"Arctracer" Letters

Cairns to Sydney, Nov-Dec 2001

Having receiving a book in the mail and getting the money for our 1990 Holden Wagon, we left Half Moon Bay Marina at Yorkey's Knob on November 19th at about 13:00 hours. We didn't realize it was Thanksgiving week until we heard from some of you, since we remember it being later in the month. Since the 1st was on a Thursday, it makes sense that the 22nd was the 4th Thursday of November, but we must confess that we don't pay too much attention to our calendars.

After sailing about 20 miles we anchored at Fitzroy Island for the first overnight stop and remained onboard, but had fond memories of our past experiences on the island.

The following day, on our way to Dunk Island, we saw many cane fires and were glad we weren't near enough to them to have ash all over our decks. We also saw a large tan-colored sea snake - a first. We hadn't been used to being at sea and found ourselves bailing water out of the forepeaks as the hatches weren't closed securely. We noticed that our new trampoline was getting quite loose and that a hook securing one end had straightened out with the tremendous weight of the water crashing on top of it. After 84 miles we anchored at Dunk Island and the following day after about 62 miles we anchored at Juno Bay, Fantome Island in the Palm Group.

Since Paul at the Customs Office in Townsville requested that we see him in Townsville that was our next stop after a 40 mile sail. He had us sign a paper he had drawn up concerning custom control of our schooner and asked for a few details about the cat. He already had our new U.S. Documentation number and details of our Australian cruising permit from the custom officials in Cairns. We were fortunate to be able to spend a few hours with the crews of "Kankama" & "Blue Moon," but were sorry to hear that Sarah, John and Natasha were still in Townsville because of engine problems. We were also able to get some light bulbs for our red and green running lights and stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables - always a plus. Since there was still a northerly component in the wind we left Townsville the next day and anchored at Cape Upstart after 77 miles and many tacks. We enjoyed watching porpoises in this anchorage. En route this day our trampoline had pulled away from the port side of the boat with a piece of aluminum detached and quite bent after rivits pulled out. This new trampoline looked pretty, but it didn't have enough space for the water to go through the holes in it. We've now removed it.

After checking for messages on on Iridium phone we found that Dorothy had seen the Leonids in DC. We saw many meteors, but the sky was only clear in a few spots as we watched them at Yorkey's Knob marina. We had set our alarm for 3:15 and saw them almost immediately. We later heard that the sky over Townsville was clear and the meteor showers were fantastic there. We also were excited to hear that she and Dan will be visiting Sydney for their 10th anniversary on January 30th.

From Cape Upstart we sailed 65 miles to Breakfast Bay on the south side of Glouster Island, off Bowen. While walking along the beach there we saw three small sand sharks, but nothing else of much interest. It was neat to see a sunbow around the sun today with red on the inside of the circle and purple on the outside of it. At this anchorage we got out another chart to take us past the Whitsunday Islands. We watched three sea eagles the next morning on the beach before heading farther south.

On the way to our next anchorage at Billbob Bay on the southern end of Shaw Island in the southern group of the Whitsundays (after 60 miles) Nina cleaned her fishing tackle box for the first time since moving aboard a boat in July 1994. Rusty hooks were removed, lures cleaned and lures with melted plastic were thrown out. She also made three new lures and proceeded to lose one during that day as it wasn't tied on properly when a fairly large fish hit it. We had seen flying fish so were hoping to catch a mahi mahi, but no luck. The following morning at this anchorage we saw the tracks of two turtles who had gone ashore to lay their eggs. Later I read that they start laying eggs at the end of October, with January a peak month, and February being about the end of the laying season.

Since we were still getting winds from northerly sectors we decided to sail through the night the following day. We saw a few porpoises on this leg and lots of jumping fish, but again didn't catch any. We definitely need to learn about what lures to use. At about dark we were approaching Middle Percy Island and after 198 miles we came to anchor on the northwest side of Great Keppel Island to wait for some southerly winds to turn around. Again we saw the tracks where two turtles had been on the beach to lay their eggs. We saw large indentations in the sand when we explored the area and went on a walk up a hill to the ocean side of the island. We also heard kookaburras nearby and enjoyed listening to them. Ospreys were around the area too. In this anchorage we saw a nudibranch-type creature swimming by the boat. It was amazing to watch it flapping its "wings" and putting its head out of the water. At 10 pm the first night in this anchorage we had a storm pass over us. A report on the radio the next day said that many people had lost their electricity ashore and that there had been gusts up to about 50 knots. The boat got a thorough wash which was good, but we were somewhat anxious for a little while until the storm passed. These were the highest winds we'd encountered at anchor with our catamaran. Luckily the anchor held and there were no problems except that one of the hatches over the salon table leaked. That is now repaired. We met some interesting live-aboards at Great Keppel and learned of some walks on the island, so went on one of them. The television worked here and it was interesting to hear on the evening news that the temperature in Cairns was 36 C while in Brisbane it was 28. We've noticed that it is more comfortable sleeping these days as we move farther south. We don't need to use the fans as much at night and we're even using a quilt some of the time.

