Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dreamy Times in Refuge Bay, Scawfell Island

This is the whale that visited our boat!

Our time here has been like a dream. Long days spent staring wide-eyed at this beautiful place. Two whales (mother and calf) swim around Anhinga, even diving underneath us! Chatting to other yachties about journeys and getting envious of other people's boats. Writing in the sun beneath a shell mobile. Rock-hopping until our feet hurt. Getting stung by a jellyfish and imagining I only have 1 hour left to live (the irukandji are lethal) and then feeling lucky that I'm fine. 

Getting blown about by the bullets of strong wind funnelling down into the bay. Sculpting brightly coloured coral with Fimo. Eating fresh coconut underneath a rainbow. Rene making music. Watching movies on the laptop and listening to audio books on the stereo. Dreaming. Exploring. Loving. Living.

My only real regret is that we can't share this amazing place with more of our friends and family! Anyone want to come play with us? Anhinga is small but there's room enough! 

Overnight Voyage Take 2

The GPS at night.
A week of strong South Easterly winds was forecast and we didn't wish to spend it hanging out in an Army Reserve (Island Head Creek) while they did live testing of bombs etc just upstream. So, after delaying our departure due to the unexpected giant fish catch and friends anchoring nearby, we set off just before sunset a day late to travel 115 nautical miles (22 hours) to Scawfell Island just past Mackay. Initially the wind and waves were much weaker than we'd anticipated which suited me fine, though slowed our speed considerably. Rene cooked dinner and while keeping watch, I was accompanied by a large pod of dolphins who were difficult to see in the dark water but which I could hear squeaking and chatting as they frolicked just next to me. 

Rene went below and rested while I sat wide-eyed (like a cat) staring out to sea looking out for other boats or islands – keeping watch. Rene had plotted our course into the GPS – The line is our course and the arrow is us. I had to continually adjust the windvane to maintain course. After a few hours of this, I was exhausted and Rene took over. He changed the sails and then relaxed into his watch by listening to my ipod and just looking out every 15 minutes to see that everything was OK! Now I know that 'watch' doesn't mean having to keep staring out into the darkness constantly. Down below, I developed a technique for sleeping in the boat which was rocking around making my body flip back and forth like a dying fish. I found that if I created an “anchor” with a bunch of pillows or the doona, and held onto it, I didn't fly about so much and was able to get a few short sleeps before being woken by sails banging loudly. I took over the watch again at 4am and then we shared it from about 7.
 The wind and waves really started to pick up just before dawn. The waves were the biggest I've experienced so far – the series of pictures here kind of represent what it's like but still flattens out the water a lot. If you imagine that the height of the boat from the waterline to the top railing is around 2metres, it's pretty bloody scary when the waves reach above this!! Note how Rene doesn't look concerned at all – he's making “gangsta” hands, I think in reference to that song on youtube 'I'm On A Boat'. There are whales all around here now. The first sighting involved not only 2 whales, but 2 dolphins, lots of excited yelling (by me) and desperate attempts to photograph them. All I managed to capture was a tiny splash which couldn't be distinguished from the general mayhem, so here is a picture of me after the experience – I think it communicates the excitement and wonder at seeing whales so close.

