Our first week in Mooloolaba has been almost hectic. First thing, Don rented a local storage locker and we have been excavating our forepeak and stall shower from the mounds of stuff that have filled them these past years. Some of it will go with the boat when it is sold, some of it will get shipped home, and the rest…well, we definitely have to do some hardening of the hearts. We've got a list posted of some of the loose equipment, and hopefully we'll earn a little extra beer money from that!
It's been a surprisingly social time on top of all that. Peter had made dinner for us that first night, one of his wonderful fish curries. The next afternoon we spent almost entirely with Randy and Sheri, knowing that these good friends would be sailing onward, potentially right out of our lives, the next morning. We explored Mooloolaba's esplanade for the first time, and enjoyed an afternoon coffee at one of the dozen or so coffee bars, before making reservations for dinner. That evening we toasted the occasion with a nice meal as the full moon rose fat and orange from the black sea. Procyon was gone at first light the next morning.
We'd thought things might begin to slow down. Not hardly. Peter and Sandy invited us to go with them to a local farmer's market. Although I have been very fond of my island markets, I can't deny that it is nice to go to one with things like broccoli, avocados, patty pan squash, herbs, mushrooms, macadamia nuts, and even a stall selling assorted olives. Afterwards we went to check out Sandy's lab, and then, leaving her to work her seventh day of the week (the lab was just days away from certification), Peter took us to visit some friends of theirs who happen to have a Harley in the garage. I could see Don's pulse rate pick up, especially after Andy started it up with a rumble.
By the midday, we were back at the dock in time to assist Tricky and Jane Lionheart in coming in. Remember my last updates on the challenges of the Sandy Straits and the Wide Bay Bar? Well, Tricky and Jane, who had been off visiting Tricky's brother, finally got off from Bundaberg only to have yet another lousy weather forecast posted. So as not to get stuck in Garry's like we did, the intrepid Lionhearts made the whole trip from Midtown marina, down the Burnett River, down Hervey Bay, through the channels of the Straits, out over the bar AT NIGHT, and down the coast to Mooloolaba in about thirty hours straight! Yikes. At least they had calm conditions and motored most of the way, but they did have some unidentified something in their propulsion system "slip' while crossing Wide Bay Bar. Unsure as to whether the problem was in the transmission or the Max prop, they nursed the boat over the last leg in a state of suspense, hence our standing by in the dinghy to help them if there were a problem in maneuvering.
Wouldn't you know, just then we got a call from the broker informing us that our first two potential buyers were on their way! Panic stations. The excavated spaces had to be speed cleaned and the rest of the boat put to rights. And then they showed up EARLY! We actually had to ask them to give us an hour!
By late afternoon the sky started to grow dark and threatening to the southwest. By evening, when we met up with Tricky and Jane again for dinner at the excellent and affordable Thai restaurant, the sky was black, and an ominous frontal line like a lozenge of silver fuzz stretched from one side of the sky to the other. Neighbors warned us of the possibility of strong winds and hail (!!!), so we dropped our solar panels, furled our awnings, and zipped up the enclosure. In the end we got some doozey lightning and thunder (as well as a brief black out), but we were spared the record storm conditions that played havoc with Brisbane forty miles to the south.
It did rain. In fact, it rained a LOT over the following days, making it hard to remember the sparkling blue sky of Saturday! But even in the rain, we've been kept busy! Aussies Jim and Paula of Avior, of whom we lost track when they went home to their house ashore (where they have poor cell phone service), popped up Monday afternoon for tea which turned into an impromtu dinner as we caught up. The next day they came back for us with their son Shane and we all drove an hour south to Redcliffe where Paula's 1971 Toyota Corolla had been left sitting by their daughter after it broke down three months ago. It seems, like a few other families we could name, that it takes Dad to come home to deal with automotive crises. If we could have got it going, Jim and Paula planned to lend us the car! However, it was not the quick fix we hoped for.
The day was not lost as we turned north and swung by the Scarborough Boat Harbor at the southern tip of Deception Bay, another popular stopping-over place for cruisers. The marina there is much bigger than the Wharf and perhaps even than the Yacht Club here, and the basin is shared by commercial fishing vessels. But the area lacks the charm and the recreation options that have so pleased us here in Mooloolaba. Our friends on Whisper were in the marina as well as Procyon, plus we discovered old friends Mike and Kathleen of Content, last seen in Tonga, in the next slip over.
