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Monday, 24 October 2016

Horizon Shores Marina

We're in the middle of a convoluted waterway near Brisbane but far from any public transport or train station so we can only leave by foot or by taking a $35 taxi trip to the nearest train station.

Our boat has a 2.2m draft - yikes!
The convoluted waterway
tied to the fuel dock
Why did we choose this marina? This is where the sailmaker we selected to make our sprayhood (dodger) has his business. It's 7a.m. and Rod and his assistant Jason are currently outside measuring and taking notes on the job. The dodger (sprayhood in England) is the covering over the steps which lead down into the boat from the cockpit. It plays a vital role in keeping the watch-person comfortable (and dry) offshore. If it's well-made, you don't need to wear outer raingear or warm clothes to stand out there and keep watch.

waterfront home
When we got to Australia 10 years ago, our first dodger (constructed in Victoria in 2001) had failed. We had one made here - and it did the job brilliantly for about 80,000 nautical miles. We hope Rod and Jason can make one just as good. They're using real leather and Sunbrella - the colours may not 'match' perfectly, but we hope for a 'GOOD SAILOR'.

Horizon Shores restraurant
puzzle of Vernazza, Italy
People start work early here. Businesses don't officially open until 8:30 or 9, but trades-people and people who have to be out in the sun (like Rod) tend to start as early as 5a.m. There are not many liveaboards here - the marina restaurant closes at 3p.m. and there are few people around our dock. Yesterday I only saw 3 people walk down the ramp to our section of docks, and none of them came anywhere near.

Casey with 'goody bag'
Natalie and Casey
I include a photo of the 1,000 piece jigsaw we spent a whole day obsessing over. It passed the time quickly during the one day we anchored out. I'm sure neighbours around us wondered if we'd murdered each other!

I'm including a few photos of Horizon Shores. We had a lovely welcome at the office where we met Natalie and Casey.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club

Before we leave Raby Bay, I wanted to say a few words about a sailing association with the rather relaxed name of The Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club (BTW -  a Shag is a type of common cormorant Down Under, and there's an actual Shag Islet somewhere further north). We joined the club when we were here six years ago - stayed in touch with friend Ken (who started the club about 7 years ago) for several years and renewed our interest when we reached Townsville and spent time with Club officer Michael Johnson on SV 'Pleasure'.

ANYONE can join who has an interest in the marine environment. When we joined, it was simply a social club and we had wandered into the Shag's Breath Cafe across from our dock here at Raby Bay. Ken and wife Rhonda Thackeray started it after he was refused entrance to a more traditional Yacht Club because he was not an officer of a reciprocating club. Now everyone in the club is an officer - I'm Vice-Commodore in Tuwanek Point, BC and Larry is the V.C. of Pirate's Cove, BC.

Joining the SICYC (2010)  with Rhonda and Ken
Since starting the club, they branched out and now have members world-wide. However, the most fantastic effort they have made has been to start donating all funds to help research into Prostate Cancer. So far this year, they have raised the astounding amount of $105,000!

Over several weeks on Wednesday nights, we've joined the fun ... we  just wanted to thank the club for their hospitality and to commend them for their good works!

The Hog's Breath Cafe in Raby Bay

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Fun at Raby Bay Marina

The Marina office
We've been tied up here for a month ... it's a lovely spot with restaurants, grocery stores and excellent walks around the area. During this time, I went back to Ontario Canada for 15 days to visit family and friends. Meanwhile, Larry had to go in to have surgery and correct a 'man's problem'. He's gradually recovering but isn't allowed to carry anything heavy. So our new friends (and former Canadian compatriots) here are helping us out ... so far we've been driven around to Costco for supplies and invited for dinner to the lovely home of  Charlotte and Dave (SV Walkabout).

View of restaurants and businesses from Trav III

We met the 'Walkabouts' at the Wednesday night get-together of the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club here at the Hog's Breath Cafe just steps from where we're docked. We joined this club and got the T-shirt six years ago when we accidentally wandered into the Wednesday Club night. We'll be writing more about the club in succeeding blogs. Also in our photos with us are Tony and Marianne - she's a Canadian from Sudbury.. She and Tony have a lovely set-up nearby - actually within view of Traversay. Their condo overlooks the canal on which their boat is tied up.

I've started to do some 'serious' writing about our trip ... so far I've sent an article about the Rules/Regs for entering OZ to 'Currents' - the on-line magazine for the Bluewater Cruising Association.