'OMG I just saw some whales!!!'
 The next stressful section of our journey was when we approached a container ship which kept on turning onto our course as if to run us over. It wasn't until we got closer that we realised it was anchored (in 35metre deep water!). It had company – about 2 dozen other ships that they were all anchored waiting in queue to be filled with Australia's natural gifts of rich and rare. Must have been a pretty big coal queue, as the massive tug harbour jetty was not even visible from this distance. Eventually we got to Scawfell Island – by now the wind was at least 25knots, gusting over 30 and the waves were building to sometimes 4 metres (Rene thinks they were much lower). I was keen to be at anchor again to eat and rest as I was shivering uncontrollably with cold, fatigue, queasiness and nerves but the sea had other plans for us.
 At the start of the journey, Rene had put a brake on the propellor, which involved a strap wound around the shaft – the problem was that it had become jammed up with the higher than normal torque from surfing down waves at 9-10 knots. To get the strap off, we would need to either stall the boat or put the engine briefly in reverse – the latter seemed more difficult at the time, but probably would have been a better option in hindsight.
 Neither could we get the pole off the jib and sail beam-on into the lee of the island because the tension on the jib sheet held the pole in place (something Rene intends to fix soon). Next time Rene thinks we should have sailed in with a reefed main and mostly furled jib.
 As the wind shot us past the island, we furled the jib, pole still attached, turned into the wind and dropped the mainsail which flapped around crazily making the job of tying it up into an extreme sport. Rene went down to undo the prop brake tangle while Cerae steered the ship.
Rene rests atop one of the amazing rocks along the foreshore.
 With the engine on high and sails down we were really at the mercy of the waves abeam. We only just were making 2knots against the current and the waves knocked us about at extreme angles – the decks were baptised and Rene's tool cupboard spewed forth miscellaneous missiles. I learnt why 'the spray dodger' is so named! After 22hrs, this was the tipping point and again, I cried the whole way into anchor. My tears were stopped when we spotted a whale breaching just near where we were about to anchor! What a sight! Then, I realised just how amazingly beautiful it is here. (Sara, you were right – it's gorgeous!). It reminds us of a book we both read as children called 'Where The Forest Meets The Sea'. The steep mountainous island looks just like the collaged illustrations in the book. We spent the afternoon lazing on the beach, having a well-deserved drink, chatting to other yachties and doing one of our all-time favourite things – rock-hopping. The rocks here are perfect for it; smooth enough to be barefoot, while still having sufficient grip to not slip.
Flaked out on the beach - safe at last!

So, another epic voyage with some good and some bad – at the moment, I'm not at all prepared to do an ocean crossing – but I'm very prepared to spend a few weeks living it up in the Whitsundays!

Sailbirds Birdseed Slice Recipe

My Aunty Margaret gave us a recipe for birdseed slice which I've been experimenting with, adapting and baking at least once a week. It's delicious!!! It's so good that I want to share it here.

(Chihiro, I'm sure you could do something even more amazing with this recipe – please share your ideas!! xx).


1 cup sultanas

1 cup chopped dates

½ cup chopped dried apricots

1 ½ cups mixed seeds (sesame seeds, pepitas and sunflower seeds)

½ cup almonds, chopped

¼ cup shredded coconut

1 Tablespoon rolled oats

2 tablespoons self-raising flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 Chop the dates, dried apricots and almonds. Combine with sultanas, mixed seeds, oats and coconut in a large bowl. Add the flour and toss mixture to coat. Add eggs and mix well.

2 Press mixture into a 20x30cm greased and lined baking tray and cook on the lowest shelf for 30 minutes at 180C.

3 Allow to cool before cutting into bars.

Variations I've tried adding so far:

½ cup dark chocolate buds

½ cup macadamias

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cerae's reflections on the journey so far...

We've been cruising for 2 months now. It has been a journey of many ups and downs so far and I feel like reflecting on this rollercoaster to take stock and prepare for the next few months. Firstly, the positives. I like seeing and being on the beach almost every day. Climbing and exploring the rocky outcrops, discovering gorgeous rocks, shells and corals. Looking back over beaches whose only footprints are ours. Seeing so many animals in their natural environment and eating freshly caught fish. Swimming and having salty, curly hair. Wearing summer clothes in the middle of winter. Having time to read books, write, draw and create. Cooking and baking foods that I never would have the time to make. Spending time with Rene away from the pressures of work and the city. Meeting new and interesting people wherever we go and socialising with 'sundowners' or morning teas at the beach or on boats. Feeling peaceful and relaxed and watching the sunset over the water. Taking a break from my career to reflect upon what I'd like to do next. Having time to eat breakfast late, meditate, communicate and dream. 

