season of cruising the Great Barrier Reef and other wonders of Australia’s eastern coast…
Since our last update we snuck in a visit to Chay’s mom. Jamie had fun playing with Grandma’s dog tigger (he really wants a dog!). We brought home strawberry plants from Grandma’s garden and planted them outside our front door.
Jamie with Grandma and her dog Tigger
Chay & Jamie then went on their annual fishing/camping trip. This year they went to Beaver Dam State park (about 4-5 hours north of Las Vegas); they were treated to a beautiful snowfall upon their arrival! Jamie learned how to chop wood, as well as how to shoot a bb gun. Not many fish were caught, but memories were made.
Jamie at the snow covered camp site - totallly unexpected!
A few days after they returned home, we left for Australia (April 15th). Hard to believe we've been here almost 3 weeks already. Chay & Jamie finished the work on Esprit's bottom including some fiberglass repair and bottom paint touch-up. We got the sails back on without blowing out of the hard stand and gently splashed back into the water a little over a week ago. Oh, it is so nice to be back on the water again. We've been busy getting Esprit ready to cruise including varnishing the bright work - but the biggest challenge was getting the electrical transformer installed and wired to allow us to use Australian power. Between West Marine & Chay, it is now working properly.
Chay masking the teak in preparation for varnishing
Jamie has been enjoying playing with his mate Henry in their fort in the sand/dirt pile down the road from the marina. If not there, they are skateboarding/rip-sticking around the marina. Jamie turned 12 on May 1st - we took him & Henry go-karting; Jamie has a new love in go-kart racing! Henry & his family joined us for pizza and cake that evening. Summer school began May 4th and although it isn’t Jamie’s favorite activity he’s getting in the routine again and doing well; this is just the warm up for 8th grade which will begin after the 4th of July holiday. On the weekends we have rented a "rent a wreck" and have been able to not only grocery shop, but have been able to attend church on Sunday morning (7AM!) and then have gone to the large open market at the Shalom Catholic High School where they have wonderful fresh produce. Bundaberg has multitudes of farms which grow all sorts of fruit and veggies in addition to the ever present sugar cane. So, slowly but surely we are getting Esprit's galley well stocked. We were treated to a kangaroo sighting one Sunday morning - apparently they hang out at the Heads right in our "back yard". Since our arrival, the Australian's have celebrated two public holidays - ANZAC day (similar to our Memorial Day) and Labour Day. ANZAC day is taken very seriously - most everything was closed - and the church's have special services and the people march in honor of their veterans. It started after the Great War (WWI), but now honors all veterans. The other refreshing thing here is that most stores also close on Sundays. One draw back so far are the mosquitoes and sand flies! If not careful, you can start to look like you've come down with a case of the chicken pox - especially if you scratch! Needless to say, we are taking extra precautions. Our plan right now is to stay here through Mother's Day, then head out, weather beholdin, to cruise to Lady Musgrave Island as our first stop as we work our way up the reef.
June 12, 2009
Greetings from the just north of the Tropic of Capricorn! When we first returned to Esprit, we noticed tiny eggs on the deck. One was broken with nothing in it, but the other brought forth a baby gecko! Since then we have had at least 3 baby geckos on board - great for bug abatement. We wonder were Momma gecko is, and if she is the gecko we brought on board a couple of years back! We left Bundaberg on Friday the 15th of May and had a nice motor sail to Lady Musgrave, one of the southern most reef/islands in the Great Barrier Reef. The reef & island were great. We walked around the island and joined a tour group so were able to hear about the history and wild life on the island. It differed a bit (more politically correct) from the stories we heard from the local old-timer fisherman. The tour guide didn't mention that there had been a turtle processing plant there at one time, or that the pass that you enter the reef through had been man made, rather than natural.
Chay & Jamie at Lady Musgrave Island
We snorkeled one afternoon and were treated to a turtle sighting. It was just hanging over a hole in one of the reefs watching our every move! It never did move more than an inch the whole time we watched it!
While getting Esprit ready in Bundaberg, Chay noticed some "tearing" feelings around the area where he had minor surgery in March. It kept bothering him, so we made the decision at Lady Musgrave island to go back to port, this time to Gladstone, to have a doctor take a look. We found a very pleasant, professional, and thorough doctor who suggested an ultra sound but thought the stitches were tearing the muscle; the ultra sound confirmed this. He told Chay to take it easy and let it continue to heal. After three days in Gladstone, and many long, several mile, walks (our legs and feet were killing us!) to the doctor's office and stores, we were ready to leave once more to continue our cruise northward to warmer weather. As a side note, Dr. Rigby made a point of shaking Chay's hand and letting him know that although the Aussies make fun of Americans, we Americans really need to be thanked for all the good we do in the world. As an additional side note, this Doctor and the Aussies in general (they talk about it on all their radio stations) are mesmerized by the US Space Program and can't understand why it is no big deal to people in the US.
The Australians are very friendly and helpful. Just one example of this was when we were waiting at the Medical Imaging Center. An elderly woman came in for a test; when she was finished the reception staff inquired as to whether she was ok to drive home right then, or if she would like to wait and rest a spell. They offered here a "cuppa" (cup of tea) which they most pleasantly served with 2 bisquits (cookies). When was the last time you saw that happen in the states?!