As the northerlies were returning soon we put in waypoints to get us to Bundaberg - 126 miles to the south east, got our running lights and stern light working, took off the ripped trampoline, cleaned the sides of the boat around the waterline, did a little laundry and prepared to sail on. On the 30th of November we sailed slowly south with our spinnaker up for the first time this trip. At times sailing over 8 knots with 10 knots or less of wind we passed Cape Capricorn and the Tropic of Capricorn at 23 27' S on November 30th. Hence the sun will be north of us for the rest of our stay in Australia this year and we're officially out of the tropics. Sailing north we crossed it on August 8th with our New Zealand friends, Jan & Pat on board. About dinner time, while eating pumpkin soup and freshly made bread at our salon table while sailing, we put on our TV to listen to the evening news. We were surprised to hear that there had been a violent thunderstorm where we'd just been anchored again. Jerry saw lightening and heard thunder while he was on watch later that night, but they didn't come near us. I, Nina, used to feel safe in a steel boat in a thunderstorm, but don't know what it means to be in a fibreglass boat.

We went into the Bundaberg Port Marina about 8:00 on December 1st to get diesel before going down through the Great Sandy Straits inside of Frazer Island. Then we went back to sea to go towards Frazer Island through Hervey Bay. We anchored at Woody Island for the night in the Great Sandy Straits as this had good protection from the northeast winds. We didn't feel we wanted to go through the Straits in the dark.

December 2nd we sailed to Inskip Point just south of Frazer Island (the largest sand island in the world) to get ready to cross Wide Bay Bar early in the morning before the wind . Since we had plenty of time to get there we went to Garry's Anchorage, got the dinghy off and went ashore to go for a walk on Frazer Island. We'd never been on the island before, but had anchored here on our way north with Pat and Jan. There is a 4-wheel drive track that we walked along for a couple of hours before returning to the boat, pulling up the anchor, and moving on. We saw some brown cuckoo-doves that we had never seen before while on this walk and we also saw some emerald doves. We heard lots of other birds, but they eluded us. At Inskip Point we had time to write some email notes to be ready to send when we get to Mooloolaba - the next stop and a day sail.

We arrived in Mooloolaba to find that there was no place for our cat at any of the three marinas, so we went to the fuel dock at Lawries and found that we could anchor off the marina there. We saw the schooner and she looked good, except some of the varnish already needs to be taken care of again. We had a great evening visiting with cruisers we'd met previously and got to see Annie and Robert on the New Zealand boat "Ensalla" for a few hours. We'd first met them in Tonga. After getting a few groceries and sending some email we had the anchor up at Lawries at about noon on the 4th. We sailed to the Tangalooma Wrecks anchorage at Morton Island for the night. This was where we first anchored the cat after picking her up in Raby Bay, Cleveland.

While maneuvering through Morton Bay and the Broadwater towards the southern end of South Stradbroke Island we anchored south of Karragarra Island, at Canaipa off Russell Island, and at Currigee. Again, we didn't want to navigate this area in the dark. We saw lots of large jellyfish, saw a large ray jump out of the water, turtles, pelicans, osprey, sea eagles and had over 50 welcome swallows on the boat at one time (great for catching all the mozzies in the anchorage), and we heard kookaburras and owls at night. This is where we learned that New Zealand sailor Peter Blake was killed on his boat on the Amazon River. What a tragedy! We encountered lots of chartered houseboats going down through the Broadwater. We don't think we'd ever seen so many previously. We had a visit from Peter and Judi on "Twisted Sisters" which was short (as we were about ready to sail to Coffs Harbour), but wonderful as we hadn't seen them since New Caledonia.

