Travels

Full Circle

It’s been exactly a year since I left Seattle on Idefix. After a rough trip down the coast, my second Singlehanded Transpac, a month in Hawaii with family and friends, crossing the equator, cruising the South Pacific Islands, sailing the East coast of Australia, five months in Sydney, plenty of buoy and offshore racing, and two weeks of traveling around Vietnam, I’m back in Seattle. It’s kind of felt like one of those years that’s been more eventful than the past ten combined. To keep things interesting, I’ve made the decision to make my thirties the most awesome decade of my life, and things are going well so far (to kick things off I spent my birthday riding a motorcycle through the central highlands of Vietnam).

I plan to spend the summer reconnecting with old friends, making new ones, and looking for opportunities to do interesting things. I might even get to use my degree in aerospace engineering! Of course there will be plenty of sailing. For starters, I’ve been invited to do the Chicago-Mackinac race, which has been on my radar for a long time (a 290 mile race – on a lake!). And I get to do it on an Olson 30… The start is July 13th.

Meanwhile, the Bermuda 1-2 race starts tomorrow in Newport, Connecticut. SHTP veteran John Lubimir will be on the starting line with his trusty Flight Risk. Go Flight Risk!

Still in Sydney

A bushfire sets the horizon aglow.

A bushfire sets the horizon aglow near Newport.

As always when we get someplace new, we’ve been pretty busy. I’ve been cleaning up the boat, disposing of much of the cruising gear, and have put her up for sale. Our friends the Taits have kindly invited us to stay with them for a while in the Northern Beaches, so we’ve been adapting to life on land at the antipodes. We’ve enjoyed a lot of the sights of Sydney: opera house, museums, restaurants, nightlife, driving on the left, bush fires and the occasional forty-five degree (celsius) heat. The one thing that constantly eludes us is still the kangaroo!

Wallace and Gromit museum exhibit!

But not Wallace and Gromit!

A New Year in Sydney

Please remain seated until the boat comes to a complete stop.

Please remain seated until the boat comes to a complete stop.

On a whim, we decided to leave Pittwater for Sydney on New Year’s Eve. After only a couple hours’ sail we entered the harbour, a zoo of sailboats, motor boats, ferries, jet boats, dinghies, floatplanes, kayaks, and a cruise ship with attending tugs and security boats. As the famous opera house and harbour bridge came into view, we sailed past huge mooring fields of boats waiting for the pyrotechnic display of the evening. We’d decided to keep away from the stress of that mess and took a turn into the quiet of Blackwattle Bay, seemingly one of the only places in all the nooks and crannies of Port Jackson where a boat can actually anchor.

In the afternoon we went ashore at the Sydney Fish Market and fought our way through a busy crowd of tourists, diners and shoppers onto the city streets. After a bit of provisioning, the shadows grew long and the streets became more and more deserted. We came to the scenic part of town and the roadblocks and people in neon vests with loudspeakers shepherding the crowds made it seem as if some apocalyptic event had happened. But it was only preparation for the New Years Eve fireworks. Most vantage points on the harbour had been closed off because of overcrowding, so we had to backtrack towards Observatory Point, on a hill in the middle of town. We found a spot in the grass and waited amidst a growing crowd.

At some point during the final hours of a given year, I usually get a bit of a nervous twinge, a combination of melancholy at the memories of past events, regrets for missed opportunities, shame for past mistakes, and sadness for the general insignificance of human life in the constant flow of time. But lying in the grass, in my t-shirt and shorts on a warm summer evening, it was hard not to feel slightly happy at the passing of another year. Maybe it’s easier to feel melancholic in the wet cold of a Seattle winter’s night, or maybe the last six months have just made me feel like the future is full of adventure and opportunities…

Happy 2013!

Happy 2013!

New South Wales

After scrubbing some of the barnacles off the hull, we exited the Gold Coast Seaway at high tide, set our #3 jib and full main, and started reaching down the coast. Soon the skyscrapers on the beach gave way to rolling hills, and the reach turned to a run. We quickly entered the East Australian Current, and our speed started climbing up into the double digits. As the night fell, we started seeing a lot of freighter traffic, often headed straight for us. Around two in the morning we passed Coffs Harbour. This was supposed to be our initial port of entry into Australia, but weather and an autopilot failure forced us to go to Bundaberg instead. Little did I know it would take us a month to get here! Since it was dark, and we were still averaging 11 knots, I kept us pointed South towards Port Macquarie, seventy miles away. Unfortunately, we were only half way there when, shortly after sunrise, the 20-knot tailwind faltered and was immediately replaced by a 20-knot headwind. I quickly reefed the main, but within minutes, we were violently bashing through steep waves, overpowered with our big jib. Unwilling to backtrack 35 miles to Coffs Harbour, I pointed the boat at the shore and an hour later we were in the relative shelter of Trial Bay, where we anchored. As the bay is completely exposed to the North, we would have to leave as soon as the Northerlies returned. But we managed to spend two relatively tranquil nights there nevertheless before getting back on the southward-bound conveyor belt. After a couple miles the current left us and we entered Port Stephens in darkness, groped around in the black night, and (with quite a bit of luck) stumbled onto a free public mooring. We spent a couple days with our necks craned up in the air looking for koalas (unsuccessfully), before heading out towards Pittwater, 70 miles distant, where we were expected for Christmas. This time there was no current at all, and the wind was lighter than forecast, so I hoisted the spinnaker, for the first time since the run between Fiji and Nouméa. It was a good broad reach in sunny weather, and I hung to the tiller all day in a building breeze, savoring what I figured will probably be my last spinnaker ride on Idefix. With our late departure, we managed another night-time arrival in Pittwater and found a decent spot to anchor before moving over to the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club. We spent a wonderful Aussie Christmas (uncommonly cold at about 24C) with friends of friends, and the little time that we haven’t spent with them, we’ve been cleaning the boat up in order to put her up for sale.