The criss-crossing of courses and rediscovery of old acquaintances was demonstrated quite nicely the very next day when, taking our morning power walk along the promenade, a couple was stopped in their tracks at the sight of Don's Tackless II T-shirt. They turned out to be Peter and Margaret of Suwarro, one of the two boats we uplocked with in the Panama Canal. We had first met them in Cartegena -- and it was Peter that arranged our tour of the visiting British frigate there! – plus they had noodled with us in the San Blas islands. "Just when we think there could be no more boats we know coming through, up pops another!" After the Canal, Peter and Margaret had come straight on across the Pacific in 2001, completing their circumnavigation in Mooloolaba and returning to jobs they'd left nine years before!
Peter and Margaret introduced us that night to the weekly cruiser dinner orchestrated by a gal out of the Yacht Club Marina. Several of those attending were, like Peter and Margaret, cruisers who swallowed the anchor here some time ago. However there was quite a clutch of cruisers who had crossed the whole way from Panama this year! The general tone was a lot of complaint about the rough weather they'd all encountered! Well, duh! When you push that far that fast you can't wait out the bad stuff. There is absolutely nothing about a one-year crossing that appeals to us!
Things have finally slowed down to something approaching a routine. We get up early, do our walk, maybe indulge in a coffee and newspaper on the esplanade
, and spend the rest of the day puttering around the boat, with, maybe another walk to the grocery in the afternoon. Friday we braved the bus system to explore the commercial strip outside of town lucking into a patient driver who not only explained the ticketing system, but later stopped to pick us up when he saw us walking back along the highway!
I suspect this will pretty much be our routine for the foreseeable future, depending on the economy and how many people are keen to buy a cruising boat. We have fantasies of campervan or motorcycle travel, but with the economy the way it is, they may remain just that: fantasies.
PS: Check out my feature article on 'Circumnavigating Vanua Levu: Reflections on What Cruisers Seek" in the December Issue of Latitudes & Attitudes Magazine. It came out very nicely, and believe it or not, there are actually lots of pictures! You can read it online at http://viewer.zmags.com/showmag.php?magid=112881#/page60/
Our slip is in the Wharf Marina, a small, friendly operation tucked right into the corner of town. Behind our slip is a small park, buffering the sound of traffic on the adjacent street; Underwater World, 'Queensland's largest oceanarium" is one block to the south; and a Hogsbreath Bar and Grill at the foot of our dock is part of a whole wharf of boutique stores, restaurants, dive and surf shops.
Surprisingly, the oceanfront that looked a bit forbidding on our approach has turned out to be exceptionally attractive. Starting just two blocks away, Mooloolaba's long curving beach is backed by a raised park-like boardwalk with play areas and free BBQ grills.
Well set back behind that strip is a 3-4 block-long esplanade of startlingly cosmopolitan cafes, restaurants, and shops all jumbled together in a street-level mall joining the various ten-story condo buildings. Behind that are several blocks of four and five-story condo complexes in beach colors, more shops and offices, the supermarket and, yes, a McDonald's. Everything looks fresh and modern and was, that first brilliant Saturday morning, jam-packed with people of all ages enjoying themselves. On the beach was some huge family event, having to do with the big Surf Club that anchors the end of the street. The beach and the club were packed with adorable children in bathing suits, evidently participating in swim races in the sea.
The fact that it is a seaside resort town with the above attractions means that it is crowded with people and cars on the weekends and holidays. So far the worst this means for us is the clamor of inebriated young people trying to find their ways home after the bars and clubs close down around 3am! During weekdays, it is much more laid back.
We chose Mooloolaba based on reports of cruisers in previous seasons – going way back friends aboard Maritime Express and Exit Only – as well as because several current friends were planning to be there this season. One of those friends is Peter and Sandi of Otama Song, whom we first got to know in Tonga. Earlier this season, Sandi, a lab pathologist by training, got a job offer to come back to Australia and set up a brand new independent laboratory. Sandi flew here and went to work, while Peter brought their boat to Vuda for work, renewing our friendship. Since the new lab is in nearby Buderim, berthing the boat in Mooloolaba became the obvious choice. Every morning Peter and Sandi get up at the crack of dawn to walk, swim and sip coffee by the beach. We have Peter to thank for making and holding on to our reservation at the Wharf.