About 5 pm on the 9th we left Southport and headed to Coffs Harbour, arriving there about 3:30 pm on the 10th after 161 nm. We arrived just after Helen and Bob on "Waylander" and just before Terry and Lenore on "Panacea." We'd met both of them in Coffs when we were there before. We had a great reunion that night on our boat with 16 people on board (a record for the cat, but in Fiji we had over 20 for spaghetti once on the schooner) for a potluck supper. Fay and Zed on "Journeyman," Geoffrey on "Morasum," Glenys and Rebecca on "Liskeard Lady," Judy and Spence on "Rival," Sherrie and Norm on "Fly," Terry and Lenore on "Panacea." Helen and Bob on "Waylander," and Keith on "Clarisbrooke" joined us for the evening. We couldn't believe that 11 people could eat sitting around the table in the main salon, but they did.

On the 11th we paid for a week at the marina as we had lots of materials to buy to fix things on the boat. We wrote lots of email, moved the clocks an hour ahead, checked in with Customs and they made a copy of our cruising permit, had lots of visitors aboard at various times, enjoyed dinner with friends on other boats, got Jerry's computer fixed, read, got propane tanks filled, did laundry, mended the mainsail that had ripped on our way to Coffs Harbour, got stainless steel pieces made to attach another new trampoline which we've now purchased, sent in the application for our radio license, filled the water tanks, replaced hoses for plumbing in the head, checked the engines and cleaned out the bilges, bought groceries, bought a secondhand sewing machine from sailing vessel Fly, bought a steam iron, a 110 inverter and material for making screens for our hatches and door, bought a CD burner to store our digital photos on, saw Australians Lyn and Al on "Svanika" whom we hadn't seen since the Panama Canal - they stopped in at Coffs on their way to Tasmania to wait for northerly winds, saw Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, met the Aboriginal painter Alison Buchanan on the boat "Malahini" and bought two of her prints and one of her dead brother's prints - she later traded another one for Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes book, got the print "The Message Stick" framed, had our first offer on the schooner (which fell through), started writing our annual "Seasons Greetings" letter, talked with 18 students from John Paul College in Coffs Harbour (6 at a time) - the students were visiting a trimaran, a monohull, and our catamaran and asking questions about sailing, living aboard, etc., celebrated our 7th anniversary with fresh flowers and dinner at the "Tide and Pilot," ended up paying for a second week in Coffs and finally left on the 23rd of December.

At about noon on the 23rd we left the Coffs Harbour marina to head for Sydney. With light winds we used our spinnaker for a while, then during the night we had wind of more than 30 knots. The highest gust we saw at sea was 37 kn and the highest we saw after entering Port Stevens was 41 knots. We anchored off Bulls Island for the the night of the 24th and then headed south again. Although there was a strong wind warning, the wind was to be from the west, so we figured that the waves wouldn't build up too much. The waves didn't really get too high on the 25th but they were short with the wind blowing their tops off. There sure was a lot of spray coming aboard. Cupboard doors had to be secured, a panel covering the wiring came off, boards covering our water intake hoses came away from the walls, books fell down, rice fell off the stove, a bouquet of fresh flowers fell over and our plant fell over, the autopilot stopped working, and the mainsail tore near the top. At about 3 pm we decided to anchor just north of Norah Head for the night. While there a bush fire started and spread rapidly with the high winds. It was still raging in the morning when we woke up and got started towards Sydney again.

Just after we left the anchorage at Norah Head our mainsail fell down. We couldn't use it the rest of the way to Sydney as the halyard came loose and was at the top of the mast, but we did arrive at Sydney Heads about noon (after about 275 miles from Coffs Harbour). It was neat that many porpoises joined us to welcome us to Sydney. As it was Boxing Day and the Sydney to Hobart race about to start at 1 pm we stayed at the Heads to watch the fun. About 80 boats, including the 8 Volvo 60s going around the world, were in the race. We later heard on the television that there were over 2000 spectator boats out there. It was great that Jerry was willing to be at the wheel with so many boats around, 'cause Nina wanted nothing to do with steering amongst so many boats. It was unbelievable that many boats were sailing in such close quarters rather than using their engines! We saw two other American boats - "Sidereal Time" from Brooklyn and the beautiful old schooner "Astor" from California among the spectators. Apparently there were over 700,000 spectators ashore to watch the beginning of the race too.

When we woke up on the 27th we had soot all over our boat. We heard on the morning television news that there are over 100 large bush fires in New South Wales, with several of them south of Sydney. It was so smoky that we couldn't see the Harbour Bridge or the headlands on the other side of the harbour from our anchorage at Rose Bay.

We had a nice Christmas Eve in Port Stevens with stir-fried chicken and rice for dinner and we had a nice quiet Christmas day at sea. Our Christmas dinner was left-overs from Christmas Eve.

The nights are much cooler now. We've even kept our windows closed some and have definitely been using a quilt at night. It is great for sleeping! We are even drinking tea during the day today to keep warm.