Wednesday, 5 December 2012

One last sail for 2012

Looking out for mackerel movement through the coral spore.
Sunday turned out to be the perfect day for a day sail to Magnetic Island's West Beach.
Vikki, David, Carolynne and Ted joined us early that morning so we had plenty of assistance pushing off the dock and heading out.
Not much to do but relax as we head out of Townsville towards Maggie Is.
A light breeze on the nose put paid to any idea of sailing across but we were able to break out the head sail for the trip back, adopting the 2 knot rule, that is, if we dropped below 2 knots we would turn on a motor.
We weren't the only ones trying for a mackerel.
The morning was spent doing a wide loop out west of the island in the hope of getting another mackerel but, alas, no luck.
We dropped anchor off West Beach for lunch, regretting that stinger season put paid to any ideas of a swim, however the beautiful surrounds and great company more than compensated. It was also way cooler out on the water than on the land.
Monday marked the start of seriously packing up Sea Piper for the cyclone season. We dropped the headsail at first light and flaked it beautifully - best we've ever done. Royden had already removed the bbq and wind generator and the Code Zero had been put to bed after its trip to the sailmaker for repairs.
There's still numerous jobs to do before we head off to Victoria but perhaps the biggest challenge, one that we've been working on for the past few weeks, is to eat all the food on board. This final week is like an invention test with some interesting meals emerging from canned, frozen and fresh combinations.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The long and the short(s) of it

Going cheap – in fact, free – three pairs of unhemmed stretchy shorts, sizes 18, 22 and 24.
I could hem them I suppose.
How did I come across such items, and what the heck does it have to do with Sea Piper?
The story begins with an article I read a couple of years ago. For some reason it stayed in my head even though I could not, at that time, see the point of the article’s subject.
The story told of how you could easily make fender covers out of old track suit pants, instead of paying a fortune for them in a chandlery.
For those of you not familiar with a boat fender, they are the inflated, tubular-shaped things put along the side of a boat to cushion it from contact with the wharf/jetty/marina finger/other boats.
They are very useful if not essential.
However I couldn’t figure why people put pretty covers over them. They looked OK to me `au natural’.
That is until the blue rubbery stuff at the top of several of our fenders started to get sticky in the sun and leave hard-to-remove blue marks along the hull.
Ah, fender covers - that cartoon `light' went on in my brain.
Off I went to visit Townsville op shops (with which I am pretty familiar). Do you know how hard it is to find second hand track suit pants (of the large variety, or small for that matter) in the tropics? Four op shops later I had the requisite three pairs (Adidas, Target and Millers' brands) each looking rarely, if ever, worn.
Today I borrowed Carolynne’s sewing machine and created new `leggings’ for our small, medium and large fenders. As that magazine article had suggested, it was dead easy - and cheap. I even used the elastic from the Size 24s around the fender-cover tops! I guess that means that the Size 24 shorts will fall down so they’re off the market.
Our row of matching fenders look stunning in their little black numbers!
All dressed up and going nowhere.
 The build-up has finally hit Townsville, as of last Monday.
Swarms of jelly fish came into the marina yesterday. These are not the stinger variety but those won't be far away as the sea is warming up considerably along with the weather.
Jelly fish ranged in size from tiny to about 40cm. Hundreds of them swarmed into the marina.

My facial barometer has been working overtime – slight dripping to full-on water cascades from the face by Tuesday (Donna you will recall this from our Darwin days). Today was much less humid reducing my output to just a thin veil of wetness across the forehead.
Coping mechanisms include such things as lying about in the foreshore rock pool which has stingers and other beasties filtered out; going to the movies (can recommend Argo and The Intouchables) and sitting in air con sewing fender covers.
The evenings remain superb.
Thank goodness Royden decided to set the air conditioner in place last Sunday, never thinking we would be using it the next day as the weather up until then had been delightful – warm to hot, and breezy.

* The rock pool kept us entertained on Monday with a big goanna strolling around the grassed area causing quite a stir among the sunbathers (Yes, people still do that). On the sea-side of the pool a number of turtles were feeding, rising to the surface for several breaths before each dive. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera to capture either of the above.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

If wishes were fishes ...