A quick look at the cruising guides of Queensland and New South Wales reveals that most of the anchorages with any kind of protection along Australia's East Coast (with the exception of the Whitsunday Islands) require crossing bars, but the complication is that bars and river courses themselves are comprised of shifting sand and thereby are known to rearrange themselves seasonally and with storms. Hence the importance of Queensland's annual guidebook Beacon to Beacon as well as Australia's very extensive volunteer coast guard and marine rescue organizations who stand by the radio to provide mariners with current weather and up-to-date bar crossing waypoints and information.
Randy of Procyon, being retired USCG, acquired the latest waypoints for our exit across the infamous Wide Bay Bar (WBB) at the bottom of the Sandy Straits and opposite Tin Can Inlet. We dutifully programmed these in only to have the CG Tin Can Bay post advise him the night before to follow the leads! Given that the waypoints called for a bit of a zigzag and the leads didn't, it made for a bit of suspense.
The ideal objective at WBB is to depart several hours before high tide in order to have the most water under the keel with the remaining rising tide providing a margin of error to lift you off should you make an error. Unfortunately, this means the tide is still coming in against you, slowing progress. We raised our anchor shortly after 0600 and motored our behind Procyon with a reefed main. This was a bit early for the tide, but with 61 miles to travel, we were anxious to get started so as to arrive in Mooloolabah in daylight. I'm not sure our early start with two knots against us achieved much head start over boats that left later, closer to slack tide!
The first bit was the diciest, following reverse leads (a range lined up over your shoulder) that directed us parallel to and quite close to waves breaking over the reef right off our starboard beam. Procyon tried following the waypoints which brought him into fairly shallow water. In the end, we both more or less split the difference in the directions. And, of course, just to add spice to the morning, in come a couple of fishing trawlers with their trolling booms lowered!
The next leg required a turn to starboard over the bar itself, theoretically lined up with a white light from a beacon on shore. This is another over the shoulder lead, but instead of two range markers, this was a white light that would show through a slot when you were correctly aligned. In the bouncy conditions and uncertain of what we would actually see in the daylight, trying to find this beacon with binoculars was not fun. But of course, once on it, it was an instance of "AHA!"
Then, as the water reached its shallowest (about 24 feet--not actually all that shallow in the end!), a black squall rolled over us making following any leads a questionable effort. It is just about now, when I was below following our course on the computer navigation and checking online weather, that Don's Dad called us on Skype to see if it was a good time to chat!
All this suspense, and in the endwe got across with little issue. Once the squall rolled onward, the seas settled right down and a vista of sand cliffs, presumably a geological extension of Fraser Island, unfolded on our right hand. Anticipating a wind shift from SE to East, both we and Procyon chose to pinch our way between Double Island Point and Wolf Rock. Unfortunately, the wind – SE @ 10 knots – never did back far enough out of the southeast to let us shut the engine down for more than a few hours. So our final sail was mostly a motorsail!
Our course kept us quite close to the coastline, which, for the first half day, was surprisingly undeveloped. The sand cliffs continued, becoming green-clad bluffs, yet nary a house showed, even though we saw 4WD vehicles driving up and down the beach. Only as we passed Noosa Head did that change. Suddenly the bluffs were densely packed with upscale neighborhoods. It was also about at Noosa Head that we saw our first and only pair of whales!
The increasing urbanization had us a bit worried that we might have chosen badly our finally berthing place. As we approached Mooloolaba, we spied a long white beach backed by ten-storey high rises already cast in shadow by the lowering sun. The entrance channel (no bar to speak of) was surprisingly out on the end of a spit. It was unsettling to look ahead as we entered to see what looked like a dead end. But a hard right turn led us down the channel of the Mooloolah River which parallels the beach for a mile or so past pile berths, fishing vessel berths and various marine services on the right and a handsome canal-based neighborhood of luxury homes and docks worthy of Ft. Lauderdale on the left.
Procyon, stopping over only for a couple of nights, continued upriver a few hundred yards to the crowded anchorage. Our marina – The Wharf – was right at the corner where the river course turns inland. Our friend Peter of Otama Song was waiting to catch our lines as we entered our slip (26*41.03S; 153*07.254E).
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By the second evening, as gale warnings began to infiltrate the forecasts, the anchorage had twenty boats seeking shelter there! Amazing how big small anchorages can turn out to be, especially, of course, with local boats who come in knowing the extent of the good depths.