After Gladstone we had a day sail to Cape Capricorn (named for being just north of the Tropic of Capricorn) where we anchored for the night and celebrated being back in the tropics! The anchorage had a lot of current, so we swung funny all night long; makes for not a good night sleep when you are worried about swinging into the other large boat that anchored rather close behind us. But no worries, we were up the next morning and on our way to Great Kepple Island. Our 4 hour trip started out with moderate winds and low seas, and ended with 30+ knots and boisterous seas! We (Chay at the helm) sailed through the narrow, shallow passage and into the bay where we would anchor. It was quite the adventure! When Katie brought down the sail and dropped the hook, she was concerned the winds were going to blow her glasses right off! Because of the high winds our anchor was well set, but we had also had to deal with the rolling swells that the high winds cause. It is kind of like being under way while at anchor.
We stayed at Great Keppel Island until Thursday morning, despite the rocky/rolly anchorage we were in. It would literally throw you out of bed at night! We took a couple of long walks on the island exploring what it had to offer. There is a small resort zone where we found some bread (yummy bread at that) and butter, as well as some ice cream. The resort area was kind of depressing - it was pretty much deserted and the largest resort was closed down. It could be a very nice little get-away, especially since it is only about 10 miles from the mainland. We had cell phone coverage so we stayed a day longer than we would have liked so that Chay could participate in a conference call for Criterium related business. We left at sunrise on Thursday and motor-sailed to Port Clinton where we decided not to stop, but rather continued on to Island Head Creek. Since we knew strong winds were coming over the weekend, we wanted to get to Island Head Creek which offers protection in all winds. It is a lovely anchorage - at high tide you would think we were anchored in the middle of a large lake; at low tide (14 ft. difference) when the shallow, broad banks are exposed, it is clear we are anchored in a creek. And, this anchorage is nice and calm – we were actually able to sleep - something we were unable to do in the rolly anchorage at Great Keppel! We met some very friendly Australian cruisers on the beach; one of them said he is the Mayor of Island Head Creek - he has been coming there since the 1970's! and just loves it. In our brief visit with them, we were able to pick up some tips about crabbing, fishing, where to find oysters, and which anchorages are good.
Time for some fishing stories...fishing has been a challenge as we need to pay attention to what Marine Zone we are in; Australia tightly controls fishing in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Zone. We caught a couple of tuna/mackerals, but threw them back because we weren't sure what they were. Chay hit Jamie in the head with one of them when he landed it on deck! No damage done to Jamie or the fish (these are big, thick fish!). We decided to keep the one we caught on our approach to Island Head Creek (we had done some research to learn that they are mackerel and that their edibility is "good"). As Chay was reeling it in, he noticed that Jamie's fishing line on the other side of the boat had gotten tangled in his line. That's never happened before! So, with his hip on his pole to hold it steady against the lifeline, he & Jamie patiently untangled Jamie's line from his line (Katie was amazed at the patience the two of them showed). Then while Jamie carefully brought his tangled line in, Chay landed the fish on deck , bled it, and filet'd it, but not without getting a lot of fish blood on deck and himself. While he filet'd it, Katie hung over the deck to fill a bucket with salt water(all while sailing along at 7+kts) to clean the deck with. Good thing Katie was tethered off, she overfilled the bucket and had a small battle to get it and herself back up on deck! Finally everyone was safe on board in the cockpit and the fish was in the freezer...Always an adventure on board Esprit!! To continue our fishing stories...Yesterday Chay & Jamie went trolling in the dinghy and Jamie caught and landed his first ocean fish all on his own - it turned out to be a Wahoo! Was Jamie ever proud, and was it ever delicious for dinner!
When we were in Gladstone, the doctor Chay saw also took some biopsies of 3 skin spots on his forehead, which turned out to be benign. However, Katie had the pleasure of removing the sutures - that was a first! It was especially challenging because the stitches were tiny! Everything looked good when she was done, and she didn't hurt Chay too much. Jamie assisted with flashlight in hand and by helping figure out where the tiny knots/loops were located.
When we left Island Head Creek, we had winds and tides fighting each other in brisk winds. Katie lost the shackle pin for the main halyard, and then after retrieving it off the deck (where she noted one of our geckos), she lost the halyard!! Not a good thing. Chay had to climb on the dodger and boom to unwind it from the stays. Once everything was under control we headed to Middle Percy Island. We timed our visit here just right – good winds to sail by and then light winds while we were anchored for a few days. We visited Cathryn, the lease holder, and got to see the old homestead which was built in the early 1900’s. She had many stories to tell! Jamie enjoyed feeding her pet goats and playing with her two dogs. That evening we had a barbecue on the beach at the A-frame and Jamie entertained the small group of islanders and cruisers with his firestick! He did an awesome job. The A-frame is a cruiser’s hangout and a must stop for cruiser’s so they can “hang their sign” in the A-frame; there were some boats that literally came in, dropped the hook, visited the A-frame, and then left the anchorage.
Katie & Chay in the hammock in the A-frame
Jamie & Katie and our Esprit flag
The next morning we were going to pull up anchor to move on, the anchor windlass quit working; we dropped the hook back down and Chay went to work fixing it. He diagnosed the problem and was able to get it working again. At the same time, the generator stopped running…after many hours of troubleshooting Chay noticed a loose wire hidden in the generator’s control box – once that was put back on, it was up and running again. The following morning we moved on at 3:00 in the morning because the winds had switched around putting us onto a lee shore with only 2 feet below our keel and 2 hours to go before low tide! We arrived at Digby Island after a very slow trip with the tides and winds against us. It is not unusual to have 2 to 3 knots of current with you or against you in this part of the world as the tides ebb & flood. Good planning is essential to assure the flows are with you and not against the wind, which makes for huge seas. The anchorage was quite tidal and we pulled up over the anchor which made bringing up the anchor the next morning a little trickier. We had a wonderful sail to Mackay where we were going into the marina so that we could fuel up, provision, do laundry and sit out a couple of days of high winds. On our final approach into the marina harbour we wound our way through a maze of “motor vessels”, otherwise known as freighters, which were at anchor outside the port. Jamie counted 44 freighters waiting to be loaded. It was nice to see that at least some countries have exports!
