LINKS FOR THE YEAR 2002
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Log for the week of July 8, 2002 Cairns "Cans" Australia, by PS
This week was a mix of high winds, no winds, good anchorages, not so good anchorages, good books and bad plumbing. Variety prevailed.
Monday, at midnight, I was on watch for our passage from Upstart Bay to Townsville. We were a few miles off the mainland and I could see several large fires raging in the hills. Aborigines were burning brush, as they have for centuries. The fires looked like glowing cauldrons of lava, shooting ash and cinders high into the air.
We arrived at Townsville just after sunrise and had to wait for the tide. Amy called the marina and they informed us to wait till 11AM before trying to come up the channel. With our 7-foot draft, the best they could offer was "Good Luck." We sailed around outside the harbor in the light morning "Land Breeze" taking in the sites. (More about the "land breeze" later.) South of Ross Creek was a large cargo wharf, along with a small fishing fleet. To the north was the marina, behind a man made breakwater and a half-mile long dredged channel. This was the "Good Luck" part of our radio conversation. There were a few high rise hotels standing tall against the hills, but there was also a nice promenade park along most of the waterfront.
At the appointed hour, I timidly approached the channel. Conditions were ideal, as there was absolutely no wind and the tide was rising. Using my technique of purposely-steering port and starboard, we were able to stay in the deep water. All seven and one-half feet of it! We tied up to the gas dock and topped off the diesel tank and got our LP gas tank filled. The Queenslander that ran the fuel dock was a dead ringer for Crocodile Dundee. I had forgotten how the New South Wales Aussies warned us about the Queenslanders. "They are a bit different." we were told.
As we were getting ready to head to our berth, a tall, quite spoken man approached Iwalani and asked if she was a George Buehler design. While I had done my best to make some major modifications, she obviously still has that Buehler look to her. I admitted it was so and he offered to help us tie up to our slip. We gratefully accepted, as a crosswind had developed and we have yet to install a bow thruster.
We struck up an immediate friendship with Graham Cox, a transplanted South African. People that have gone out of their way to see Iwalani have always turned into our best friends. Graham joins a handful of people we could never spend too much time with. Our conversations ranged from sailing around South Africa to books about the early small boat sailors.
Our business in town kept us at the marina for two days. The Spectra watermaker had developed a new leak in the Clark Pump end caps similar to the leaks in the membrane housing. I was wondering about my ability as a plumber when the membrane ends cracked, fearing that I had tightened the fittings excessively. Well, the Clark Pump fittings were put on at the factory! Plastic really isn't all it's cracked up to be. (Sorry about the pun.) Amy called Mike at AMI and he said he would ship us new end caps to Cairns.
We walked to town and were impressed with some of the nicest architecture we had seen in all of Australia. Brick and stone buildings were mixed with two story storefronts with balconies and cast iron railings. While the town seemed asleep, with empty stores and others in a state of suspended animation, everything we needed was within easy walking distance.
Before we left, we visited Graham at his boat and reminisced about the early voyagers. No where on this trip did I think I could mention the name Dennis Puleston and have someone say "Blue Water Vagabond". Graham had read many of the same books we had. He brought a few on deck, with the reverence of someone holding the kings crown on a velvet pillow. Original editions and signed copies of some of the best small boat literature ever written. We lamented that so many cruisers today don't have a clue who their predecessors were.
We took our leave, Wednesday afternoon, on the rising tide and headed to Magnetic Island, ten miles to the north. We anchored off the northeast corner after dark and took advantage of the protection from the light easterly sea breeze. While the Coral Coast cruising guide covers anchorages for the trade winds, it doesn't help for the weather pattern we were in. With a weak, slow moving high to our south, the land breeze/sea breeze was in full control. This meant a light east to northeast breeze after 12 noon and a southwest breeze after midnight. It's tough to find good anchorages under these conditions. Luckily the breeze was light. Even with a fetch of several miles, you weren't likely to drag onto a lee shore. It did make sleeping a bit difficult though.
With all the bobbing around, we got an early start for Palm Island on Thursday. Palm supports a major Aboriginal community. We arrived just before dark and were greeted with the sounds of trucks racing up and down the only road and children laughing in the schoolyard. Loud contemporary rock and roll drifted by on the last of the sea breeze.
Then came the land breeze. Aggg. Without a break for over 10 miles, the five-knot breeze kicked up a bit of a chop. Another early start and we were off to Hitchenbrook Island. We motor-sailed to cover the forty miles in daylight. We were headed to the trade-wind anchorage, but after Amy found out about the resort she had other ideas. Gee, and I thought I could sip some margaritas at the bar.
She picked out Shepherd Bay five miles short of the resort. A catamaran that had been headed to the resort, turned around and came miles out of their way to anchor near us. I muttered about the blight on the seascape. I'm going to need a brain transplant to appreciate the rakish look of some catamarans.
For a change, we were in the lee of the annoying land breeze and slept in. We decided against a morning trip to the beach, as it seemed to be covered with kayaks. Resort guests no doubt. Because there was no wind, we decided to take a short motor trip to Goold Island.