'Shaggers' Wednesday night event
Charlotte's garden
Last weekend we went to see the excellent Tom Hanks movie 'Sully' about the airline Captain who landed his airplane on the Hudson River (with zero fatalities). We happened to meet up with Susan and Rick Carroll and as he's a retired Air Traffic Controller the conversation veered  towards the movie and the actuial event. The conversation became very protracted - we met the Carroll's son-in-law Matt and we'll be meeting the extended family on Sunday. Matt has extensive links to the sailing community. We're hoping to borrow this family's muscles on Sunday to help move the old chain off our boat and to move the new chain on as Larry won't be able to lift anything heavy for some time yet.

Susan and Rick Carroll

Charlotte in her garden

Fish pond

Friday, 9 September 2016

New and old friends!

SV Magenta
Al and Garry
SV Tonoa
The last few weeks we've met a score of fascinating people and re-connected with long-time friends. Out on the reefs and after not having met another soul for 10 days, we were delighted when Garry and Al arrived on their Sceptre 43 (a Canadian boat purchased from a Canadian) ‘Magenta’. They came aboard for dinner and gifted us with some magnificent fresh tuna and other fish. They had left home about 4 weeks earlier, and were spending a holiday together fishing and reef-walking. These are pastimes much enjoyed by Australian men as it allows them time away from us pesky women … they get to pursue their passion (fishing). They pick up lots of interesting artefacts during their walks. Of course, they have to wait for low tide as usually the reefs are hidden during the high tides. Apparently they often come upon sea snakes during these walks.Soon after returning to civilization, Al and Garry would re-connect with their womenfolk and cruise northward towards the ‘Sun’ with them.
Pete from Tonoa

Larry with Ralph
Anyone who knows me knows that I hate fishing … it has to be THE most boring sport to watch, and in childhood I had to do too much of it with 3 brothers and a mother all of whom were mad-keen fishermen. I even asked prospective husbands if they fished or watched TV sports - either of these two obsessions were an instant turn-off. At any rate, I very much sympathize with Australian women if fishing and snakes are the reason we see so few ‘cruising’ in the wilds here. Of course, a few other reasons became transparently clear during our weeks out in the Coral Sea. With no actual land, or land scantily covered with sand, the huge pounders coming over all the way from French Polynesia leaves one wave-swept and unable to sleep easily in a tiny boat. So we met a few buddies out fishing. Another problem here is the chance of getting stuck in the sand. Charts are not totally reliable as the sand shifts and charts cannot stay abreast of all the ‘new’ sandbanks. On our way here to Mooloolaba we ran aground and had to wait for 20 minutes for the tide to come up. This meant that we were ‘late’ to cross ‘Tin Can’ strait and also late some hours later to get through the breakwater here at Mooloolaba while it was light. We then were late tying up to the dock and (because I couldn’t maker out the berth number) we were klutzy in getting into our spot. A number of helpful males were yelling instructions at Larry. Once we were safely ‘in’ we were exhausted. This just illustrates how much more difficult it would be for a 2-person crew here in Australia to sail – men LIKE to yell at each other, but I’m sure most females I know don’t like it. And that’s why we meet few women from Australia cruising offshore.
Sel and Jen in 2006
Larry with Sel
The first woman I’d seen for a very long time was Nerida at Lady Musgrave Island. She was there for 2 weeks as a watch-keeper along with her husband Ralph. In this Australian National Park, there IS an actual full-time island and retired people are invited to stay and camp for 2 weeks at a time. They orient tourists and campers, make sure paths are cleared and give more information about the island if asked. It’s still very wild and isolated – the boat they were supposed to come out in (a regular tourist craft) had sunk – no loss of life – and the National Park Service had to get them to the island. 