We are now at the southern end of the Whitsunday Islands so we will begin exploring these islands over the next week. We are more than ready to get further north where the temperatures will be warmer. It has been quite chilly the last few days – but good sleeping temperatures.
July 17, 2009
After leaving Mackay we explored the Whitsundays. Our first night was at Goldsmith island where anchored overnight before moving onto Shaw Island. We stayed at Shaw Island for a few pleasant days. We met Patty & Keith on "Speranza", an Australian couple who have been cruising the Queensland Coast for several years; it is always nice to gain some local knowledge! They told us we should go for a hike to Garbage Beach to gather some of the round rocks, so we did. After securing the dinghy on the beach (and after shuffling through the stingrays to get there) we followed the trail marked with washed up flip flops and other plastic trash tied in the trees! Garbage Beach is just that, a rocky beach with lots of washed up drift wood and plastic trash! The rocks however are very rounded from the surf and we kept a couple of very nice ones. Jamie & Chay went fishing giving Katie the perfect opportunity to wash and wax the interior floors. They returned two proud fisherman with about a 5 foot Queenfish in the dinghy!!! These fish put up a great fight and towed Chay and Jamie in the dingy all over the bay before giving up. It was huge with big eyes. Chay fillet'd it - it's pretty good, not too fishy, a bit like chicken. It is a different fish than the Queenfish along the California/Mexican coast.
Chay & Jamie with their Queenfish that they caught trolling in the dinghy!
We decided to move northward to check out an anchorage called Neck Bay which turned out not to be so great, so we continued on to Gap Beach on the northern side of Lindeman Island where we took a very nice hike up to the lookout at the top of the island. The next day we moved on to Whitsunday Island where we anchored at Whitehaven Beach. This beach is about 3 miles long and is fine, salt-like, white sand.
This anchorage is very busy with bareboat charters and tourist boats. We strolled the beach and played in the sand dunes before returning to Esprit for an extremely rolly night of no sleep. The next day was Father's Day and we decided to move "around the corner" to Tongue Bay to get out of the swell and roll so Katie could make the celebratory waffles for breakfast. This anchorage was also very crowded and rolly, but not so bad that the waffles couldn't be made. After enjoying breakfast in the cockpit (less roll effect felt), we moved on again to the next island north - Hook Island, where we are now anchored in a nice calm anchorage. The winds were right for a nice sail along the way, and a few seconds of excitement as we came through Hook Passage with 3 knots of current and got caught in an eddy - as the words to one of Jamie's favorite songs go, "we went round and round and round". Here in the anchorage, we are surrounded by high forested hills and get to hear the parrots squawking and flying. Quite pretty, much like Vancouver Island in B.C. Canada. We continue to see turtles and dolphins, but no whales yet. In Macona Inlet we were pleased to be able to visit with Randy & Sherri on Procyon – we crossed the Pacific with them, and had not seen them for 9 months!
Randy & Sherri of Procyon with Katie & Jamie on board Procyon
After leaving Macona Inlet, we anchored at Airlie Beach for a couple of nights so we could provision and get propane (which is critical to that morning cup of coffee!). The marina couldn't fill our propane bottle, so we dinghy'd and walked to a gas station to get it filled there. We couldn't find the gas station the first day, so we did it all over again the next morning. Not easy carrying a propane bottle for all those miles. We even managed to squeeze in a load of laundry before moving on. The winds were predicted to be northerly for a couple of days so we moved to Refuge Bay in Nara Inlet (next door to Macona Inlet) on Hook Island which offers protection from winds all the way around - if it weren't for hearing the bareboat charter boats complaining about their awful nights with the northerlies blowing, we wouldn't have even known that the wind was blowing. Most of the anchorages here offer protection from Southerly winds, so anchorages with northerly protection are at a premium. Nara Inlet is very pretty. We took a hike up to an archeological site with aboriginal cave drawings.
Aboriginal wall drawings
Chay & Jamie tried their hand at fishing but with no luck this time. They did spot a "salty" (crocodile) though! We thought they weren't supposed to be in the islands - only on shore of the mainland. We took advantage of "calm" and got some chores done too- Chay washed & waxed the starboard side of the hull and Katie polished the stainless topsides. After the northerlies finished blowing, we moved around to the north end of Hook Island and anchored in Butterfly Bay. Chay & Katie did a short refresher dive while Jamie snorkeled; Jamie's tank had leaked all its air out, so he snorkeled above us. Chay repaired Jamie's tank and refilled all the tanks for the dive we were planning for today. After pulling up the hook, and moving onto a mooring (we were too close to one of the moorings), we dinghy'd about 1 mile or so to Manta Ray Bay where we all dove the reef with fair-to-good visibility - lots and lots of corals both hard and soft, as well as fish. We saw a couple of huge fish - about 3 feet long - that looked similar to angel fish. This time we noticed a slight leak in Katie's regulator which Chay will try to repair. We are all glad to finally have gotten far enough north to where it is warm enough to snorkel and dive. We motor-sailed to Bait Reef - along the way we had dolphins swimming along-side, Katie spotted a whale, and the Australian Customs plane contacted us requesting our boat registration information and our destination. We were fortunate to be able to pick up a mooring at the reef (there are only 5 public moorings) that we were even more fortunate to be able to stay on for two nights (there is a 2 hour limit when the area is busy). It is quite an amazing feeling to be moored in the middle of the ocean with no land around! The weather cooperated and we had 2 days of light wind and calm seas. Each mooring has it's own "huge" fish that comes with it! The first day we dove the Stepping Stones - it was a great dive, with lots of different kinds of corals and fish, except that we went further than expected down current and had to swim back to the dinghy against the current! Lesson learned! Needless to say we slept well that night! Chay refilled the tanks so we could dive the next day at Gary's Inlet/Lagoon. This was a fun dive, particularly for Jamie who was able to finally walk on the bottom of the ocean with no fins! He has such fun diving! His diving skills shone more than once during these 4 days of diving - thank you to GR8Diving! On the way back to Esprit from the dive site, we were able to get up close and personal with a sea turtle.