After a day of stripping the cockpit teak and other projects, we enjoyed a nice supper of homemade vegetable soup and settled in for a movie. We had just crawled into bed and begun to doze, when I jerked up with a shriek as cold rain drove in the aft port holes! Wind and rain are not supposed to come up the butt of anchored boats! Don leapt up to the cockpit to find that a squall had blown through bringing a 180-degree reversal to all the anchored boats. There are few things that can cause more trouble than 180-degree wind reversals like that as boat can be driven to sail right over the top of its anchor, potentially pulling it out. Friends in the Virgins Islands had gone on the reef in such a situation, so given the packed boats and the restricted area, nasty visions were dancing through our heads.
Fortunately, although there were a lot of flashing spotlights and a few boats had to re-anchor, the squall caused more tension than havoc. We sat up past midnight waiting for things to settle back down, and I'm not sure anyone ever fully relaxed again for fear of a repeat performance. In fact we did not have another. Oh, we had plenty of rain showers -- some heavy, most misty sprinkles -- and the wind managed to keep us sitting sideways to the current much of the time, making Don's teak project rather challenging. But all in all, once the wind settled into the southeast, Fraser Island gave us all plenty of protection during the five days the gale blew.
The morning after the squall we met the couple on the catamaran off our starboard side. A German couple, Goeth (sp?) and Sylvia came to offer us a ride to the beach since they had noticed our dinghy was on deck. This gave us a nice opportunity to check out the beach and take a stroll with interesting company through the piney forest on a stretch of the island's sand roads. The park signs advised us we might see dingoes, Australia's famous wild dogs, and offered advice on how to behave beginning with "leave them alone" and ending with "defend yourself assertively"! Which I presume is make yourself the alpha individual! We didn't see any dingoes. We did see no-see-ums. In the afternoon, several more boats came in to replace the several that had left. One of them was Procyon. Our second shore-side walk on Monday took us out along the drying flats beside the approach channel where we encountered armies of little crabs that clitter away from us across the sand like robot spiders before spiraling down into the sand when we get too close. Above us, two hawk/eagle types cycled from dead tree branches scanning the shoals for dinner, as well as a squawking white parrot-like bird that could be a local species or an escapee! Who knows!?
Our next few days were actually cruising at our most favorite. We mixed in boat projects, reading, writing, videos and socializing with chatting with family on Skype including a Birthday call to my sister in Vermont and a video session with Don's family including brother Greg, niece Brooke and her husband Nathan, and nephew Adam who were in Morristown with Don's parents for the sad occasion of the passing of Greg's father-in-law. As is often the case, Dick had been failing for some time, so his passing, hard as it always is, came as a release for all. We were sorry for the occasion, but happy to have to opportunity to "see" so much family that we hadn't seen in some time. We got to congratulate Brooke face to face on her pregnancy. Well, at least we thought it was face to face. We found out at the end of the half hour they hadn't been receiving our video! No one had mentioned it!
We'd been in Garry's for six nights before the weather began to ease up enough to think about poking our noses out. Larders were getting pretty thin for most of us as we had none of us imagined getting caught between ports for so long! With Internet weather available to all of us via our handy-dandy cellular broadband modems, we could not only follow the forecasts, but actually watch live data of wind speeds and radar rainfall, (invariably higher than the forecasts!) This led to as much group calculating as if we had been heading off on a major crossing. Well, with the infamous Wide Bay Bar to cross in order to get out to sea and tides to factor in, wind angle and distance to travel as we head south to Mooloolaba, there is plenty to calculate.
In the end, we raised anchor about 10:45 this morning to travel south to Inskip Point, from where one can decide whether or not to go out the Wide Bay Bar, something we are tentatively planning for tomorrow morning. Last minute decision-making had taken place over coffee and muffins aboard Whisper (which, no, folks, is not my old Whisper, but Duncan and Robin's lovely Hallberg Rassy 42!), and, in the end, Procyon and Tackless left, while Whisper stayed.
They must have known something they didn't share! Almost no sooner than we got out the gutter of Garry's anchorage than the rain returned. I built a teepee of sorts over my laptop which we needed in the cockpit for navigation down the narrow channel, especially when the rain made the ranges and marks hard to see. We had the tide with us, BUT that meant it was against the wind, which added up to choppy waves. It is a very bizarre sensation to make maybe 1.5 knots through the water, practically a standstill, yet be actually traveling 5+ over ground toward your destination! In the end, it took us just two hours to reach the Inskip anchorage (25*48S; 153*02E), and of course, the sky promptly cleared.