At Noosa beach with Ron and Sarah
We have had a lovely time here meeting with some long-time friends. Sel Parlane (SV Footloose II) came over and we went out for dinner. We met while were in Hobart in 2006 and have managed to stay in touch ever since. Sel lives here now and Jen is over in Nelson NZ so we’ll get to see her again when we go there for Christmas.
With Ron and Sarah in 2006

We just arrived home yesterday from a wonderful two nights ashore with friends Ron Koyich and Sarah Benecke. They live in what is (to us) an amazingly palatial and beautiful home in Noosa (north along the coast from here). We were so spoiled by the two of them that we feel quite unable to get back into our OWN lives. We had a lovely dinner (including a scallop appetizer) and I was served poached eggs for breakfast! I enjoyed wandering around and looking at elegant clothes in the shops on my own. Ron (who was at the University of Alberta with Larry) drove us up to the Timbeerwah Lookout from which you can see the whole coast. We then headed out to look for kangaroos in a spot Ron knows about, but with no success.
Visiting Ron and Sarah's home 
Bev and one of the braces
For me a most fortuitous event took place … a dinner guest and friend of Sarah’s – Bev Trevithick - arrived.  Bev is completing her PhD using data from research she’s been conducting on wrist injuries sustained by female gymnasts. She’s a highly educated health professional in all aspects of hand and foot care, and she knew about some braces which will help my problem with arthritic and impaired thumbs. She arrived the next day with some (slightly sub-standard) braces and when I fitted them, I could tell immediately that they would completely change my relationship with my keyboards! Since 2009 I’ve been in constant pain whenever I play. As a pianist, it’s both an actual physical pain and a psychic pain because the contrast between what I used to be able to do and what happens now when I sit at an instrument is huge. Once we get to our next Aussie port Sarah will send me my new braces. I also look forward to being more helpful to Larry – he’s had to ‘cover’ for me a lot in the last years. Of course, arthritis is an intransigent disease and perhaps not ALL will be cured by a set of braces.

Larry and I relaxing in Noosa
Larry had not slept ashore since Hallowe’en last year at nephew Peter Unrau’s in Vancouver. So our break ashore was very welcome. Both Ron and Sarah are very busy – Sarah still working practically full-time and Ron involved with many activities including the Noosa Coastguard. We really appreciate their taking us around, introducing us to their beaches and their Indian food restaurant … it is so special to be able to see how Australians live!

Noosa Beach

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Great Sandy Strait

Day after day the wind at Lady Musgrave blew stubbornly from the south, the very direction we wanted to proceed. From previous blogs, it can be seen that we can tack directly toward the wind ... but we don't enjoy the experience!

Finally after eight stationary days, the wind backed toward the east enough to allow an easy sail southward.  Off we went in late afternoon for the overnight sail to the Great Sandy Strait.

In previous travels in this area, we passed both south and north in the deep waters to the outside of Fraser Island, whose seventy nautical mile length rates it the largest sand island in the world.  On this voyage, we decided to travel behind Fraser Island both for the new scenery and to avail ourselves of our first smooth water since leaving Victoria Inner Harbour.

At high tide
Our passage started out with much shortened canvas and a boisterous sail south as close to the wind as we could manage.  By midnight, off the city of Bundaberg, the wind became lighter and then disappeared.  The waves and lively motion in turn made their exit as we motored the last miles toward the Strait in the early hours of dawn.

The Strait has not disappointed.  There are no waves at all that can be felt aboard Traversay III, either at anchor or underway.  This pleasantness does come with a price though.  The water is so shallow that we can only travel at half-tide or higher.  In addition, the vast areas of open water belie the reality that only thin channels of it are ever deep enough for navigation in a boat such as ours.  With the tricky navigation, we feel we cannot travel at night and must travel on a rising tide so that, if we do stray off the path and run aground, we can get away again.  Thus only a few hours a day are available for travel.  Enroute, we saw as little as 20 centimeters [8 inches] of water below our keel and here in our overnight anchorage, we expect the depth to be not much more than that.

At low tide
In a couple of days, we will head out into the ocean where the shallow water presents a different challenge: The ocean waves, on reaching the shallow waters of the Strait entrance break with some fury unless conditions are just right.  This creates yet more time constraints.  To allow us to leave, the tide must be fairly high and flooding [flowing inward] to reduce the propensity of the waves to break - an issue we will face at many Australian river ports with shallow entrances fronting directly onto the ocean.

But for now, all is peaceful ... and we have internet again!

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Lady Musgrave Island

It turned out our Tiger Shark experience in the Swains was not the last of our "scary creature" encounters!

For our second dive at Frederick Reef after the anchor snubber retrieval, we placed the anchor next to a coral "bommie" with a plan to capture more fish and coral photos in the phenomenally clear water. This, of course involved our swimming the length of the anchor chain [some seventy meters] both at the start and at the end of the dive in order to access the interesting coral formation.  These long swims led to Mary Anne's snake story.