The negatives – or the things I find most challenging. I am still scared by the power of the elements. I don't like the way that the waves push us around violently and that the wind has such control over our journey. I don't like having to worry about dragging at anchor or running aground. Sleepless nights spent worrying about different sounds that the wind makes on our boat. Navigation with old maps and unreliable technology. Not having sufficient power to live like we would like to – worrying about the batteries hot having enough charge and doing without until they get power again. The amount of maintenance that the boat needs. Having to spend days and days fixing things, cleaning things and making things to maintain the boat. The amount of money that the boat needs is also depressing! No showers – only bucket baths. Feeling afraid and uncertain.
So, it seems to be about half-and-half at the moment. I like it when we're safely at anchor somewhere beautiful. I don't like it when we're sailing and it's rough and I'm scared. We're about halfway to our destination of Cairns. What we do once we get there is still very much unknown. Rene would love for us to continue – to travel up through Asia and beyond. I'm not so sure. The thought of spending days and days at sea is not something I'm very keen on! Though I do want to travel overseas... I guess we've got a few more months to decide!

Untouched Islands

Can you spot the dinghy?
We were the first boat to leave Great Keppel Island at dawn and the last (of about 8) to arrive at Pearl Bay in the afternoon.

This part of the coast is very wild. Rocky outcrops suddenly plunge out of the water, some of them bare, while others are covered in thick impenetrable forest. There are no man-made structures in sight. We found a tiny beach (if you could call the collection of slightly smaller rocks that!) to pull in our rough-about dinghy into. We climbed the rocks and felt awed at the natural beauty of Pearl Bay.

There seems to be many more catamarans up here than we've ever seen before! The anchorage was very rolly and we barely slept. I kept looking out at the masts of the catamarans as they sat there – barely moving – while we bucked and bounced this way and that at the mercy of the waves. I must admit, I was very envious!

We followed some of these cats as they moved on, up to Island Head Creek. It was meant to be a simple journey but I found it scarier than ever before! Our little laptop which we bought especially for running navigation software, chose this trip to stop working. It kept losing the GPS signal and going to sleep right when we needed it most. Rene fought with the sails for hours trying to get Anhinga to move faster but the wind just didn't want to cooperate. The waves kept knocking us about while I held on for dear life onto the helm (steering wheel). I watched in ever-growing fear as these same waves moved on from under us, and then continued on to smash over the rocks of the land which was looming ever closer. Eventually the engine was started and it roared in protest as we changed course suddenly to avoid certain death at the face of some submerged rocks. The entrance to Island Head Creek looked so different in reality to the illustration in our Cruising The Coral Coast guidebook. Rene took over and expertly navigated our way through rocks and shoals while I sat on the foredeck freaking out.
Anhinga at Anchor in Island Head Creek
This place at first glance seems so pure and untouched by humans. The mountain ranges are covered in bushland, there are seabirds, turtles, fish and dolphins. The only humans here are on boats and there aren't many! Yet, when we walked along one of the beaches, I was saddened to discover that the highwater tide line had the most human-created rubbish that I've seen since leaving! Countless empty oil containers, rope, bottles, plastic, drums, paint rollers, condoms and the most bizarre thing – this computer monitor! WT? How did it get here? We're miles from civilisation! The only thing near here is an army base. I really hope that all of this waste is due to a cyclone or some other freak disaster and not from the yachties and fishermen who frequent this place as one of the last calm-water anchorages until the Whitsundays. How could someone choose to throw their rubbish overboard?

The Lucky Fish and the Unlucky Fish

Rene's first time fishing with his new rod started with him frolicking along the beach, throwing the line in to the water for fun, not expecting anything in return. Within a few minutes of this, a flathead took the line! Rene reeled it in, unprepared for such bounty! As he floundered with the line, trying to unhook the fish, a wave came and the fish escaped – taking the lure with it! No!

Then, yesterday, we caught this mammoth Giant Trevally while trolling from the dinghy here in Island Head Creek. Wow!! You win some, you lose some.
'What is it?' The desperate look through Grant's Guide To Fishes always accompanies a fresh catch.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Busting Rust, Washing and Big Fish

Phew! What a crazy last few days at the Keppel Bay Marina. We decided to take advantage of the calm conditions, water and electricity to power through some of the many jobs on our "to do" list. At the top of this list was eradicating rust.