Looking pretty happy with their catch - and who wouldn't be.
What better way to cap off an overnighter to Magnetic Island than with a hefty mackerel.
David and Vikki joined us on Friday for the trip out to Horseshoe Bay, along the eastern edge of the island past Nelly, Florence and Radical Bay.
With the wind going round to the north, it was a bit rolly in Horseshoe but, arriving just on low tide, we were able to tuck Sea Piper into a protected corner and enjoy the lovely sunset and starry night.
A strengthening wind and an incoming tide made for an interesting dinghy ride into the Horseshoe Bay foreshore the next morning, but the walk along the beach and exploring yet another track off this bay made it worth the soggy clothes, which in this temperature dry in a matter of minutes.
It was also interesting to watch the life savers drag a net through a section of the bay to ascertain stinger activity in the area. I think it must have been too rough for stingers as there were none in the net, but there were fish and crabs which were duly released. The happiest creatures on the foreshore were the seagulls. They must love the easy feed this daily ritual provides - along with the tourists' chips.
Goodbye Horseshoe Bay - till next time.
We decided the sea was too lumpy to eat our lunch of freshly cooked prawns at anchor in the bay so we hoisted the main and head sail and took advantage of the northerly breeze to complete our circumnavigation of the island before returning to Townsville.
Just off West Point, located (as you may have guessed) on the western corner of the island, the mackerel line went off and Royden and David hauled in the beauty shown in the photos.
A nice memento of their trip to take home - in fillets of course.
A few fillets off this one.
NB There were quite a number of big carrier ships off Magnetic Island waiting to go into Townsville Harbour. One of them, a car carrier, looked like it was made of Lego. It was the most un-shiplike shape for a ship. I wonder if it's captain was of a squarish build also - the total Lego picture.
Legoland on the water.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


An eerie light settled over the marina this morning as the moon passed across the sun.
The view of the eclipse from Townsville was at about 95 per cent so we didn't get total blackout but it was enough to take the warmth from the sun and dull the reflections of boats on the water.
Carolynne and Ted had managed to secure two pairs of the dinky cardboard `eclipse' glasses so armed with those and a pinholed-biscuit box and sheet of white paper, the four of us sat on the front deck of Double Vision to share this rare experience.
I was amazed at how well the pin-holed sheet worked when reflected through to the white paper. The glasses were great too.
Interesting also that there was no notable reduction in the light from the sun until the moon was well across it. Shows how much power the sun puts out and how little we need.
Light's fading on Double Vision.
The moon is almost across the sun but the reflection in the water is still round. Curious.

A biscuit box and a sheet of paper for my pinhole camera to view the eclipse.
The wind has been blowing like crazy this week  (30 knots in the marina yesterday morning!) but all was calm and still this morning, a welcome addition to the experience.
With the forecast of much improved conditions over the next week, we're planning a trip with David and Vikki out to Magnetic Island on the weekend. Another of our favourite spots.

Friday, 9 November 2012

A fast finish follows pre-dawn start

Probably about 4.45am, anchor's up, nav lights are on and we're underway. Pelorus Island, at the north end of the Palm group of islands, is the one on the horizon.
What a great sail we had yesterday.
With the forecast of an east/nor-easter, similar to the beginning of our trip south, we decided to leave the lovely Hinchinbrook channel and head towards Townsville, with the alternative of ducking over to Orpheus or Fantome Islands (part of the Palm Islands) if the said wind didn't eventuate.
We made the decision on Wednesday and moved Sea Piper a little further along the Hinchinbrook channel towards Lucinda, anchoring in Sunday Creek. It was a little more exposed here but again gave us the opportunity to soak up a different set of craggy peaks - and to listen to the croc barking that night, which seemed to come from the mangroves adjacent our boat.
The bonus of having more exposure to the wind was a massive reduction in the number of midgies trying to join us for dinner! I don't think I have ever used so many mossie coils as over the past few days - but they worked and that's the main thing.
We hauled up the anchor just before high tide around 4.30am yesterday and headed off.
It's a beautiful time of the day to be on the water. The dawn colours were just seeping over the horizon and there was half a moon up lending a welcome splash of illumination to our navigation. Actually it was much easier to see the lit channel navigational markers at this time than in daylight.
The Lucinda end of the Hinchinbrook Channel has a huge wide bay but it is notoriously shallow. The passage out takes boats and ships very close to the jetty then along it for a couple of kilometres.
We negotiated our way around the ever-so-long Lucinda jetty, waving to the early morning fisher-man and woman before hoisting the main sail and making the turn southwards. The wind came up exactly as forecast so out went the Code Zero and off we went.
A quick call to the Townsville coastguard confirmed no military activity in the area we wished to sail through (there's a military zone in Halifax Bay north of Townsville that is no-go during operations) but National Parks were shooting feral animals on Orpheus and Fantome Islands so they were out of bounds.
The wind picked up a little once we had cleared the influence of the Palms but was still in the right direction so we swapped the Code Zero for half a head sail and continued to hold a steady six to seven knots.
Our sailing buddies from yesterday. We've no idea who they are and couldn't make out the name of the boat but we kept apace of each other from the Palms to Townsville.
During the sail swap the wind dropped and fluked around causing the edge of the Code Zero to bang into one of the cross bars from the mast, putting a neat little hole in the sail. Bugger.
However we agreed that a patch each side across the hole would give the sail added strength to resist puncturing against a cross bar any time in the future.
Rattlesnake Island - the name itself would deter visitors but it's also in the middle of the military training area. The island has warning signs everywhere about the dangers of landing there, citing:`unexploded ordnance'. Ewww!
We made excellent time to Townsville, passing to the west of Rattlesnake Island and hitting eight knots as we shot into the lee of Magnetic Island where we dropped the sails and motored across the bay into Breakwater Marina, tying up just on 12 hours after we pulled anchor.
As usual a marina staffer was there to help us tie up making the job easy.
Within minutes our friend Carolynne was also alongside ready to share a welcoming champagne. There was no resistance our end!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Cardwell post-Yasi