Sea Turtle - Great Barrier Reef
It got so close one time, we weren't sure who was more startled - us or it! We had drinks & "nibbles" with Rachel & Adam of Caballero, an Australian cruising couple that we first met a month or so ago in Island Head Creek. We had heard from some other Aussie's that there is an annual Fourth of July Party in Double Bay - just north of Airlie Beach/Whitsunday. We were also told that Americans are not allowed. So of course, when the winds picked up out at the reef we had a beautiful sail on Thursday to Double Bay where we hoisted an extra large American flag and signal flags spelling out July 4 up the mast.
Esprit at anchor in Fourth of July cove with all our colors flying!
Sure enough - there is an annual get-together barbecue on the beach that has been going on for 30 years! It was started by Americans, but an Aussie couple kept up the tradition. This year the number of boats was down to 9 from 30-40! But we still had fun. We played a game of toss the thong (the flip-flop kind) and Jamie won (but only after the tie-breaker, of course!). At sunset Jamie entertained the crowed by doing his fire-stick on the beach before the party broke up. It is always fun to get know new people. What struck us was how familiar the folks looked and seemed to us - as if we had met them before - must be something common about cruisers. We left Double Bay for Gloucester Island where we anchored for a night and checked out the resorts on shore that we had read about in the cruising guides. They were a bit of a let down, but it was good to see another bit of Australian vacation culture. We moved on to Bowen where we were able to get onto a fore/aft mooring for a few days to sit out some stronger winds; they had offered us a pile berth (a space between two pilings that you tie off to bow and stern) but we had never done one and its a good thing we didn't try - when we checked it out by dinghy we discovered that we would have had to be able to steer Esprit sideways to get in between the third row of piles in from the channel. Although very well protected, the Bowen harbor is very simple and "old fashioned". We explored Bowen by foot - it is just a laid back town that is spread out with wide streets. Bowen was used as the set for the Movie "Australia" because it closely resembles Darwin during the 1930"s. They have several large wall murals painted throughout the town depicting the history of Bowen which were interesting to see. Once the winds settled down we departed Bowen for Magnetic Bay with a one night stop at Cape Upstart (about half way) and then another stop at Cape Cleveland at sunset while fires raged on the cape. The next morning we did the last 10 miles to Horseshoe Bay at Magnetic Island. On each of these legs we saw numerous whales frolicking in the distance. When we were at Cape Upstart we met the American boat BeBe (over the radio); the day we left for Magnetic they were underway as well and were able to catch a Spanish Mackeral which they invited us to share with them for dinner the day we anchored in Horseshoe Bay. It was nice to get to know Bill & Judy (from Houston) and their 8 year old grandson Zachary. Judy fried up some yummy fish dipped in beer batter! This is only the second American boat we have met while cruising Australian waters. Jamie enjoyed playing with Zachary - especially the time spent on the "DS". The winds turned out of the Northern sector yesterday giving us a "hobby horse" ride - Jamie slept in the cockpit for part of the night to minimize the feeling of sea sickness. We could watch the smaller boats hobby horse their bows right into the water! During the night the winds moved around back out of the south and although the winds were howling this morning, the sea is calmer. This week we plan to explore Magnetic Island and then next week when the tides are right with a high tide during daylight we will move over to Breakwater Marina in Townsville (just 10 miles away) and explore another Aussie city. We need a high tide because the entrance to the marina is only 0.5 meters at zero tide and we need at least 2.1 meters to not run aground. This is also where we plan to base our Yongala wreck dive from.
August 16, 2009
While still in Horseshoe Bay, Jamie & Zachary (of BeBe) went fishing on Wednesday and caught a small rock cod (we think). It was tan and covered with brown polka dots - never seen one before; too small to keep so it was given back to the sea. That evening the BeBe crew joined us on Esprit for "nibbles" before they headed north the next morning. On Friday we took a hike to visit the WWII forts - we saw the gun emplacements, ammunition buildings, and command post, as well as lots of foundations for buildings long gone. This was manned by 155 men and women who were prepared to fight off the Japanese if they attacked Australia. Along the trail we were treated to a Koala sighting - we saw 3 of them in the Eucalyptus trees, one being a baby on its parents back! The baby kept looking around at the group of sightseers below while enjoying some eucalyptus leaves.
Koala Bear and baby at Magnetic Island
We took the bus to the other side of island and hiked part of the way back. There are many abandoned construction projects in the marina area and prices are reduced by almost half for the lots and condos that are for sale. Yet more evidence of a declining economy and the effects of a socialist government trying to partner with private industry. Magnetic Island, or Maggie as the locals call it, is like a step back in time as far as vacationing goes. The families and young folk just picnic on the beach and rent water toys (kayaks, jet skis, hobie cats, etc). It is very laid back!