By the time we got the boat settled and had lunch, the kayakers had caught up. Oh well. We headed in with the outboard and were soon walking the dinghy to shore. The bottom sucked the sandals off our feet and we were obliged to walk bare-foot. Luckily, it was too shallow for any stonefish or stingrays.
The island is a National Park. There was a good trail inland and we looked forward to getting some exercise. Goold Island was covered in rainforest vegetation, although everything was quite dry. Even the swimming hole we passed was dried up. As we got deeper inland, we heard more birds and stirrings in the undergrowth. Having seen lizard like tracks on the beach on Hitchinbrook island, I was keen to get a look at one. Thanks to Amy's keen eyes, we saw one climbing a nearby tree. The trail eventually petered out and we dared not get too deep in the wilds with just jellies on our feet.
Sunday, the dreaded land breeze kicked in at one in the morning and Amy was tempted to raise anchor and continue north. I prevailed on her to try and relax, as our daylight arrival in Cairns meant we would have to wait till mid-morning to leave. The trade winds were finally due and it promised to be a fast passage. It was. Too fast. Amongst twenty-five knot winds, six-foot seas, oncoming boats that did answer our radio calls, oncoming boats that didn't answer our radio calls and fouled peak halyards, there wasn't a minute to be bored.
We came roaring in behind Cape Grafton at one in the morning, with the wind generator putting out 30 amps. Because I don't care to enter strange ports in the dark, we took refuge behind the cape as best we could. The water was so shallow we had to stay over a mile from shore. With a short steep chop in the bay and the seas refracting around the headland, it was a tenuous anchorage at best. Sort of like being between a rock and a hard place. We rested,(not slept), until first light.
Well, I don't want to cut into Amy's week so I'll leave it there. PS
Log for the week of July 14, 2002 Cairns Australia by APW
We anchored in the "lee" of Cape Grafton, just east of Cairns, which glowed like a monochromatic Christmas tree from the sweeping garlands of aboriginal fires. Smoke drifted down over Iwalani in a pleasant sort of way. Its smell made us hungry. I had to make scrambled eggs and bacon, to quiet our grumbling stomachs, before we could finally fall asleep at 2 a.m. The next morning there wasn't any evidence of the fires that festooned the hillside. The trees were still standing, the birds were all singing, it was as if it had been in our imagination. The ash on the deck proved otherwise.
This is one of the great on going controversies in Australia. The aborigines have been doing controlled burning for forty thousand years. In New South Wales, there are few aborigines, little controlled burning and a lot of bush fires. I am told the climate is different, that is why there are more fires there. The "firees" want to do controlled burning, the "greenies" are against it and the government says that more studies need to be done. I'll stay out of it.
After a morning spent dawdling with small repairs, we headed into the big city of Cairns. We headed up the river and much to my delight, found a spot to anchor opposite the Australian Navy dry dock facility, which seemed as safe a place as any. Cairns was settled in 1876 as a gold mining town, that never panned out until the hordes of tourists started arriving twenty years ago. Today's gold jingles in the pockets of the thousands of tourists which arrive at this city. Because the city is relatively young, developers haven't had a lot of time to muck it up- but they are working on it. Mountains surround the environs, but they stay at arms length- so one distant peak looks like the next. The high rise hotels similarly look alike. There are no tall landmarks with which to get oriented. The town streets are not laid out North-South/East-West, but instead, point off at odd angles. This is the first place on this planet that my usually uncanny, keen, always to be trusted, never incorrect-sense of direction appears to be totally disoriented. It's as if there is a giant piece of magnetic ore under the city streets, confounding my internal compass. Each time we head into town I feel like I am playing the piñata game at a birthday party. I whack my way around town like a blindfolded person, trying to find the only grocery store hidden amongst an industrial complex devoted entirely to tourism. Street maps only compound the problem. I know there is a Woolworth's supermarket somewhere not very far from the yacht club dinghy beach, but I must bushwhack around reef tour booking agents, hand painted T-shirt emporiums, authentic didgeridoo stores, genuine opal jewelry showrooms, limited edition stuffed koala (made in China) shops, official "driz-a-bone" raincoat stores- it's a jungle! And, its only made more difficult by the fact that each koala store, driz-a-bone store, opal jewelry store, didgeridoo store and T-shirt shop looks exactly like the one next to it. Who said modern day hunting/gathering was easy?
Tuesday we picked up the valve springs for the engine at the yacht club. We opened the package only to find that Westerbeke had sent half a set, but had included four smaller inner spring's which our engine didn't need. We headed back to the boat and spent the following day working on the engine, after calling the US (late at night for us, 8am for them) in order to discuss the part situation. As a yachting woman, there are two ways to live one's life. Woman number one will be lying aft just barely in the sun, on a comfortable chair, making a list and examining her nails, meanwhile contemplating which type of pasta would be preferable with the evening's dinner. On her list will be a note to remind her husband to call the mechanic to get the engine repaired. Woman number two is down in the engine room, with just underwear on because, clothing at this point is a.)irrelevent,b.)superfluous,c.)extraneous d.)all of the above- holding on to a magnetic tipped screwdriver in one hand and a small hemostat in the other, while trying to grab the not quite yet loosened valve keeper, as her husband pushes down on the valve spring, with a piece of aluminum bar stock, using two slippery deep sockets as levers. I do not need to tell you which one I became and which one I wished I was. I actually do not mind getting really grubby doing mechanical work because we have a hot shower on board.