Having a steel boat means that there is a constant war between evil Mr Rust and us, the owners. We had known about some of the spots for a while and it felt good to grind them into oblivion. Pictured left is some of the rust that was secretly growing underneath where the Aries self steering sits (Roger, this pic is for you). We painted the freshly cleaned spots first with Jotamastic and then with Penguard. We even tried to fix up our dirty waterline... managing to cover up some of the messiness but also managing to inhale far too many paint fumes. Oh dear!

Stress levels were getting high when we had to leave the marina. There were too many jobs to do and time was running out! Somehow, with a few arguments with each other and some crazy times, we managed to get out of the marina 2 hours after their requested time of midday. We motor-sailed out (in very light winds on the nose) and anchored off Middle Island (a short 2 hour trip). The first thing I did was to hang out all of our freshly cleaned washing. I'd put on a few loads at the marina and baulked at the cost of drying it in their machines (about $8 per load). So, thanks to Yawarra 2's idea, this picture records our $16 washing, hanging out to dry on the decks for free! If we'd paid for drying it would have added up to over $40 or so. Crazy how much people charge for such a basic service.
Anchoring at Middle Island resulted in a very rolly night - the swell was much bigger than we'd anticipated.
Today, Rene started putting together his wind generator built with parts bought online off ebay. Pictured (right) is Ren putting the blades on. Tomorrow he'll try wiring it up to see how much power it can create! Pictured left is just one small piece of the many thousands of absolutely beautiful corals and rocks that are to be found here in Keppel Bay. I've had such fun just admiring all of the different colours, shapes, patterns and designs that mother nature has provided. Thanks to Mellissa for inspiration for this picture. 

Before moving anchor to Great Keppel Island today, we checked out the old disused observatory off Middle Island. Rene went snorkeling and saw the most big fish he's ever seen! Pity it's a 'no take zone'! These fish were so tame that he was able to get to within centimeters of them to take this picture. The most impressive though, was a GIANT groper, wider than Rene, over 1metre long... apparently, as Ren was about to take a picture of the giant, it opened it's massive mouth and Rene made a dash for the dinghy - so there's no photo sorry. I saw it too though (from the safety of the dinghy and can vouch for how big it really was! OMG!!!:)

We'll stay here for a bit before heading further north. There's still plenty of boat jobs to do.. and it would be nice to relax for a bit!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Keppel Bay Marina and Rockhampton

Rene: When I woke up this morning, the last thing I expected for the day was to be driving a monster truck along steep edges and through gutters, dodging trees and eventually down a little cliff!

Jeff, my friend who lives in Rocky, chivalrously offered us the use of his 'car' (car-beast) to help us out with the shopping we needed to do. It's been a while since I used a manual, and to add to the confusion, this one had two gear sticks :-O Just to make sure I still had it, we both decided that I should drive for a bit with Jeff in the car. He took us onto a "backstreet" so that it would be "easier". 

5 minutes out of the city centre of Rockhampton was a lonely dirt road along the Fitzroy River that didn't have any traffic except for a couple of bored teenagers zooming helmetless on their dirt bikes and killing snakes. It seemed to fit the criteria of peacefulness and simplicity of navigation.

I was going OK with the gears. On some parts, wheels had worn deep grooves into the clay, so I would avoid it and go around the alternative route.  Jeff's evil plan began to dawn on me... Soon enough, there was no other route and we had to use the second gear stick so that we could either climb through these massive ruts in the road or balance on the edges. Cerae would squeal with delight (terror actually Rene!) every time we went over a bump. Needless to say she was pretty well squealing constantly :-D It was a lot of high testosterone fun - the nervous edge that came with the potential of wrecking Jeff's very expensive beast only added to the excitement.

The climax was a steep incline at the end which turned out to be pretty easy - luckily Cerae refused to be in the car, so now we have this picture:

The teenagers caught up with us, realising that we were out for a romp, and got all their mates. Apparently what we were doing was mad sick mental and would be even more so if we went into some infamous rougher bit further ahead. "Do a burnout!" one of them piped up in a prepubescent tone. "Looks like we have some groupies" I remarked to Jeff, who, being a fairly low-key operator, decided that it was time to go back, particularly considering that the fuel was hitting empty.