Shifting Sands

Our passage through the Great Sandy Strait needed to be quite quick, as I wanted to take advantage of the light swell and northerly winds to get out the Wide Bay Bar and down to Brisbane. However, navigating the twenty miles of shallows, sand banks and currents still took us a full day, and the mud brought us to a stop once, only a quarter mile from our anchorage. Thankfully We were only stuck for long enough to get the engine down and in reverse, and it was no trouble to find another, deeper channel. Our crossing of the bar the next morning was no trouble in the light conditions, and the northerlies blowing down the coast pushed us fast enough to get into Moreton Bay around midnight, far enough ahead of schedule to anchor for a bit of sleep. We then crossed the shallow Bay, entered the Brisbane River, and started the 17-mile trip up the winding river into the city itself. We anchored near Gardens Point, in the heart of the city, frighteningly close to a concrete wall and pilings, and set two anchors to keep us from swinging too much in the back-and-forth tidal currents.

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The view from Gardens Point.

It was rather pleasant to be in the center of a big city, although we had to walk quite a ways to locate some showers. After a couple days of enjoying river scenery and the bustle of a big city, we set out again across Moreton Bay, and into the shallows at the Southern end of the Bay, reminiscent of the Great Sandy Strait. Here we found lots of mosquitoes and sand dunes, and managed to get stuck in the mud and sand a couple times again, never so deeply that we couldn’t extricate ourselves from it immediately. We’re now in the Gold Coast, a beach-city of hotels, condos and shopping malls, waiting for the southeasterly winds to switch to northerlies and the swell to die down a bit (the surfers must be enjoying themselves) so we can pass the bar and get South.

Up the Burnett River

With our customs paperwork filed, we decided it was time to get on the move again. Over the past few months, we’ve learned it’s never good to stay too long in one place, especially when you’re paying for a marina slip. Since we still weren’t allowed to exit the Port of Bundaberg until the customs authorities cleared us, there wasn’t much choice on where to go except up the river. It was getting a little late by the time we got underway, and the tide was well on its way down for our slow motor up the river. The crawling pace was fine by me, as the river is quite shallow and if there was going to be any touching bottom, I’d rather do it at a snail’s pace! We watched the flat scenery unfurl with each meander of the river, studded with man-made landmarks: the sugar hangars and loading dock, with their adjoining molasses tanks, a little cable ferry, some boats anchored here and there in the reaches of the river. Some wildlife, too: ibis, pelicans, cranes, eagles, some sort of eel, or perhaps a lungfish, and many jellyfish the size of basketballs. Unfortunately, our timing was such that we reached the shallowest part of the river at the bottom of the tide, and sure enough Idefix slowly squeaked to a stop in the mud. I put the engine in reverse and she came back out easily, aided by the current; I tried a different approach, with the same results. Out of options, we drifted back downriver and anchored in a wide reach to have lunch and wait for the flood. Three hours later my leadline showed the water had risen two and a half feet and we weighed anchor, and made it all the way to town, arriving shortly before sunset. With the boat finally imported and two of our autopilot drives fixed, we are now ready to sail south towards the Great Sandy Strait

Unfortunately the cable I wired for the SSB modem seems to have given up the ghost, so we have to sail up to a cell tower to get email on the boat.

A night at the beach

Our first week in Australia is passing quickly, with still no roo sighting. A bit of progress has been made with importing Idefix into Australia so she can be sold, but it looks like we might have to wait a while to get an autopilot drive fixed so we can sail the 650 miles to Sydney. We celebrated Thanksgiving (complete with Turkey and stuffing) with our new friends Dennis and Virginia of Libertad, and Brian and Juliet of Seawings.

Last night found us all on the windy beach of the Mon Repos turtle rookery, watching a loggerhead turtle lay her eggs under a quarter moon. The resident naturalist (or was he a herpetologist?) declared that the lazy thirty-year-old (a reptile after my own heart) couldn’t be bothered to dig her nest above the high-water line and her eggs were doomed to die, so we were engaged to help transfer the little ping-pong balls to a suitable place. All in all an interesting evening, which ended at almost two in the morning.

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