After four hours of hot, greasy work, I discovered that Phil's engine room language really does help. And the more bible-blushing the cursing, the better things go. We tried to outdo each other's flowery expletives. I will be able to swear better than a stevedore by the time we get home. We ended up with four w-----faced, mother-f-----, broken springs, all of which were snapped off in identical spots, which Westerbeke correctly said was after the first turn. I saw no corrosion, but we decided the springs broke a long time ago, when the water pump went, way back when. This allowed corrosive water into parts of the engine better left alone. We placed the new small inner springs inside the four remaining unbroken springs, at Westerbeke's suggestion. Unfortunately, we did not take out the glow plugs and when I hand cranked the fly-wheel, (with the aid of a lever) in order to get the pistons at top-dead-center- the increase in pressure may have blown out the head gasket. We are keeping a close eye on the antifreeze level, we do have a spare head gasket, should this surgery be necessary.
After one day spent in the tourist part of downtown Cairns, Phil and I took the dinghy up Smith's Creek to the Industrial part of town. I can't actually say it was a vast improvement over the tourist section, but it sure beat a hot day in the engine room. Cairns is built on the West Side of the northward flowing river, behind hungry catamarans tied to the wharves anxiously waiting to take pale seasick snorkelers out to the Great Barrier Reef. Yachts (foreign and domestic) cling to the mangroves lining the eastern shore, anchored or tied to pilings of dubious durability. The tourist section gives way to the Navy, yachts give way to the faded dreams of retired passage makers and these ghosts finally give way to the swamps. We encountered a nautical assemblage of various hardware store sale parts, fashioned together haphazardly, resembling nothing remotely seaworthy. These craft were treading water with varying degrees of success- most succumbing to a gentle snooze broadside in the muck, or nose first in the mangroves, or sadder still, the gray faded nautical remains of a cyclone sneezed vessel deep in the mangrove interiors. It is a "floating" ghetto.
The mangroves, in the fading light of day, left a sinister feeling in the air. Their circulatory parts lay exposed to the casual observer like a half completed autopsy. Branches and root system twisting and tortuous- equal parts above and below the waterline, with the remains of pastel colored shopping bags hanging in the branches like tattered hospital gowns. Popping sounds came from deep within, like a loud tap on a hollow bone. Mangroves have long been the bane of humanity- muck and mud, mosquitoes and crocodiles. When man looks at mangrove swamps, he automatically thinks of backhoes. Surprisingly, Cairns has left a lot of theirs alone. We took the dinghy and ventured off in search of the salt water crocodile. In the Australian winter the crocs are less active, preferring to climb up on the mud banks for an early morning heat soak. During the heat of summer, they have been known to cruise out to the public beaches and terrorize the bathers. Usually the beaches are closed at the first sight of a croc, which seems difficult to do, as the water, heavy with river silt, is rather like pea soup.
We heard the final broadcast of the Australian antiquated weather system, given just twice a day. The broadcaster was definitely choked up as he spoke about the history of weather and safety radio and the important part it played in Australia's development. And then he said, "This is Townsville Radio-Out." It was kind of sad. I am sorry that these people lost their jobs- but I am not sorry that the weather is now broadcast every four hours. The weather forcast (now broadcast every four hours) is automated and they have a much better sounding computer voice than the U.S.'s Stephen Hawking voice. Broadcast frequency and times are given at www.bom.gov.au.
With the engine hopefully repaired, the watermaker fixed, the toilet still awaiting the surgeon, the pantry full, and no doppler blood pressure instruments anywhere to check Stewart's blood pressure, we are as ready as we can be, to continue over the top and into the Indian Ocean.
On some days Stewart seems to cling to life with a clothespin. I refrain from purchasing more food, cat litter or what have you- and then the next day after I have cancelled restocking the bilge with cat supplies, he rallies- cruising around with his outboard motor in high gear, wondering what all the fuss is about and where the spare computers are. Thanks M.A for your invaluable support. Thanks Rick and Jaime for getting the valve springs here- right when we were ready for them. Internet connections may be patchy from here on out for awhile…as a result the logs may get posted at odd intervals- Mother's don't panic. APW
Log for the week of July 21,2002 Flinders Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia by PS
We left Cairns on Monday morning, after a final search for the elusive saltwater croc. Despite all our dinghy trips up winding, narrow creeks in the Grape, we didn't see any sign of them. Sort of like our hunt for roos. Maybe we should have checked out the local model boat club. (We found the roos at the local model airplane flying field). Some people would say we are lucky, I guess.
We did see a flying boat though. Half-plane, half boat, it looked like a seagull with broken wings. While I never did see it "fly", we did overhear a VHF radio conversation. Flying boat pilot "This is sea-flight on approach." Anonymous cat ferry captain "I know. We are hiding behind the wharf." Apparently, even the high tech cat captains were afraid of it.