This very well could be our last open anchorage aboard Tackless II! Our objective tomorrow…or possibly Saturday if the wind doesn't back just a bit more out of the southeast tomorrow…is the Wharf Marina in Mooloolaba. Although it is said to be a lovely facility, it is also said to be in the midst of a tourist center. Marinas are never our first choice, but it is a necessary evil for showing the boat to prospective buyers. I guess we'll find out soon enough.
Meanwhile, a fat, buttery full moon rose over Wide Bay Bar this evening. Although the tidal currents continue to have their way with the boat with respect to the wind, we are so far sitting quite calmly. A huge shallow estuary opens to the south with the lights of boats willing to be pinned in by low tide twinkling from Pelican Anchorage. To the north are the sand bars and channels of the Sandy Straits down which we have come. To the west is Tin Can Inlet, which Avior calls home, and to the east is Wide Bay Bar. A veritable crossroads. It is a lovely spot.
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The first forty miles down Hervey Bay to the mouth of the Straits was easy sailing in open water in about 10 knots of wind just aft of the beam. However, once we passed the northern fairway beacon (25*08.41S; 152*49.57E), the trip became one of navigating carefully from beacon to beacon (or buoy to buoy), hence the name of Queensland's indispensable cruising guide. The northern section was still pretty easy going as we glided past Big Woody Island and Little Woody, places we'd thought we might stop overnight.
But it was early yet, barely noon, and we thought we could easily get further. Then came a later weather report with warnings of a trough and developing winds that would cycle right around! I swear, I have never been in a place where the weather reports change so quickly and so radically.
We had hoped to stop at Kingfisher Resort (www.kingfisherbay.com), a famous eco-resort often used by cruisers as a base for exploring Fraser Island. It has a restaurant, pool, plus rental jeeps and tours, and was a place we could have easily whiled away a few days. But not in northerlies. Of all the dozen or so anchorages shown along the western shore of Fraser Island, they are all, like Kingfisher, suitable for the prevailing easterly tradewinds only. Unfortunately the whole western edge of the straights is virtually inaccessible thanks to sand bars, shoals and mangrove islets, except where a few rivers and creeks penetrate. Most of these are not accessible for boats of any substantial draft, a major exception being the Mary River up which we could have like gone like Procyon did. But we are pretty focused on getting south to Mooloolabah where our agent has a couple of clients waiting to see the boat.
Studying the charts, we realized there were hardly any anchorages offering protection for the forecast northerlies, let alone for the westerly and southwesterly winds that would follow in the cycle back to southeast. Our best bet looked to be Bookar Island and the flooding tide helpfully accelerated our pace down the narrowing channel. However, as we looked further down the chart, we realized the channel beyond Bookar got very shallow in a short, snake-y section, and to get over THAT, we would need high tide. Since we were arriving at Bookar just before high tide, that meant high tide the next day would be an hour later, too close to sunset to lay the next and best possible anchorage – known as Garry's Anchorage – in a channel behind Stewart Island. Added to that, Bookar was already looking pretty exposed.
So, despite the already long day, we decided the prudent decision was to push on through the shallow section right then and make Garry's before sunset. We are very glad we did. The shallow section was quite shallow; we saw only 12 feet at several points and that was at high tide. Tides here regularly range up to two meters, which doesn't leave much left over. But I will say that the channel is well marked, and my electronic charts, in this case BSB charts leant to me by Jim of Avior and displayed on The CapN, were very accurate (better than CMap on MaxSea). Of course, we also had the Beacon to Beacon (which for some reason doesn't show depth!) as well as the great Queensland Maritime Safety Charts.
Also working in our favor was the fact that the effect of the tides on the Straits changes at its halfway point, Sheridan Flats, just opposite Bookar Island. In other words, the rising tide floods the straits from both ends, meeting in the middle, and likewise drains them in opposite directions. By passing Bookar and the flats at high tide, we let go the advantage of the incoming tide just in time to pick up the advantage of the outgoing tide ebbing southward! We scooted over the tricky section having wisely dropped the main, which we would have had to gybe back and forth for every twist and turn, and coasted into Garry's Anchorage about an hour before sunset.
Garry's Anchorage is a narrow semicircular channel running between Fraser Island and small, inset Stewart Island. It was not encouraging to see our friends Duncan and Robin on Whisper coming back out as we approached. According to the cruising guides, Garry's Anchorage can be entered from either the north or south opening, but Whisper had gone aground on their first try and only with luck managed to get off again before the tide went down any further! With our shallower draft (5' as opposed to 6'7"), we proceeded to give it a try. The channel was much narrower and shallower than we had imagined, but we found a spot between two power boats with about fifteen feet of water, depth enough to see us through even the full moon low tide next Wednesday if we stay that long!