We left Magnetic Island for Townsville Yacht Club Marina, about 12 miles away. The seas were a bit sloppy, so the calmness of the marina was welcome. We've washed down the boat (long overdue), explored the city by foot, done several loads of laundry (1 per day - you have to be the first load of the day or you might be in a long queue, and you have to really watch the laundry to make sure someone else doesn't move it to a dirty spot - the marina is renovating and the laundry facility isn't the greatest but it works and the price is right), found some boat parts that we have been hunting for for months, went to see Harry Potter, and gotten a good start on the 8th grade school year. Today we attended Mass at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, a very beautiful red brick, recently renovated (2006) church. The Stations of the Cross were sculpted in USA in 1908 and are truly a sight to see. Unfortunately, our Yongala dive will have to wait; the dive company would not allow Jamie to dive the wreck (no one 16 or under). Diving in general, and this dive in particular, is one of those adventures we want to do as a family. So, we'll look for other diving opportunities. Jamie and the granddaughter of one of our fellow cruisers just launched the sailing dinghy to go fishing along the rock wall. We never know what each day will bring. We took a "bus tour" of the city, finished provisioning, laundry, and enjoyed Mass presided over by the Bishop. We also went to see the new Transformer movie - we highly recommend it. Chay finished up his varnishing for now - he'll continue when we find some more foam brushes (I think it was about this time last year that we were on the hunt for foam brushes too!). Jamie & Chay enjoyed a few afternoons sailing in the sailing dinghy - Jamie is getting to be pretty proficient at skippering! We had the folks on Elaine Marie over for "nibbles" and enjoyed getting to know them - an Aussie boat we met at the Fourth of July party on the beach in Double Bay. They are from Melbourne and have some funny stories about the differences between the various Australian states.
We left Townsville as planned on Tuesday Aug 4th. After an 8 hour trip with a mix of motoring in light winds in the morning and great sailing in the afternoon, we dropped the hook at Little Pioneer Bay, Orpheus Island in the Palm Island Group. Two manta rays joined us one day and swam around the boat for a while apparently enjoying whatever food was coming in with the tide. Despite a pretty strong current and a little bit of "seas", we managed to clean a good portion of the bottom of the boat; Chay and Jamie dove, while Katie snorkeled. Chay got sea sick while under water upside down under the boat while cleaning the bottom of Esprit. This may sound funny, but it is a common occurrence amongst cruisers who have to clean their bottoms in rocky/rolly anchorages. The bottom was developing a mini forest and was slowing Esprit way down and since we were headed for crocodile country we needed to do it then, rocky/rolly or not. Chay was able to get more of the teak varnished, while Jamie finished up another week of school and was looking forward to having a full weekend off.
Saturday morning (8/8) we pulled up anchor and headed for Hinchinbrook channel. We timed our arrival with the rising/high tide since part of the entrance channel has 2 feet or less at low tide and we draw seven feet - we made it through, seeing 3 feet below our keel a few times. Esprit went much faster with her cleaner bottom. With Jamie's expert eyes we navigated ourselves through the wide, winding channel which runs between Hinchinbrook Island and the mainland. We anchored behind the small island of Haycock about a third of the way up the channel. It is like being on a jungle river ride ie. Disneyland or Tenacatita, Mexico, except instead of being in the dinghy, we are in Esprit! You can hear the tropical birds talking, just like you hear in the old Tarzan movies. This area is known to have "salties" (large salt water crocodiles), so we are being extra careful. We took a dinghy ride up a side creek, but didn't see any crocs basking in the sun. Chay & Jamie are planning a fishing trip in the dinghy - the fishing is supposed to be good here. They seem to have better luck fishing from the dinghy than trolling from Esprit so we'll see...It looks as if we are in for a spell of light winds (not enough to sail by), so we will hang out in the channel and it's many creeks for a while enjoying the pretty green "mountains" and tranquility of the channel while attempting to avoid the crocs. We have to bring the dinghy up every night, not due to possible theft as might be experienced in other parts of the world, but because the aussie's share story's about the croc's using inflatable dinghies as teething rings!! We moved north up the channel and anchored where the ancient aboriginal fish traps are – amazing how they used to do things. We moved into the marina for a few days to check out the Cardwell area; Cardwell is a very small town with not much to offer except being so close to Hinchinbrook Island. We had to come into the marina with a high tide because they have a spot in the entrance channel that is only 0.5 meters a zero tide! Esprit sits in the mud in her berth at low tide because the marina has less than 2 meters throughout and we need 2.2 meters to be afloat!
Our first stop in Hinchinbrook Channel was at Haycock Island where we had some beautiful sunrises and sunsets.