Rocky is the beef capital of Australia and we have a "when in Rome" attitude. Jeff is Head Chef at a hotel and we had a great Aussie experience at the attached pub, watching the final State Of Origin match while eating meat! yeah! The food was fantastic - I couldn't believe how much meat there was on my plate! 

Cerae says (re the marina):
Being attached to land again is a pretty novel experience after nearly 2 months away. I'm still impressed by how fast the electric kettle is (coffee in 2 minutes, not 20) and it's relaxing to not have to fret about how much power we are using. I've loved loved loved having long hot showers and not having to worry about dragging at anchor. There are some annoyances though - it is expensive to be here and the rules are pretty strict (not allowed to hang out anything to dry etc). We're taking advantage of the calm waters and power to get some of the maintenance jobs done that have been put off. Today we sanded back and picked out a dozen rust spots and then painted over them with special 2-part epoxy. Fingers crossed Mr Rust doesn't show his ugly face again soon! 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Great Keppel Island

Great Keppel Island is truly great! It is a perfect mix of gorgeous bushland, pristine beaches, rocky headlands and stunning views. We met a lovely family who are cruising up the coast too - onboard their amazing boat, Juniper. They inspired us to be more adventurous than we would have normally been and to go for long walks throughout the island. A long-term resident (Svesden) has created a multitude of paths that take the adventurer to different spots. The paths are sometimes only marked with painted rocks or unique handcrafted signs. 

On one occasion, as we climbed along the rocky foreshore, we didn't realise that there was an inlet that we'd need to cross. Juniper's crew asked us twice from their dinghy as they motored past us if we needed a lift. A few hours later, after about 10Km of walking, we were on the other side - it would have taken about 30 seconds on the dinghy! We contemplated swimming back over on the return trip, but luckily Juniper's crew came to the rescue and we hitched a dinghy ride this time! 

Near the anchorage we stayed at, is a tree adorned with old buoys. It was like a magical, perpetual, nautical christmas tree. Just below it was a swing and a big jumping net - all created by the people who have passed through here.

The next day we all hiked across the island to the lighthouse. It was rated as a difficulty of 10 on a scale of 1-10. The 7 of us walked from midday until sunset - check out the prickles that I caught on the way! I was super impressed with the stamina of Juniper's kids - the youngest is only 4 and he made it without really complaining! We saw some amazing stuff together and thoroughly enjoyed their company. We're hoping to see them again further up the coast soon for more games of Settlers of Catan.  

The time came for us all to move on though and today we moved on to Keppel Bay Marina. It is our first time in a marina since we first bought Anhinga 3 years ago and our first time on this trip, of having to actually pay for accommodation! 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Watery Daze

Lady Musgrave Island really put on her charms for us. We had some absolutely gorgeous, flat-calm, warm and lovely days. We snorkeled and swam often - the visibility was incredible. We have met more lovely yachties too which has been fun - everyone has different stories, food, tips and ideas to share. 

We had to leave the island because strong winds were forecast. We pulled up anchor at dawn - the water was like a mirror, reflecting the golden sunrise. As we slipped out, two giant turtles swam under our bows. 

Originally we planned to stay at Masthead Island and then head over to Keppel Bay - but the winds were great for sailing straight to the Cape of Capricorn... so we changed plan. 
Along the way we put out the trolling line and within half an hour, had caught this amazingly delicious Black Kingfish! 

Rounding the cape at 9pm was a bit scary - it was a very dark night and all we could see was the lighthouse and the great dark mass of land. We must have scared a boat that was already anchored there as they shone a torch out at us when we came a little too close for their liking! I had a sleepless night, imagining all sorts of terrible things as the boat rolled around in the swell making weird noises. When the sun finally rose this morning, we saw that the Cape is really quite a tiny anchorage - so we upped anchor and moved on: sailing over to Great Keppel Island. It was already crowded here, as other people are also sheltering from the strong winds, so we anchored much closer to shore than the 10 other boats here. Initially I was worried we were too close, but after speaking to a couple of yachties ashore, have been assured that all is swell! 

I can hear the wind whistling through our rigging and am glad to be all snug inside drinking red wine, writing and snacking on chips! Looking forward to exploring this island and meeting more interesting people before moving on to Rosslyn Bay when the winds are calmer.