After a settled night, the wind has been building as advertised. The power boats left on the early morning tide, but a number of sailboats have sought shelter in here from the building weather, including Duncan and Robin of Whisper who were willing to give it another go in the light of day. When the tide goes down, great expanses of sand flats are exposed all around us, and the wind in the trees behinds us sounds like rushing water. There are all sorts of birds around with unfamiliar calls, and the beach is littered with the debris of silvered limbs. Don is stripping the old Cetol from the cockpit teak that has looked like crap since Willie's crew pulled the tape from the paint job back in Fiji! And I, as ever, am working away on the computer.
Port Bundaberg is an enticing arrival port because, unlike many Australian ports whose approaches can be complicated by shifting river bars, the approach up the Burnett River, leading in from the protected waters of Hervey Bay, is manageable in virtually all conditions, including, as we saw, at night. It is also far enough north that yachts coming from the tropics cross in the Coral Sea, north of the unpredictable weather generated by the Tasman Sea to the south. This had weighed on our minds because a boat we had met and socialized with in Vuda Point had been lost a few months ago in bad weather a mere 150 nm outside of Brisbane. Of course, the Coral Sea route was not without its hazards. One rally boat, Hot Ice, hit a reef and had to be abandoned. Fortunately for it's crew, they were on one of the radio nets at the time, and rescue was organized expeditiously.
Aboard Tackless II, we had very mixed feelings about doing another rally, since sailing to any kind of schedule can only mean trouble, as we were reminded in our trip from Port Vila to Noumea last month. However, the Port2Port Rally takes a slightly different approach. Participants are urged to TRY to arrive within a three-day window prior to the start of the rally parties, leaving departure time up to each individual boat. The organizers provide a tremendous amount of clear, useful information by email prior to departure, run an excellent radio sked twice a day from the 18th to the 29th, but don't collect entry fees until you actually arrive. Therefore, if you don't like the weather, you simply don't come! This year most Port2Port boats left over a span of eight or ten days!
Tackless II was called from the quarantine anchorage to the quarantine dock mid-morning. This gave us plenty of time to spiff up the boat…rather like cleaning for the housekeeper! Customs and immigration were mere formalities since we had applied for visas online in advance and also had printed out the customs papers from the Internet and pre-filled them out. It is Quarantine that is the big deal in Australia. Modern day Australia is paying heavily for the past introduction of foreign species – both ignorantly and inadvertently – that have wreaked havoc with its fragile ecosystem (read Jared Diamond's book Collapse.) We are not allowed to bring in any fresh fruits or vegetables, meat, eggs, seeds, dried beans or related products, and wood and fiber crafts from the islands are a concern as well. There was a lot of suspense about what we would be allowed to keep, but it proved wise just to wait and see (beyond the very obvious), because we were allowed to keep a lot of things I'd thought they would take. In our case the officers were more worked up by some bugs they found in a bag of slivered almonds, a fluttery character that they eventually identified as a harmless warehouse moth. All in all it was a very professional and courteous entry.
In the course of the following week there were: a spaghetti night, a BBQ night, a welcome breakfast sponsored by the Bundaberg Regional council, a curry night, an afternoon BBQ sponsored by the marina, a "Beer, Prawn and Oyster" night (the marina is associated with a seafood wholesaler), a pot luck evening, and finally a fancy End of Passage dinner with yummy hors d'oeuvres and free Dark and Stormy's (a rum cocktail famously made with the locally brewed Bundaberg rum…although, since the distillery failed to provide the rum, the evening's supply was actually made with Captain Morgan dark!...Yay! More on Bundaberg rum later.) Each of these events was more than affordable and took place around eleven huge round tables in a big tent set up on the marina lawn! The cruisers mixed and mingled (we all had name tags, bless 'em) and sorted out into subgroups of new and old friends.
We had around us quite the circle of friends from the past few seasons, including, Randy and Sheri of Procyon, Tom & Bette Lee of Quantum Leap, Robin and Duncan of Whisper (who actually crossed from Mexico when we did). Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, Jan and Lee of La Boheme, and this year's buddies, Jim and Paula of Avior, among many others.