Sunset at Hinchinbrook Channel
Sunset with storm clouds
We also got eaten by sandflies. For those of you not familiar with these dreadful creatures, they are smaller than a grain of sand(walk right through window screens), bite worse than no-seeams and no-no's, the bite usually doesn't start itching for two days after you have been bit, and then will itch and stay swollen and red for at least a week! So on Tuesday we moved north to Scraggy Point. We tried to go up a side creek along the way that was supposed to have plenty of water depth for Esprit, but when the depth gauge read zero, we decided it would be better to "go hard astern" and back out into the main channel. There are ancient aboriginal fish traps made out of rock walls in the water near the shore at Scraggy Point. On Thursday we entered the Hinchinbrook Marina at high tide and squeaked through the entrance channel with 2.2 feet under the keel! It's times like these that you want your water and fuel tanks almost empty! In our berth we have only 0.7 meters at low tide and we need 2.2 meters (7 feet) to stay afloat, so at low tide Esprit is sitting in the mud - "but it's really soft mud" according to the local knowledge. It's like being back in Puntarenas Yacht Clup in Costa Rica! Chay finished the varnishing, as he is now out of foam brushes - they really do perform the best for varnish work - no bristle streaks. We've been taking care of business on the internet and plan to leave with the high tide on Thursday morning. The tides kept us here for a week waiting for a big enough tide during daylight to exit with! Jamie is enjoying it here because there is a pool and he can use his rip stick. The marina is part of a resort that is struggling to stay "alive" in today's market; they have recently lowered prices to attract yachts to the marina and buyers for their various properties. The town of Cardwell is about a 30 minute walk - it is a very small town out in the "bush" with not too much to offer except as a jumping off point for Hinchinbrook Island and channel. We attended Mass today - the priest said the Mass at warp speed (Jamie loved it!) and there were probably only about 20 people in attendance. The church itself is very small and simple.
We have discovered that the seagulls in Australia really do say "mine, mine, mine", just like in "Finding Nemo"! It sounds pretty funny.
Seagulls resting on our dinghy wheels
We arrived in Cairns after a few nights anchored at Fitzroy Island. We saw whales and dolphins along the way, and had a fish on the line which was apparently big since it broke the 40 pound test line even with a loose drag! Fitzroy Island is yet another example of an Eco-friendly Aussie resort gone belly-up. We did a short hike on the island in their "rain forest". In the narrow channel on our way into Cairns the Greenpeace ship "Esperanza" was on the way out, burning lots of diesel fuel and contributing to global warming after giving their employees a wonderful vacation in one of the most expensive resort areas in Australia! Cairns is very tropical - it is finally warm! - and is a clean, pretty, and alive town. It is clearly a tourist destination town with lots of things to do and see if you were on vacation. The Cairns festival is on-going so there is lots of activity including music each night right next to our berth in the marina! We will leave here tomorrow to continue our journey north - we stocked up on new charts (we had none from here north), provisions, and fuel. We won't be near a port again for several weeks so we had to stock up here.
After leaving Cairns we headed to Low Island where we were able to pick up a mooring for the night. The next morning we headed to Cooktown on the Endeavour River where Captain Cook spent 48 days repairing his ship "Endeavour" after coming aground on one of the reefs. On the way to Cooktown we caught a large Albacore tuna that will keep us in fish for a while! Cooktown is a very small fishing village which sits on the river front. The anchorage area is very small and is considerably constrained by the surrounding sand bars. At low tide slack we would turn sideways to the current and get pushed by the wind onto the sand and go "bump, bump, bump". The first night at one in the morning it took us a while to figure out what was happening but we waited until 3 when it stopped; the second time was during the day and we waited it out again; the third time occurred at 1:30 the next morning and this time it sounded worse - the rudder was making a horrible sound as it banged against the sand bar! So, after two attempts to motor off the sand, only to get pushed back into the sand, we had enough. The channel was well lit, so at 3 AM we pulled up anchor and left for Lizard Island. Jamie slept through it all and didn't wake up until after 7 am! We had the best sail of the season on our passage to Lizard and arrived at 11:00 AM - just in time for our Sunday pancakes! We were exhausted from two nights of not much sleep so we cat napped in the afternoon, took a hike on the beach, and made an early night of it. Lizard Island is the first truly good tropical cruising spot we've been to yet in Australia! Although the winds blow between 15 and 25 knots most of the time, the seas are almost calm in Watson's Bay and the water is crystal clear and warm. Yesterday morning we took a tour of the Lizard Island Research Station - it was extremely informative about the reef and we were able to find out about some good diving and snorkeling spots. In the afternoon we took advantage of crocodile free waters to clean the bottom - much easier than the last time we cleaned it, and with no sea sickness experienced by anyone. We spent happy hour on the beach with the other cruisers anchored in the bay.
Lizard Island Anchorage
We hiked the hill to Cook's Lookout where we enjoyed a 360 panorama view of the Great Barrier Reef and Australian coast line. This is where Captain James Cook climbed to see if there was a way out of the reef or if he would be "stuck" between the main land and the reef until the winds changed. Much to his relief he spotted the passes out of the reef! The funny thing is once he go out of the reef and in the open waters of the Coral Sea he thought it was too rough and came back inside the reef again further North!
Katie & Jamie at Cook's Lookout, Lizard Island
We had a couple of good snorkels and one dive at Lizard Island (Mermaid Bay) before taking advantage of a couple of days of very light winds to venture out to the outer reef. The first night we picked up a mooring at the "Cod Hole", at the north end of Ribbon Reef # 10, and dove with the large Potato Cod - Jamie & Katie were able to feed them some of the tuna we had caught while Chay took pictures. We were surprised to see how aggressive and quick they were and how mean they look! You could tell they are used to divers feeding them.
Underwater life on Great Barrier Reef
Potato Cod on Great Barrier Reef
Jamie had is secondary regulator start acting up, but smoothly transitioned to the back-up octopus regulator before telling Chay he had a problem. Jamie is such an excellent, calm diver. The next morning, after a rolly night on the mooring, we moved over to Yonge reef (about 6 miles away) and anchored amongst the coral bommies in 50 feet of water. There was a coral bommy right behind Esprit which was perfect to dive - it went from 50 feet right to the surface and was like being in an aquarium! For you divers out there, we have finally reached 80-80-80 conditions (80 degrees air, 80 degrees water, and 80 feet visibility)!
