Friday, 29 July 2016

Our stay at Middle Percy Island

"The rolling is abominable" warned our guidebook … 'Cruising the Coral Coast'. Having experienced a great deal of rolling in our day, it was not the discomfort of rolling which worried us, it was having to launch the dinghy and more particularly attach the motor to the dinghy. The motor's stored in the bow compartment at the front of Traversay III and getting it out safely in the midst of heavy movement has proved to be horribly treacherous in the past. We thought back to the time in South Georgia when the only way to view the thousands upon thousands of King Penguins at St Andrews Bay was by launching the dinghy and motoring over to get a close-up view.

However, we had a reason for our visit. During our two previous visits, we'd stopped here and a sign of our presence had been left in the form of a plywood sheet with the boat name and port of registry. We wanted to see if the old sign (with the letters excised with a dremel) would still be present in company with the thousands of other signs left by fellow 'cruisers' from all parts of the globe. We'd already spent considerable time with our few and scarce resources in making a new and better sign out of cherry wood, permanent markers and coats of varnish. The weather showed no inclination to improve for several days, so we cast aside discretion and decided to ford the shore break and head to the hut amusingly named the 'Percy Hilton'.

While waiting for lulls in the extreme rolling so we could launch our shore boat and looking over at the three catamarans anchored nearby, I noticed with envy that our neighbours were blessed with a far gentler and kindlier motion. This is the reason they are the favoured breed here inside the Barrier Reef. We called ashore to make sure we would still be welcome to go ashore (our last visit was 6 years ago) and the hostess Kate (whom we never met) assured us that all was still as we remembered – that Percy Island honey and now mango chutney were still being sold on the honour system and that in her view we should wait until high tide when the incoming tide would level out the shore break. Of course, being of the rigorous set who eschews relaxation and comfort (our neighbours meanwhile were suntanning or perhaps even having naps aboard) we set out immediately and only got minimally wet both going in and out when we got to shore.

Despite our embarkation (and later the debarkation) trials we had a lovely time ashore. The old sign was still there, but very pale in the face of having been washed by a lot of rain over the last six years. The new sign went up where it would surely be noticed – next to a clock which announces 'Time for a Drink' … the hands are set to 5 o'clock and all the numerals ranged around the face are 5's! We spent time reading as many signs as could be seen in the space of an hour (you could spend days at this!) and bought both chutney and honey, leaving our money in a large box marked with the words conveying the idea "Help feed us and we'll help feed you!"

At 7/30/2016 00:25 (utc) our position was 21°43.86'S 150°21.02'E

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The dive that wasn't; the dive that was

As in most southern hemisphere tropical waters, the winds here blow almost continuously with some strength from the southeast. And unlike most foreign sailors, we are being contrarian and proceeding down the coast into those incessant winds.

To avoid undue suffering, we are trying to move on the rare light wind days [there is never any wind of strength IN our favor] and SCUBA dive or just veg out on the days when traveling is difficult.

After motoring southeast in a rare calm, we anchored off Pine Peak Island in anticipation of a pleasant dive. A considerable current brushes across the face of the island's coral reef and, by bringing past a steady flow of nutrients, this tends to encourage vibrant marine life. The current along the reef sweeping past us at anchor, first one way and then the other, created safety issues for diving. It wouldn't do to be swept away from TRAVERSAY and not be able to swim back!

I timed the period of slack current between the tidal flows and found it a little too short for real comfort. Knowing the calm was forecast to last another day, I hatched a plan that we would tether one of us to our outboard powered dinghy during the dive. We could enjoy and photograph the coral while the dinghy floated serenely twenty feet above us.

When the morning of our dive dawned though, the southeast winds had returned early. My mind conjured up the way our dinghy likes to blow downwind in a fifteen knot wind. The outboard easily tames it but I imagined myself being towed away from the reef like a person attached to a very large kite. We didn't even bother to launch the dinghy, canceled the dive, and headed off to the Percy Islands some ten short miles to the southeast.

Changing winds required corresponding changes in our anchor location. First at White's Bay on Middle Percy and then at Blunt Bay on Northeast Percy we took the dinghy around the bay and looked at the marine life through a swim mask. White's Bay was a disappointment but Blunt Bay seemed to have possibilities.

In the end it was a better dive than we had expected. While the visibility underwater initially seemed poor, the life at close range was colorful and interesting. Each dive seems memorable for SOMETHING and the choice find on this day was a large cushion sea star. In typical fashion, I swam right over it thinking it to be a rock. Mary Anne caught my attention and posed for a photo holding up the excellent sofa-cushion sized specimen. Photos taken, she gently placed it back where it had been hanging out.

A good day! And worth the rolly anchorages.

At 7/27/2016 01:07 (utc) our position was 21°39.27'S 150°20.02'E

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

A Week of Diving

Here we are at the Great Barrier Reef ... we have spent a wonderful week - six days of diving, and one day off hidden away from some bad weather in Nara Inlet. Here in the tradewind belt, showers and strong winds can be expected. In Nara we met some other 'cruisers' on their boats. Most of the folks here are on Charter holidays and are 'temporary' sailors and don't tend to socialize outside their 'group'. As we swung at anchor, we went out on deck in the beautiful moonlit night. Next morning we heard the distinctive chuckling of the kookaburra.

For six days now we have gone from one favoured dive location to another. The Australian government has made secure moorings right next to the dive spot. They have done this to prevent careless destruction of the coral. It is very easy to accidentally ensnare coral with an anchor ... not while actually anchoring, but because the anchor chain will drag across the coral while the boat moves around at anchor. The government also regulates the size of boat and the time (2 hours). Last night we were lucky enough to get to this safe anchorage just before 'closing time' (around 3pm) so we have been able to stay overnight. The added bonus is that we have internet here so I decided to post a small record of our time here.