A flying boat "flies" on ground effect, a cushion of air under the wings holding just a few feet above the surface. It doesn't have enough power to actually fly any higher, but it does have the advantage of high-speed travel (80 knots) over the water. No bouncing through the waves or rolling with the seas. I wonder if you need both a captain's license and a pilot's license to operate it?
We decided to stop at the Low Islets for the night. The cruising guide said that the next stretch of Queensland coast was exceptionally pretty, so we wanted to pass it during daylight hours. We arrived at sunset, after motor-sailing most of the day. The weather was benign because of a weak high to the south of us. Several fishing trawlers were anchored behind the lighthouse. We chose to anchor in closer to shore, along with several other sailboats. They varied from high tech racing machines to a junk that was chartering guests for the day. Northern Light was also there. She is a beautiful Colin Archer type. We had first seen her in the Whitsunday's. We didn't launch our dinghy, as we were planning to head out first thing in the morning, but I hope to meet her owners somewhere down the way.
Lizard Island was our next stop. One hundred and twenty miles to the north, we figured it would take us twenty-four hours. As someone once said "All the plans of mice and men go for naught". A new high-pressure system was building over New South Wales and a ridge worked its way up the Queensland coast. This meant strong winds of 20 to 30 knots. By nightfall, we were sailing with a double reefed main and jib and averaging eight knots. Not bad for an old "Gaffer".
With C-Map going on the computer and the radar on, we were able to comfortably navigate the reefs and shoals of the Great Barrier Reef. The seas were building to a nasty, steep chop though, with two-meter seas breaking all around us. Amy said the inside of the GBR was like the Chesapeake Bay on steroids. Making anchorage at night always puts me on edge. "Hours of boredom with minutes of sheer terror." is how some airplane pilots describe coming in to land after a long cross-country trip. Under these conditions, I had no problem staying awake.
As we rounded Lizard Island at 2 am, I saw a small cruise ship in Watson's Bay. You can always recognize them because they are lit up like a city. Because of this, you can rarely see their navigation lights. I called them on the VHF to find out if they were underway or at anchor. A polite Aussie voice came back "Our anchors are down." I thanked him for the information and pictured a bored crewmember, on anchor watch, returning to his game of solitaire.
The wind was coming over the hills of Lizard with gusts to 40 knots. Even with only a 2-foot chop in the harbor, it was all I could do to keep Iwalani pointed into the wind. We dropped anchor outside the small group of boats, about a half-mile from shore. I was not about to thread my way in any closer, at night, in weather like this.
Morning found the wind still screaming over the hills. We motivated ourselves to launch the Grape and splash our way to shore. Launching the Grape in a strong wind is a bit tricky. We lift it by the bow and the wind catches it like poorly designed kite. A one hundred and thirty pound kite at that!
Lizard Islands history dates back to Captain Cook. It was from here, in 1770, that he sought a vantage point from which to plan his escape of the GBR. Cook had spent the previous three months repairing Endeavour, after striking a reef under full sail, at night. Unfortunately for him, he didn't have C-Map and radar.
In 1880, the Watson family moved to the island. Mr. Watson used Lizard Island as a base for his sea-slug fishing. While he was away on a fishing trip to the north, one of the Chinese servants disappeared. The Aborigines kept Mrs. Watson, her newborn baby and her remaining servant under close watch. They eventually speared the remaining servant, twice, before he was able to get back to the house and under cover of Mrs. Watson's gun. He survived his wounds and the three left the island in a large sea-slug-boiling tub, which drifted at the mercy of the trade winds. They eventually landed on Watson's Island. It was here that their remains were found by a crewmember of a trading schooner a few months later.
Unlike the hostile environment that Mrs. Watson faced, we landed on a beach covered with tourists and suntan oil. (The cruise ship was still in the harbor.) Heading inland and away from the crowds, we hiked a relatively flat trail across the island. Here we encountered the island's namesake. A lizard, or more correctly a goanna. I was lucky to get a picture. They obviously hadn't been made into a tamed tourist attraction, yet.
We returned to Iwalani late in the day and I decided that we should check out the reef with our snorkel gear. Amy was not that keen, as it was cold and raining at the time. I said "But you are going to get wet anyway." She finally relented and it was a good thing she did. Once under water we were treated to the best snorkeling of the GBR. Lots of live coral, colorful fish, our first siting of a cuttle fish and giant clams. When I say giant clams, I mean GIANT. Like the ones you would see on the old TV Show Sea Hunt, six feet across, with Lloyd Bridge's franticly trying to free the leg of an unsuspecting diver.
Friday was a lay day, as the winds were again predicted to be in the 20 to 30 knot range. Amy decided it was time to operate on Arnold (her computer). I had written him off after spending hours trying to make his mouse behave. I cleared the nav station for her operating theater and played the role of nurse. She changed the hard drive, to no avail. This ruled out a software problem. Next, she cleaned the contacts of the mouse buttons. Much like cleaning the underside of the touch pad on your pushbutton telephone. Didn't help. Next, she put small pieces of paper between the contacts in hopes of eliminating a short circuit. No joy, as the Aussies would say. Ah, what to do next? With my experience on Danza's computer, I had an idea. Danza's IBM ThinkPad would not pass POST (Power on self-test) because of a faulty keyboard. Could we remove Arnold's keyboard and still have it get past POST? Voila! With an external keyboard plugged into the OS/2 port and her USB drawing tablet as a mouse control, we could finally show Arnold who was boss. His latest configuration has earned him the new nickname "Arnoldstein." Kind of like Frankenstein, with guts exposed, assorted appendages sticking out here and there and various cables plugged in to make him function. Amy's happy as a clam. (Where did that expression ever come from?)