Filling the dive tanks in between dives on the Great Barrier Reef
After the dive, we decided to head back to Lizard so that we could get ready for our passage north through the reef and around Cape York and on into Darwin. This passage will be very tricky as we navigate our way through very narrow passages in the reef and along the mainland via the shipping channel. We will have to be on extra good and accurate watch to make sure we stay in the channel and also to make sure we avoid the freighters we may pass or that may pass us. This will be particularly important at night. The currents can be quite strong at the top as we go through the Torres and Endeavor Straits, so we are trying to time our trip so that we round the top during a time when the currents against us (up to 6kts.) will be at their weakest. Other wise we will have a strong current against strong winds which makes for a very rough ride! It can get kind of tricky! We haven't done any overnighters all season so this will a dangerous change of pace for us. Very few Australians will even attempt a passage through these reefs at night! Can't forget to mention that Jamie did another beach firestick show, and we celebrated Katie's birthday on Sunday the 6th with a caramel fudge cake - a nice relaxing day.
Jamie's firestick show on the beach
We departed Lizard Island as planned on Thursday morning at sunrise. The latest weather report was calling for 15 to 20 knots of wind, building to 20 to 25 max. We had no wind when we left, but after 8 hours of motoring the winds started to blow enough to sail. The Thursday evening weather report was a bit different than the previous one - now they were calling for the winds to build to 25 to 30 by Friday evening. By Friday morning's weather report the meteorologists were calling for 25 to 30 knots of wind through Sunday and had issued a strong wind warning! Our first "night thing" on Thursday night turned out to be uneventful - moderate winds and seas and only one freighter early on. Jamie stood his first solo watch from 8 to 9 PM and then again from 5 to 6 AM giving Chay & Katie a little bit more sleep/rest time. Katie had a hard time waking Jamie for the 5AM watch! On Friday the winds picked up some and the seas began to build. By Jamie's watch at 8PM we were consistently seeing 20 knots apparent (~25+ knots true) so Chay put a reef in the main sail. The weather report called for 1.8 meter seas, but we were definitely seeing double that! The winds continued to build to over 30 knots through the night. As we mentioned in a previous email, this passage through the inner reefs had many course changes, so when we were running with the wind behind us, it was a fairly comfortable ride. However, when we changed course to where the winds were on our beam (side) or close hauled in front of us, the ride got rougher and wetter with green water over the boat. The second night we passed 5 freighters! One of them snuck up on Katie from behind, but fortunately its course took it into the a parallel shipping channel to us and therefore took us out of harms way. Chay saw two freighters slip streaming one behind the other coming at us in the pitch black, and it took him a awhile to figure out that it wasn't a super huge boat that wouldn't have fit through the channel! Although sometimes less than a mile wide, the shipping channel is well marked with lights along the way telling us where to change course, so when the light at Cape Grenville all of a sudden disappeared at a point where we had to make a 90 degree turn near midnight on a pitch black night our anxiety level went way up! This major course change at Cape Grenville took us from on the nose winds to winds from the stern - we were seeing 30 knot plus winds at this point! Chay got up from his 3 hour rest period and helped Katie navigate the course change successfully, while Jamie slept through it! By the next morning the winds were blowing 30 to 40 knot gale force winds with 10 ft (3 m) seas on what are commonly known as square waves due to the shallow depths. We thought the reefs would cut down the seas, but instead they made the seas much more confused when the winds piped up. This is the only morning that Jamie felt sea sick and could not complete his 5 to 6 AM watch (he was able to overcome the feeling without getting sick). Our planned course was to take the "short cut" through Albany Passage - a narrow passage at the northern tip of Cape York. We had planned this trip to make sure the currents though the pass would be in the same direction we were going and not the possible 6 knots against us and the wind. After 2.5 days of sailing, Esprit and her crew were 1 hour earlier then we had planned to be, and thus we were a bit worried about the current and what the winds might do, so were pleasantly surprised when the winds slowed down and the seas calmed. It was a very pretty transit through the passage seeing lots of beaches and huge red magnetic ant hills, and a nice respite from the roughness we were experiencing through the night. At the top we tacked west over Cape York into the Endeavour Strait - the winds were now blowing and gusting - we saw over 40 knots apparent(strong gale force) at one point but with the winds behind us and the short reach to shore it was not too bad. We then had to turn to port and close hauled to reach our destination and once again were taking green water over the boat from bow all the way back to the stern!
Rounding Cape York - the top of Australia
We safely and happily anchored off Red Island at 3:30 PM - exactly the time we had planned! That doesn't happen too often. Last night we all slept hard - the best night's sleep in a while. Despite the howling winds, the Endeavour Strait seas weren't as rough as its reputation led us to believe they would be, and the passage through the inner reefs along the Queensland east coast was rougher than we expected! We are relieved to have that passage behind us, and are going to rest for a couple of days here before making the 700 mile passage across northern Australia. Although rough, it was exciting to make a passage again, putting Esprit and her crew to the test. We have realized that coastal cruising is not our preferred mode of cruising; while it's nice to be in civilization for a short period of time, we prefer the more remote locations and the time spent getting to them.