The day after our arrival, Tom and Bette Lee, who had arrived early and rented a car, conducted us into Bundaberg for our first exposure to this very pleasant Queensland town. Lonely Planet describes Bundaberg as "a country town that feels oh-so two centuries ago." I don't know about that, but to us it felt just right. Down the center of town is a wide boulevard with lanes divided by a tree-shaded parking island and intersections had been attractively bricked. We learned later that there are plenty of modern shopping malls around, but, despite them, downtown still seemed plenty healthy.
Our primary stop was the Telstra Phone store where, like most of our pals, we got a local phone, a chip for my T-Mobile GSM phone, and a cellular-broadband modem for the computer. We were quite grateful for the devalued Aussie $ when we got the total. But it sure has been money well spent, particularly the broadband modem which is so fast we can actually do video Skype!
The next day we met our yacht broker, Anita Farine, who was up from Scarborough to meet several clients. Yes, you read that correctly: Yacht Broker. It is something we have been considering almost from leaving Mexico, and in the end, with many, many mixed feelings, we have decided to put Tackless II on the market here in Australia. We have been repeatedly told there is a good market for our kind of boat here. That market was, of course, very strong up until a month ago, when the world economy went topsy-turvy and the Aussie dollar dropped from USD.95 to USD.60! This, of course, is good news for our living expenses here (especially as we all now only have half as many USDs!), but it is not good news for the boat market. If you'd like to see Tackless II's listing, you can find it at http://farine.net.au/sail/sb195/double.html . If you would like to BUY Tackless II, contact us directly ASAP at svtacklessii AT yahoo.com. (Address is written that way so spammers can scan it, but you know what to do!)
The other big highlight of the Rally week for us was the Monster Bilge Sale – the equivalent of a yard sale to landlubbers. Don and I wheeled up several cart loads of junk…er treasures…about half of which we actually sold. Can't say we made a whole lot of money, but bit by bit we are emptying out Tackless II's crammed lockers. I will say that we didn't BUY anything! Our other strategy for clearing the boat out involved several trips to the Post Office to send back some of the souvenirs we have collected.
Sightseeing in Bundaberg
Sunday morning, the rally organizers had arranged a bus to take us to the vegetable market, held on the unusually named grounds of the Shalom Catholic High School! Don gave this trip a bye, which was a shame as there was a vendor specializing in macadamia and other nuts (which he would have enjoyed!), but I managed to load up two bags full of fresh produce on my own! On the way back, the bus driver took us on a side trip to Bagara, an up-and-coming seaside resort town just south of Bundy. Very pretty, but development is opting for "high rise" (6 or so stories) condos which will milk the real estate but fast defeat the charm.
On Monday we boarded another bus for a tour of Bundaberg's two great claims to fame, its Rum Distillery and Ginger Beer Brewery.
We started at the Ginger Beer factory where is proudly brewed natural ginger beer, as well as sarsaparilla (root beer), a lemon-lime drink, an apple ale, a peach ale, and several others.
Who knew this stuff was originally brewed like beer (and still is here!)? We got to taste all the products, including the diet versions, and all the ones we remember were very tasty, especially the ginger beer and sarsaparilla, of which we carted home a six-pack. Sadly, the diet versions did nothing for us.
We wish we could be as enthusiastic about the rum. Bundaberg rum, to a Caribbean-trained palate, is quite simply vile stuff! Our guide, the Port2Port volunteer Judy, must have encountered this before with cruisers arriving from the east, because she promoted more heavily their special liqueur – "only available from the factory." The factory tour itself was a little disappointing. In fact both factory tours were actually pseudo tours, cute little displays instead of the real thing. (The real thing can be had at the rum distillery, but it wasn't on our agenda. Perhaps because it calls for closed shoes and so few cruisers have any!) But it did also end up with free tastings. Each of us got a card entitling us to two tastes. I tried the new Bundaberg Red, in hopes it would be smoother. Better, but not a winner. We all tried the liqueur, which is a blend of rum, caramel, chocolate and licorice (I think, or cloves…something exotic), and it was good enough that almost every couple bought at least one bottle. Sadly, they don't offer tastes, free or otherwise, of their two more expensive products that MIGHT have been better tasting. But then, who needs an expensive rum!
After the tours, the bus dropped us all first at Bunnings, a Home Depot-type hardware outlet, and then at a grocery store, which we pretty well besieged. Cruisers who have been in the islands for a few months kind of lose all sense of proportion when exposed to first-world markets like this. So it is probably a good thing that they didn't take us to the Woolworths, which in Australia is a huge mega-market (we went there later with friends!), because they would never have got us all out again!