We went ashore in the afternoon and met Northern Light's crew, Deborah Shapiro and Rolf Bjelke. They invited us to tea/coffee on there boat and we were fortunate to spend time with these famous ocean travelers. Rolf and Deborah have been sailing Northern Light to various points on the globe, including Antarctica (where they spent the winter season frozen in the ice, twice). I am sure that I have seen their travels described in National Geographic. Over espresso and homemade brownies, we discussed sailing to South Africa across the Indian Ocean and long distance cruising in general. Deborah and Rolf have now joined our handful of cruising friends we look forward to meeting again someday.
With rain and 30 knot winds, we pulled up anchor on Saturday and sailed the 70 miles to Cape Melville. With three reefs in the mainsail and just the jib for a headsail, we raced to the north once again at 8 knots. We arrived at 9 PM to an even rougher anchorage then Watson's Bay. Take it from me, most capes offer little in the way of an "anchorage". A half-mile out from shore, (because of our 7-foot draft) we laid out all 300 feet of anchor chain and our 65 pound CQR. The winds did ease a bit during the night, so we were able to get some rest. At sunrise, with the bow pitching in the 3-foot chop, I went on deck to find out what all the fuss was about. Seeing brown discolored water where our anchor was supposed to be, the shoreline looking even further away then when we first anchored and Iwalani swinging her bow broad-side to the wind, you needn't be a rocket scientist to know "Houston, we have a problem."
I yelled over the howling wind to Amy to get up on deck. With Iwalani's fore deck pitching like a mad horse and the engine doing it's best to take the strain off the anchor windless, we managed to get all our chain and anchor back aboard. We had been dragging with such ferocity that the galvanizing was polished to a mirror finish. You could literally see yourself on the plow of the anchor. Now, the famous yacht designer L. Francis Herresoff once wrote his opinion of the "plow" anchor. "Man has spent thousands of years developing a tool that would go through the ground easily. Why on earth would you want to use it as an anchor?" Ah, the true words of wisdom are always humbling.
As if we didn't have enough problems, the tiller pilot extended itself all the way out and our sternway forced the trim tab to rotate backwards. Snap. The pilot literally broke in two. "Quick." Amy said. "Grab the pieces before they fall into the water." I was in a state of shock. I pulled myself together just in time to grab what was left of our most valuable piece of equipment. Not in terms of money, but to hand steer a boat around the world (in this day and age) is a sure sign of lunacy.
We blew down wind to Flinders Island, in hopes that anywhere was better then Cape Melville. We put on the 30-year-old "Tilley" autopilot Amy's dad used on one of his boats. It worked just fine. It has the disadvantage of requiring you to go to the stern and adjust the heading sensor. Not something to look forward to in the dark or in stormy conditions. We have a direct replacement for the AutoHelm, but want to save it as long as possible.
We dropped anchor within 100 meters of shore and were soon joined by a fishing boat. A good sign. If anyone knows where to anchor, it's a fisherman. I assessed the damage. The push rod had snapped off near the end (with only a few threads intact) and the plastic bearing housing had a big chunk missing. At first, it looked like I could just end for end the rod, as it had threads on both ends. It was not to be. The threads on each end were different. Why do marine hardware designers assume that you are always day sailing from a marina? I swear, if I had the where-with-al, I would start a marine hardware design firm and re-design autopilots, water-makers and diesel engines.
Back to reality. After resigning myself to being hundreds of miles from a phone, let alone civilization, I decided that with a hose clamp and some baling wire I just might get the push rod to stay on the drive shaft. Next was the problem of the bearing housing. We happened to have some Marine Tex onboard. Amy had demanded that we have some before we set out from Maine. This two-part epoxy paste has been around for many years. "Strong as steel, sands like wood and cures underwater." is the sales pitch. Sounds too good to be true right? Well, after opening the cans that were nearly rusted through from two years at sea, I discovered it was still usable. Next, I had to find a form to mold it in. A search in the galley turned up the cap on a Mrs. Dash seasoning bottle that was the right size. After getting permission from Amy for the sacrifice (the cap would be unusable when I got through with it), I got to work. Within 2 hours I had things pretty much together. With the epoxy in a rubber state, I was able to do the final shaping. Once it hardened, I put a hose clamp over the whole works and crossed my fingers.
You might be wondering why we were so upset, having two backup systems left. Well, there was no way we were going to cross the Indian Ocean with the only replacement being the thirty year old "Tilley." And the thought of waiting in Darwin for a replacement, this late in the season, was not pleasant. Time will tell if we will re-gain our confidence in the repaired tiller arm.