Most of the next leg is reef free, with a few shoaling areas to be careful of at the beginning. As we approach Darwin we will have to time the tides right again so that we can ride the flood for most of the last 100 miles into Darwin. We plan to stop in the Northern Territory before going past Cape Don so that we can time the tides correctly. So now we will clean up Esprit - after all the green water she took over the deck, she is covered in salt which is not good for the bright work or the stainless steel. It took us almost exactly 4 days to make the westward passage from Red Island to Port Essington (about 100 miles from Darwin) - we were able to sail wing & wing (main sail out to one side and foresail poled out to the other side) almost the entire trip with 20 to 25 knot winds out of due east, until the last few hours when the winds disappeared to almost nothing.
Jamie & Chay as were going wing & wing across the top of Australia
We saw lots of dolphins, shooting stars, and caught another Albacore Tuna. The last pitch black night with no moon the winds just were not cooperating and we had to jibe several times to ensure that we were staying far enough off a couple shoal and reef areas. Changing sails in the middle of the night is always a challenge! To add to the challenge, the chart we were using for this passage is an old one - 1946, and it hasn't been updated with current satellite data. That's why we had to be conservative with our navigating. We have figured out that part of what we love most about cruising is the incredible feeling we have after Esprit and her crew meet the demands of a challenging passage.
We cruised this area of the Northern Territory - the Coburg Peninsula - for a few days and then made the last 100 mile passage through the Dundas Strait, Van Diemen Gulf and Clarence Strait into Darwin - more passages with strong currents (up to 6 knots), so we once again has to time it as best we could with the tides and winds and compromise on the best ombination. The seas were calm and winds light so we motor sailed, sometimes hitting 10 knots when the currents were running at their peak. Fortunately we didn’t encounter much counter current. When we cleared Clarence Strait it was as if we went through a time warp – from calm seas to rough seas within an hour or so.
We made it safe and sound to hot and humid Darwin! The earthquakes, tsunamis, and typhoons have all been north of Australia. We pray for the people who have been affected by these natural tragedies. We arrived here last week after a few days of cruising the northern coastline of the Northern Territory. While the bays were pretty, especially Coral Bay with its island that disappeared at each high tide, the anchorages were not the best. We moved on to Popham Bay for a couple of nights, as it is a good jumping off point for Cape Don and Dundas Strait. We left Popham Bay before sunrise using our GPS track to safely exit the reefs and sandy shoals. We rounded Cape Don with currents up to 4 knots bringing our boat speed up to 10 knots at times! The seas were flat calm and winds light so we motor sailed for the first part of the trip through the Van Diemen Gulf. We timed our entrance to the Clarence Strait perfectly with the tides - again seeing 8 to 9 knots! The strait was a bit tricky to navigate because the direction of the currents change as you pass the various islands and the islands didn't look anything like what we expected from the chart. All the islands are flat and have sand spits that extend off of them causing them to change appearance depending on the tide. When we came out the other side of the strait, the winds had picked up and were on the nose, and the seas were much rougher than when we entered the strait only an hour or so before! Although we changed course three times by over sixty degrees each, the wind stayed on the nose, no matter which course we were on so we still had to motor sail the last few hours. (Remember, if you want to know which direction the wind will be blowing from just ask the crew on Esprit which way they are headed!) We arrived in Fannie Bay, Darwin, at 8:30 PM where we dropped the hook and heaved a big sigh of relief while celebrating with our traditional beer and chips (soda for Jamie of course). That night it looked as though there were only two other boats anchored in the bay; it turned out there were actually quite a few boats anchored, however, they were anchored closer to shore in shallower depths than we can anchor in. Due to the up to eight meter tides here it appears that you are anchored a long way off shore at high tide or at night. One of the Darwin marinas had a problem a few years back with the Zebra Mussle that quickly multiplies and grows over everything, so all boats are required to be checked by Fisheries before entering a marina. We contacted Fisheries in the morning to see if we needed them to inspect our hull - fortunately, for a variety of reason, we did not require an inspection and were cleared to enter the marina where we had reserved a slip (the anchorages are not very good - either rolly or shallow and tidal). We fueled up that morning and changed anchorages to be closer to the marina which we were going to enter the next morning with the high tide. After anchoring we noticed that a car had rolled from the parking lot into the bay! Divers and rescue boats were on-site within minutes and were able to get the girl out of the car and get the car out of the bay. The next morning we navigated our way up stream to the entrance of the marina where we were guided by Keith, the lockmaster, into the lock.
Katie on Esprit inside the lock as we entered Tipperary Waters Marina
Darwin has such extreme tides (up to 8 meters) that the marinas all use locks to control the water level in the marinas. Some of the marinas along the northern Queensland coast could use locks too, to help with the depth problems they have, such as we experienced in Hinchinbrook Marina. Once through the lock, we docked Esprit safely into our slip. The marina is like a bowl surrounded by houses - unfortunately it can get a bit hot and stuffy because it is so closed in. We have been exploring Darwin some while getting our typical boat chores done as well. Yesterday after church we visited their Aviation Heritage Museum where they have a B-52 bomber on display as well as many other aircraft. Learning about their WWII history has been fascinating - there is so much we don't learn about in our history classes, that we are learning as we travel the Pacific. It is nice to read in Australian history about American pilots who went up into the air against incredible odds in order to defend Darwin/Australia against Japanese attacks. These pilots are treated as heroes with memorials built in their honor. As is typical throughout Australia, Darwin has several "markets" (swapmeets) with wonderful food vendors offering foods from Europe, Asia, and Australia. The Sunday market has great crepes, and the Thursday Sunset Market offers all varieties of asian and Indian foods. Of course, the markets also have arts and crafts booths.