Between the soda six-packs, the booze cartons and the grocery bags, the return bus was pretty loaded, but this driver, like Sunday's driver, wanted to give us a little something extra, so he drove us to the lookout atop the "Hummock." The Hummock is the closest thing Bundaberg has to a hill. Visually, it is a pimple on the very gently rolling flat cane fields, fields that look like a cross between Indiana and Fiji…in other words tidy mid-west farm fields with sugar cane and palm trees! Historically, the Hummock is actually a very ancient volcano, responsible for all the rich soil hereabouts, and as you might guess is densely built up with houses in search of the only "view" in town!
The Port2Port week finally wound down on Tuesday and boats began taking off. Avior, back in their home cruising grounds, took off early for a rendezvous with friends at Lady Musgrave, a coral atoll about 100kms north that is the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef. Quantum Leap headed out for Mooloolaba, which is our eventual destination, where they will store the boat and head home. Procyon, who plans to explore as far south as Tasmania over the summer, got a jump on us by sailing south on Tuesday for the Sandy Straits where they have ended up exploring up the Mary River. It doesn't take long for the gang to disperse!
Saddled with two more paid-for days in the marina, we hung on a bit longer. Our reward was a ride up the Burnett River with Tricky and Jane aboard Lionheart. Rivers are quintessential Aussie experiences. This one wound about four miles inland through mangroves and cane fields to the Midtown Marina and mooring field right in the heart of Bundaberg proper before being blocked by a bridge and railroad trestle. Tricky did a great job following the beacons up the river course. That it was a tricky route was attested to by our passing one of the rally boats stuck fast in a shoal area! (We sent the marina guys back for them!) With Lionheart moored bow and stern in the middle of the river, Tricky and Jane will do their own dispersing, taking off for a week visiting Tricky's brother in Rockhampton, about three hours north. Tricky and Jane (or "the kids" as we call them!) plan to go back to work for several years to build up a world cruising kitty. It had looked like they might be based with us in Mooloolaba as Tricky plans to become a catamaran sales agent, but recently it's been sounding more like Brisbane might be where they tie up.
Tuesday, the day we rode on Lionheart was a very big day in Australia. Yes, yes, it was a very big day in the USA as well, only the elections wouldn't even get going for several hours yet. But here in Australia, Tuesday the 4th was Melbourne Cup Day! Melbourne Cup Day is said to rank second in importance to Christmas on the Aussie calendar, and while it is not actually a holiday, "no one works." Instead they dress up, including fancy hats, and find themselves a Melbourne Cup Party. Presumably, in Melbourne they actually go to the Melbourne Cup! What is the Melbourne cup? It is a horse race on par with the Kentucky Derby.
We did not actually get to a party, but we did lunch at a pub in town that was making a deal of the race. We had to eat on the sidewalk as all the tables were reserved, but Don and I did nip in at race time to watch the race itself. It loses just a little when you have no clue which horse is which, but it was a huge field, maybe eighteen or twenty! And the track was grass! With such a huge field, the race was very exciting (seemed long, too!) and the finish came down to the leader being caught by a charging grey. It was a nose to nose photo finish, and I sure saw nothing to distinguish which was the winner! Wow. It almost makes up for not having seen a kangaroo yet. (We've been walking early; I guess we need to walk late!)
The American Elections
The American elections dominated hearts and minds and TV sets on Wednesday. Duncan and Robin of Whisper staked out a table for the day in Baltimore's, the very nice restaurant at the marina, and watched the returns come in over a long bottle of white wine. We checked in on Yahoo now and again and stuck our noses into Baltimore's each time we passed. By early afternoon, it was a done deal, so we had Duncan and Robin to Tackless for a evening celebration to toast our new president -- CONGRATULATIONS, OBAMA! And congratulations America, on making a choice for change!
So, here we are. It is Thursday evening, the 6th of November. We have backed off the dock and are anchored not too far from where we were our first night. Tomorrow, we start our trip south through Hervey Bay and the Sandy Straits., a sinuous braid of sand banks and navigable channels squeezed between Frasier Island and the Queensland coast. Piled around me are charts, the Beacon to Beacon guidebook, Alan Lucas' Coral Coast Cruising Guide, lists of way points and bearings, and routes on two electronic charting programs. Leaving a marina is always traumatic!