Well, that's way too much for this week. Updates will continue to be a challenge. Please bear with us. PS
Log for the week of July 28, Through the Torres Straight by APW
Reluctantly, we left the Flinders Group Monday morning. It is a much more beautiful place than Lizard Island. No tour boats, dive boats, airplanes, seaplanes, resorts or tourists. The anchorage had good holding and was protected on all sides by rocky hills looking like the remains of an abandoned poker game. Disc shaped rocks circled each hill in neat stacks or in places, tumbled down piles. A few palm trees looked like they were struggling to exist. Long stretches of sandy beach on the surrounding islets which enclosed the quiet harbor. No cockatoos screeching from the trees on shore- no signs of any other living creatures- strangely empty and isolated. No time to stop and enjoy the eerie silence- we had to keep moving.
When we had planned this trip from our living room in Maine, Phil and I had been looking forward to cruising the inside of the great barrier reef with much anticipation. Sailing during the day and stopping each night sounded almost as good as cruising in Maine. But this is Australia and it's a little bit more like endurance cruising for an Olympic event. Anchorages are few in number and are usually an average of seventy miles apart. If your average speed is six knots it's likely you'll be in the dark either in the beginning or at the end of each "day hop". Once arriving at the anchorage, the Aussies have invented something called "wind bullets". These are sudden gusts of wind that are accelerated over hills (which acted like an upside down airplane wing}, making most anchorages nothing short of lively. I had hoped to actually anchor at the reef itself just once, to go snorkelling, but with winds averaging 25 knots this was something Phil vehemently vetoed.
Our next anchorage was Morris Islet a long low flat "island" with a single palm tree. Just like the cartoon depiction of a desert isle. Some early settlers, with the same picture in their mind of being stranded on this small island with no means of survival, had planted kapok trees to provide long sticks to knock the coconuts out of the single palm tree. Actually, a baby palm has sprouted under its parent, so in the years ahead, perhaps there will actually be more palms.
We got little sleep there, as Phil kept bobbing up and down all night checking the anchor. The next day was squally, but with a fair wind, so we decided to sail through the night and arrive at the Escape river. After dodging ships in tight spots around the poorly defined reefs and not quite trusting the repair job on the autopilot, I changed my mind, which tends to drive Phil crazy, and decided we should spend the night at Portland Roads, as it was just a few miles ahead. Another "cape" anchorage so lots of wind bullets, but I didn't care. Phil had huge black circles under his eyes- and we could actually get there before dark. We tucked in behind the cape and saw houses- strangely out of place as we hadn't seen any for quite some time. After a heated debate about anchoring, we finally got the hook down and set without resorting to fisticuffs. Anchoring, more than any other ship board activity puts the most stress on our marriage. But, we do not quit until both of us are satisfied that the anchor is secure.
The next morning the sky was clear, the birds were singing and both of us felt much better. I got up to get Stew and bring him back to bed with us. But his bed was empty. We keep the engine room door closed now after he got confused and stuck in the propeller shaft. Phil and I in a heightened sense of panic searched frantically to find him- both of us expecting the worst. There are not too many places a blind, floorbound cat can hide. Finally I saw him wedged between the sewing machine and settee. I touched him and he did his usual chirrruping sound. He was fine, just wondering where we were. Twice I have found him lying stiff and cold, eyes open, but as soon as I touch him he "ppprrrrups" and comes back. Once though he didn't. This trip up the reef has been an exercise in cat hospice care. I've been trying to make a final diagnosis based on his response to medicine- since there are no other diagnostic options open to me. I put him on prednisolone, because we had a saying at the clinic I worked at- that no animal should die without the benefits of steroids. It was sort of a joke. But with Stew's radiographs showing such a marked degree of skeletal degeneration- cortisone should have helped. It didn't. In fact I would say it nearly killed him. He brought meaning to the word catatonic. That response alone made it less likely that he was suffering from inflammation. It also made him urinate like crazy, -a common side effect in most every other animal except cats. Unfortunately, he didn't always make it into his litter box. I tapered off the prednisolone and started him back on Clindamycin.Within four hours he was up walking around and eating again. So, that indicated to me that his problem is more infectious. I have ruled out rheumatoid and degenerative arthritis. He continued to do better on Clindamycin. Some cases of osteomyelitis require antibiotics for at least four months. I tried him on Clavulox (Clavamox, Augmentin)- assuming that he has a disseminated type of osteomyelits- possibly from a staph infection. He went down hill again. Similar results with Cephalexin. Baytril- well, that, according to my friend M.A.- one of the very best veterinary ophthalmologists in the world- may have been the cause of his blindness. (Recent events will shed more light on this in Stew's next log posting.) Back onto the Clindamycin- instant improvement. Cats usually stop eating with Clindamycin- the medicine itself makes them feel awful- not the case with Stewart. He is without a doubt the most bizarre patient I have ever treated. Is this really toxoplasmosis? Hopefully, I have enough Clindamycin on board to get him across the Indian Ocean. Anyone reading this with any thoughts that can help me, please email them to me- email@example.com. Hopefully, he'll feel well enough to get back to work.We just have to keep up a sense of humor.