Larry also seemed to act as a huge attraction to a snake-like being which slithered (sideways - like snakes can) all the way up to us from the sand 40 feet below. Alas - after a 40minute dive, it spotted us swimming back to the boat and slithered all the way up towards us again ... it was just like one of those horrible 'repeating' nightmares. It went right between Larry's arm and BCD. He kept trying to repel it - it bit his fin several times. But no harm done. When we got back and checked through all our books we realized that it was probably a stripey 'Harlequin Snake-Eel' ... these are harmless (as opposed to all the actual snakes in Australia - all of which can kill you!). We think something about Larry's long, sleek, black neoprene-covered body may have attracted her during Snake Mating Season.

Thinking that if it moves like a snake and looks like a snake, there might be a vague possibility that it actually IS a snake, we hatched a slightly different plan for our subsequent dives.  We anchored roughly a chain length upwind of the target coral patch and let out chain until we lay directly above our dive site.  This had the merit of shortening considerably any exit swim we felt compelled to initiate.

                                                                                                *  *  *

After Frederick Reef, we planned to visit Lady Musgrave Island.  From previous visits, we had fond memories of Lady Musgrave  and wanted to finish our Coral Sea diving both inside and outside its calm coral-fringed lagoon.  Added benefits would be to split the sail back to the coast into two segments and a chance to sight-see on the island.  Not having done any walking for a couple of weeks, this was a big draw.

A fair wind springing up led to a dawn departure from Frederick, a fast overnight sail the two hundred miles to Musgrave and an afternoon arrival into the smooth [at least compared to Frederick] waters of the lagoon.

Underwater Lady Musgrave represented the least satisfying of our Coral Sea diving.  The visibility outside the reef was better than inside but probably suffered more from following on the heels of pristine Frederick Reef than from any objective reality.  And we did see the largest scorpion fish of our Australia visit and our only crown-of-thorns sea star!


Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Our Dives in the Coral Sea

Anchored in sand
Larry and I have passed through about half of the time we expect to spend diving on the Coral Coast of Australia. It's our third trip here – 2006 and 2010 also saw us scuba diving and visiting various wild and lonely places along this coast. We determined in 2010 that the very best diving was far out on the reefs in the Coral Sea. So we left Rosslyn Bay on August 9th and headed the 120 miles offshore to the Swain Reefs.

We have a set procedure for getting in the water. Once all my gear is on and I've done all my safety checks, I wait for Larry (getting his gear on in the cockpit) to call out his safety checks at which point I take a giant step into the water. I normally hang onto the ladder and do various things like clearing my ears and looking around. Since we've been here, often we've been approached by large and curious fish – possibly looking for 'handouts' as at places like Bait Reef we think tourists feed them. So in the past we've seen large and beautiful fish like the humphead Maori wrasse (shown in previous Blog photos).

This time, I saw a cloud of tiny fish swarming under the bow and near them were about 8-10 fairly small fish – of about 30-40 cm or 12-14 inches. The most remarkable thing about them was their unmistakeably way of swimming. Sharks are cartilaginous and thus (minus a bone structure) can swim in a very menacing and sinuous manner. I also noticed that they had very large and coal-black eyes and a prominent lateral line. This is common with many species of fish and even whales with dark coloration above that line and light below (to make them inconspicuous predators if seen from above looking down at the depths of water, and to blend into the light when looking up at them). They were giving me cool appraising glances - unlike 'normal' reef fish – more like shoppers at an estate auction who are eyeing a handsome item they will never be able to afford.

It was just before the time that Larry splashed down beside me that I noticed a large prostrate 'fish' on the sand below and slightly behind the boat. It had a sharklike shape and I kept looking for the white or black tip on the dorsal fins which would confirm that this animal was a relatively harmless white or black-tipped reef shark. Instead I noticed that it seemed to have lines on its body … as it came up from the sand the lines seemed to meld into a type of camouflage pattern.

By this time Larry had confirmed that the 'small' swimmers under the bow were sharks and we decided the large 'fish' was also a shark. I asked him if he thought he could get pictures or a video … he was taking the video when the shark made a third pass beside us … coming much closer than the first two iterations. That's when we decided to climb up the ladder and out of the water and find a new divesite!

Looking in our two underwater guides later on, we discovered that we had come in close contact with a tiger shark.