This post consists mainly of photos. Larry has taken between 50 and 70 photos on each dive, and I then edit them. Here are some of our favourites and the dive location.
Butterfly Bay mushroom coral

Maureen Cove

Maureen Cove dive 2 crinoid

Manta Ray Bay Maori wrasse

Manta Ray Bay branching hard coral

Cateran Bay Rainford's butterflyfish

Cateran Bay - homo sapiens

Blue Pearl Bay - 6-band angelfish & lemon damsel
Blue Pearl Bay 

Friday, 15 July 2016

Diving every day

Please forgive the poor quality of the accompanying image. We transmit these images by low-bandwidth short wave radio and must be content with pictures of very low resolution.

After arriving here in the Whitsunday Islands and having an overnight rest, we have spent three quarters of an hour SCUBA diving every day since. Underwater visibility is much better on these Whitsunday reefs than it was when we visited six years ago and the beautiful coral forms and colourful fish are a treat to both the eye and the camera. In contrast to the cumbersome drysuits we wear diving in frigid northern waters, neoprene wetsuits a few millimeters thick keep us comfortable for long periods in the water.

Mary Anne mentioned our autopilot troubles on the trip down from Townsville. All that is now behind us; after substituting an onboard spare for the failing part all seems to be fine. The grammatical error I introduced on proofreading M.A's blog posting is still with us though - at least until we have some internet service again. We can post blogs from out here but we can't change them!

Monday, 11 July 2016

... a star to steer her by

I must go down to the sea again - to the lonely sea and the sky
And all I ask is a tall ship …. and a star to steer her by

Last night we had to take turns hand-steering. Earlier, the GPS had hiccuped - but the Captain got it working again. And then just around nightfall, it autopilot failed altogether. I found it took some skill to master hand-steering again. At first I could only concentrate for 35 minutes. However, knowing we had another 14 hours of steering, I needed to do my share. So from about 11pm until 5a.m. we each took hourly turns.

Starting out, I found plenty of stars to choose from. You just need to pick a couple who are in a close relation with each other and concentrate totally on keeping them in the same relative position to each other. Every now and then, you check to make sure the heading on the compass is the right one (ours was 120 degrees) and you correct for it and then look for your stars once again.

As the night progressed, I kept having to adjust my gaze upwards because the stars closer to the horizon disappeared and I had to choose new and more elevated stars as clouds appeared on the horizon. I developed a 'crick' in my neck and sciatica …. when I had my off-time I couldn't sleep for the pain.

So now I could no longer use stars as navigation aids, in order to steer 120, I had to gaze and concentrate fully on the compass. I was in such a state of deep concentration that had a humpback whale appeared next to the boat and sprayed me with it's fetid breath, I would probably not have noticed. At 5am I asked Larry if he would mind switching to 2-hr relays as some sleep now seemed essential.

When Larry woke me at 7am, it was light out. I was able to use some clouds to navigate by. Using the small patch of blue between a baby whale and its mother did the trick for a while, as did staying just to the left of a chicken hurrying away to the west. The horizon became more clouded with just a few patches of blue. But I was able to keep a seam allowance of 5/8 inches between the forestay (it forms a straight line exactly in the middle of the bow of the boat) and the edge of a cloud to the right of it. Sewing is an unusually useful skill on a boat!

We both memorized the John Masefield poem while we were in grade school in the Edmonton Public School system. Who would have thought this could benefit a prairie school child? … certainly we didn't at the time. It's just an example of why a fine general education for each and every child (with plenty of Music and Arts) is so important in a democracy. Of course, as a former Primary school teacher I am somewhat biased.

At 7/12/2016 03:24 (utc) our position was 20°04.35'S 148°55.71'E

Friday, 1 July 2016

Too much excitement

The last thing Mary Anne and I were interested in after 55 days of taking turns cooking en-route was preparing another meal aboard Traversay III.

So, in the early evening, we set out towards Zizzi's, an appealing Italian restaurant with a familiar name from our London days.

We had walked no more than ten paces down the dock from our boat when a flicker of light caught our eye from a nearby powerboat.  In less than a minute, the flicker had turned into a serious conflagration.  As neighbours came running and unrolling fire hoses, I called the fire department.  We quickly realized our tiny fire extinguishers would be useless and efforts were more concentrated on protecting the adjacent boats with sprays of water than in any serious belief that the fire could be controlled.  Hoses were advanced when they seemed to be having some effect and a hasty retreat declared as various butane bottles exploded with a sharp crack.  Diesel fuel, cabin woodwork  and fiberglass fueled a bright and smoky fire.

In a short time, the firemen arrived and tamed the flames with their much larger hoses.  Of course, unlike in a house fire where all that water flows away or fills the basement - it sinks a boat lower and lower in the water!

By morning, the bow was all that was visible; Traversay III sits a few slips down in the background. Fortunately, a favorable wind direction [for us] spared us any of the acrid smoke.

And as if all this excitement weren't enough, the dive team then arrived to tidy things up.

At first, all their busy-work seemed to have little effect as they started various compressors and a hard-hat diver positioned air bags around the sunken hull.

Then, very quickly, more and more of the cabin started to appear.  The diver rushed to and fro adjusting the bags as the emerging hull tried to roll over first one way and then the other.

Finally, diving was done and pumps emptied the remaining water from the hull, The derelict was subsequently towed away to a lift where the insurers could begin to contemplate the nature of their loss.

All was again quiet and tidy in our Townsville marina.