Sorry to put you non medical people to sleep- Stewart gets more email from more pets, people and countries than any other crew member. I also just read that when the ship's cat dies- bad luck falls on the ship. Even more incentive to get him better. He's not ready to throw in the towel and neither are we. Unfortunately, we don't always have the final say in these matters.
We continued the push northward. We still felt rested enough, after a day of dodging ships and reefs, to thread our way through the increasingly narrow space that separates the mainland from the great barrier reef- overnight and complete our trip "over the top" by the next morning. After Portland Roads, the shoreline mountains gradually began to shrivel up into small mounds, covered in places with pure white silica sand. Looking more like frosted cookies than a remote landscape. Phil has been suffering from Torres straight-"itis" for quite some time. The entire westward push of the equatorial Pacific Ocean races through a narrow gap between the northernmost part of Australia- Cape York and New Guinea. Acting like a giant ship filter, are numerous islands, reefs, rocks and shallow spots. It is a complete mystery to me how navigators, before GPS, made their way through. Many didn't- and were successfully filtered out, leaving their remains as strange football shaped marks on the charts. Phil had also gotten me whipped up into thinking that pirates would be lurking up in this region- a notion all the Australian officials quickly dispelled. Disease and pestilence yes- pirates, no.
According to C-map, the tide was right for a morning trip through Albany pass, a narrow little gap between the mainland and Albany Island. With just 10 knots of wind, full sail and a following current, we whipped through at nine knots. We were over the top. Our next course change was westward, a point on the compass we had not seen for some time.
We headed for Posession Island under full sail, current still pushing us along at nine knots, engine just barely ticking over to cool the ice box-a lovely morning indeed. There were just a few houses, no boats, no resorts, no hotels. Plenty of small, hilly islands, beaches and jelly fish floating below the surface like plastic grocery bags. A couple of tents near the shoreline on one or two beaches.
I was relaxing on the leeward side of the cockpit, reading "The Hundred Secret Senses" by Amy Tan- (great book by the way- Bubba please pass that on to your scribe/owner). I had just come off watch and had not yet gotten around to getting dressed. In fact I was practicing what Ben Franklin would have called an air bath. For some fortunate reason I did have some underwear on- the only problem was they were Phil's- not mine. While turning the page on my book, I happened to glance up and see a man's head staring down at me over the windward bulwark, not five feet away.
"G'day!" he said and then disappeared. Now I will be the first to admit I have an overactive imagination. There are times on my watch, late at night, that I can get myself into a froth thinking about tentacled seacreatures, gargoyle like monsters and other denizens of the deep sliming and slithering their way over Iwalani's sides. Never, had I imagined a handsome man. I put the book down and poked my head over the side, keeping Phil's Fruit of the Loom hidden from view. Sure enough, there was a whole boatload of men- in a fast powered inflatable, now a respectable ten feet from Iwalani's stern. I crawled down the companionway and told Phil it was his watch- he had to deal with it. "Huh?" he said. He had an even harder time finding his clothes, as I was borrowing most of them. Eventually, we made our way on deck looking a little like the Clampetts- in a rag tag assemblage of sweatpants, pullovers, dishtowels and whatever else was handy to put on for attire. Judging from the uniforms and clipboards these guys were definitely not pirates- but custom's agents. They were a pretty good natured bunch of blokes- not like the guys you'd find in the US who think a joke is some sort of subversive behavior. They asked us the routine questions-where are you going etc…and toodled off trying hard to keep their smiles under wraps at Phil and my appearance. They were justifiably very proud of their success at sneaking up on Iwalani and taking us completely by surprise. We saw the mother ship, hidden from view, behind other rocks and islands. (Maybe Ossama hasn't "snuck" into Australia after all- although the West coast is even more desolate.)
We were quite happy to see "Northern Light" anchored at Posession Island. She had left Lizard the day before us and we thought we would never meet again. Rolf and Deborah are bound for Tasmania- the long way- via a counter-clockwise circumnavigation of Australia. They have been living on Northern Light for over twenty years. It is their home, their work place- their entire life. Despite all this- we still got along. Our two boats could not have been more opposite. Start with the same basic Colin Archer type design- theirs made out of steel, with winged keel, very high masted ketch rig, roller furling main, mizzen and head sails, carbon fiber titanium blocks, taught high tech rigging, windvane autopilot. To all their high tech stuff, take away Iwalani's ice cream maker, refrigeration, watermaker, wind generator, radar, satellite communication, hot water shower and clutter. Their boat, despite years of living aboard- is clean and spartan. Their topsides are so ready for sea, they don't even have a dodger. Down below is equally as impressive. They could roll over 360 while at anchor and the only thing that would happen is their decks would get a little wet. Us, on the other hand-I look around down below and see 50 feet of telephone cable hanging over a stereo speaker, gimaballed flowers, bird cage full of spices and assorted cat foods, from it, hangs a ram's skull, plants- both real and fake that I have been collecting along the way; eighty books waiting for the Indian Ocean passage hanging from two hammocks above the pilot births, (the ship's bookcases are too crammed full of reference and other books to fit even one pamphlet,) shells, Stewart's IV drip line, rocks, and artwork from the South Pacific. Clutter. I hate it but somehow it follows me like static cling. It will have to be addressed before we head off into the Indian Ocean, a robust passage at best. Don Street said even a cottage cheese container can be a lethal weapon while at sea. We've got a whole ship of lethal weapons.