Our two guides list about 40 prevalent reef sharks and do not provide any photos or description of the tiger babies. But the tiger shark is almost twice the size in length and weight (at 650 cm and 520 kg) of the other listed sharks (including hammerheads). The closest competitor is the Oceanic whitetip shark which is 396 cm. Previously, we have seen and taken photos along this coast of blacktip (180 cm) and whitetip (215 cm) reef sharks … we have not been worried by sharks. We once encountered a fairly large white-tipped shark which Larry had to repel with his camera. On looking at all our shark photos, we have re-discovered this big fellow and decided that he was most likely the Oceanic white-tipped … which (along with the Tiger) is listed as dangerous.

After reading about Great White Sharks in the July National Geographic, I have not stopped thinking about the (presumed) female tiger shark and her numerous offspring. I don't even know that this is what we had stumbled upon, but it makes sense to me. The Great White female named Gretel in the magazine article seemed to head for the same 'hub' each time to mate and give birth. Some sharks give birth to live young … there are also related animals (like the ratfish) who produce an eggcase within which the eggs develop. So I may be completely crazy about this, but my 'take' on the scenario we envisioned is that we saw a mother shark brooding a whole lot of dangerous little baby tigers. That makes sense of what we saw. Of course, The National Geographic mentions there are over 600 species of sharks.(and my guides only have about 40!) but I'm sticking with my story.

Another factor in choosing a divesite is to stay away from any fishboats. There was a tourist fishing operation near the 'Tiger' site. With about 8 tiny 'Dories' and a Mother Ship, you can imagine that a lot of cleaning of fish was going on over there. I suppose that we're lucky that Mommy was well-fed. Mind you, I doubt her maternal instincts are very well-developed!

We re-anchored 12 miles away, and decided that from now on if we are near a reef, we'll climb down the swim ladder and put our fins on in the water. That way we won't make shark-attracting splashes.

After leaving the Swains, we travelled another 120 miles out here to Frederick Reef. After spending about 20 hours standing watches and then getting anchored, we were hoping that even with some fairly strong winds in the forecast, we'd be able to dive here. The waves and wind kept getting stronger and stronger … the winds far exceeded the forecast and on the first night the anchor started 'dragging' … I got up about 4 a.m. feeling very very seasick for the first time in many years. The heavy winds and the motion during the high tide (when a fairly low sand island that we're in the lee of is swamped) continued. Each time the wind crept above 30 knots, the anchor dragged further. We kept expecting that (in accordance with the weather forecast) the strong winds would abate, but they only got stronger.

Blacktip rockcod
By the second night, with winds gusting to 45 knots we had to re-anchor in the middle of the night. My job would be to weigh anchor and then lower it again after we'd circled around and Larry (with the assistance of our outside screen) would yell for me to lower it again. It was pitch black outside while I crept to the bow. Larry had turned on the foredeck light but envisioning that I wouldn't be able to see down into the raging black waters to notice the anchor was actually at the surface, I kept a turned-on headlamp hanging by its strap between my teeth. After getting past the safety of the cockpit, I hooked onto the lifelines. Getting to the bow was good exercise as it was literally bouncing like an in-use trampoline in the waves. Larry joined me up there to get the 'snubber' off. This is a springy nylon line which takes the strain off the windlass after the chain is let out. Then he was gone again - back to the wheel - motoring into the teeth of the wind so I could get enough slack on the chain to be able to haul it up. Even so, the anchor windlass kept failing as it could not take the strain on it. I held on for dear life … constantly and rhythmically being immersed as the bow thrashed in the heavy waves.

Finally I could see the anchor just below the surface of the water and I signalled Larry. I had a long wait as he circled back into position. Luckily the water here is nice and warm (about 25degrees). When he called to me, I started letting the anchor down … as I neared the specified length of chain he came up to put the snubber on. Alas, the stainless hook snapped and the whole arrangement (including plastic-encased anchoring line) fell into the water.

A photo from Frederick reef
So that's how we ended up diving again - our 14th Ozzie dive in 2016. Larry noted where we lost the snubber, we swam under the boat towards the chain at the bow, and even before we swam past the bow we could see the snubber up ahead lying in the sand next to the chain. The visibility is just incredible. We look forward to having a memorable dive on the reef tomorrow!

At 8/15/2016 11:46 (utc) our position was 21°00.92'S 154°22.11'E