We offered to give Northern Light a ride to shore and a hike to the monument on Posession Island commemorating Cook's landing, thus saving them ordeal of inflating and launching their own dinghy. We walked behind mangroves, keeping four sets of eyes out for crocodiles and marched up and over rocky headlands until we found the newly preserved monument. The whole time we were trying to keep up with Rolf, who was scampering on ahead like a mountain goat. Imagine our surprise when we found out he was twenty years older than us! I attribute his spryness to the zinc he gets from drinking water out of their galvanized tanks. So much for "galvanize" poisoning.
What makes Deborah and Rolf stand apart from some of the other cruisers we have met, is their ability to laugh at themselves and not toot their own horn. We were discussing the best places on the planet for provisioning- any French territory was number one, the deep south of the US number two and Australia- well, they will have to come up with something better than canned spaghetti and canned beets before they can even enter the competition. While in Georgia(USA), Rolf and Deborah found whole canned chickens at the Piggly Wiggly. Deborah sent Rolf back to buy more. With Swedish as his first language, he found what he thought were the right cans. Only he thought they said "duckling"-not too different from chicken and at a great price of 1.50 a can, he bought forty pounds worth. Then, he walked with them in his backpack over miles of hot southern roadway. When he returned to the boat he opened one up for dinner, only to find out it was full of dumplings. I had a similar hunter/gatherer disaster buying twelve cans of tomato sauce. Imagine my surprise, while making lasagna for Phil, on opening one can, to find it full of ketchup. I can't use a misunderstanding of English as an excuse.
The following day, we set off to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria, the stretch of water that connects the two Northern ears of Australia. We had following winds of twenty knots and a full moon. At the end of my watch at midnight, Phil came up and was mildly perturbed that I hadn't taken any sail down. I was having an enjoyable night reading under the hard dodger blister, aware that the winds had picked up, but the 25 knot gusts- were still every three to four minutes. Iwalani was doing fine and besides the boom wasn't dragging. I realize now, that the old cloth dodger used to make such a racket- cloth flapping, tie downs whacking, that with the new quiet hard dodger I was oblivious to the wind picking up. "The wind generator is putting out a steady fifteen amps. We need to go with another reef in the sail" Phil said.
We dutifully had our harnesses on and when I came out of the dodger I realized it was blowing more than I thought. We scandalized the main enough to take some of the pressure off the sail, my back was to the wind, when all of a sudden Phil said-
"Holy Toledo, hold on!" He didn't really say it like that, but I can't write what he actually said... I heard it coming from behind, the freight train sound I have learned to despise. The next thing I knew, something was blotting out the moonlight- and then it got terribly wet. Hot wet. A huge dumping of hot seawater completely over the top of Iwalani. Not a cute little wave playfully breaking over the bow, like the kind that used to get us screaming when we were kids on my grandfathers boat- but a huge monstrous wet wall of forceful water. A rogue wave like the kind you hear disaster stories of. I clung to the boom because my very life depended on it. Phil was below me somewhere to leeward. I heard all sorts of crashes coming from down below, inside Iwalani. Through it all she remained relatively upright.
"Are you still there?" I hollered to Phil.
"I'm fine but your plants aren't."
My garden window box, tied to the leeward side of the blister, was trying to wash overboard. Phil rescued it and when we were done putting the reef in the sail, we went down below to survey the damage. The hatch over the galley sink was open and most of the water had entered the boat from there- tripping the ground fault interuptor to the 110 electrical wiring in the galley and completely soaking poor Stewart, who remained oblivious, still asleep, in his drenched bed. The ship's log book had crashed to the floor and that was the extent of the damage. We checked the chart and could find no explanation for why the water was so hot. It must have been close to one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. There was no explanation for the size of the wave either- we were just thankful that it was not accompanied by its two sisters.
The following day was sunny, with trade wind clouds and normal seas. We got our first "C-news" over the Inmarsat- headline news that comes from Telinor/Comsat along with the EGC's. It is something that Phil and I now eagerly look forward to at seven-thirty each night. I know I am a hypocrite, berating the other "suburban" cruisers- whose big thing now is to tell the other boats on the radio nets to turn on their cell phones. The romantic vision of sailing off, leaving the world behind, doesn't exist- and it shouldn't. Each of us is still a citizen of a country and we are uninvited guests in other countries. In a small way, our behavior does play a fractional part in world politics. World events very much effect us. We have heard from Danza, the other Maine boatbuilder/Doctor boat- (now in New Caledonia, extending their world cruise by one more year), that they must leave after thirty days. Evidently, it's a small sandbox fight between the US and France. - The US told France they have too many Arabic citizens and America is limiting US visas to French citizens to only thirty days. France retaliated with the same. I feel sorry for the cruisers in the class of 2002 taking the plunge through French Polynesia- one month is not enough time.
Well, that's it for this week- as usual, this log is too long. APW