Cardwell is recovering from Yasi but is in desperate need of more residents and tourists.
We sailed up to the town yesterday, anchoring off the northern beach as the marina precinct is out-of-bounds unless a) you live there or b) you make a booking to get fuel and pay the $50 opening fee for the bowser.
The shop keepers are as friendly as ever - and once again we were offered a lift back to the dinghy by a complete stranger. Maybe yachties stand out because of the odd clothes we wear, the browness of our skin and our daypacks. Who knows!
The shops are all freshly painted as are many of the non-brick houses. The only thing missing is the foreshore bushland and trees - and people.
Evidently over 500 people left the town during or following Yasi and they haven't come back to live. Couple that with the loss of jobs in industries like the marina, boatyard, chandlery and the barramundi farm which was also wiped out. It's such a shame as this is a beaut little town - a bit like Dromana of 50 years ago.
We returned to anchor in Gayundah Creek in the afternoon as it blew up a bit in the more exposed area off Cardwell. It was an interesting trip in the dinghy from the shore to Sea Piper. We both got soaked in the short, sharp waves that rose up with the wind.
Catching up on the knitting during the peaceful sail up to Cardwell.
Fishing in the evening.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Splendid isolation

Craggy peaks and still water in Gayundah Creek.
The slogan of the former Hinchinbrook Island resort was `Splendid Isolation'. While the resort has ceased to operate, its sales line is an apt description of the Hinchinbrook area. We've seen one fisherman today and a yacht passing by in the distance. Other than that, we've seen a crocodile, a Ulysses butterfly and a few birds.
... and looking the other way.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Back in bloggerspace

After our few weeks in Rochy we hit the ground running on our arrival back in Cairns.
There were some essential jobs to do on Sea Piper involving a rigger and a welder so we were very pleased when the welder offered to do his part on a Saturday so the rigger could re-rig two of the stays at his earliest opportunity - which was the Tuesday following.
With that out of the way we had two days to put the saloon back in order (that's where the stays were replaced) if we wanted to take advantage of two days of light northerly winds on the Friday and Saturday - plus there was the shopping and general departure preparations to be done.
By Thursday night we were both wrecked - but it's amazing what a shower and a drink with friends will do!
Some final frantic work took place on Friday morning and by 10am we had cast off the ropes and were away, stopping briefly at Yorkeys Knob to get some fuel.
The weather was idyllic. The sea was smooth as glass with just the faintest gust of northerly breeze now and again.
Mission Bay just off Cairns and heading to Cape Grafton.
We put the main sail and the Code Zero out around Cape Grafton and were able to maintain around six knots with one motor on low revs plus the sails.
It was a lovely time to reminisce about the places we had visited with the friends and family who had been with us at the time.
We passed Fitzroy Island and headed south towards the Frankland Islands where we planned to anchor overnight at Russell Island. We'd stopped there for a morning break on the way north earlier in the year and were keen to walk up the one hill to the lighthouse.
It was a really relaxing sail. We led a small flotilla - three yachts, all south bound for varying reasons. We soon lost the lead to a small single hull but took note of the lay of their sails and adjusted ours accordingly - and with success.
The flotilla and coral spawn
The coral spawning was at its peak for the past two days. Instead of the usual murky brown colour, it was tinged with yellows and greens. It was difficult to capture on camera however.
On arrival at Russell Island we were lucky to secure the one mooring available to boats over 10 metres. The moorings on the island are currently being serviced so ours sported a nice new mooring line instead of the thickly weeded, messy thing we picked up six months ago.
The beach and surrounding rocky tors were magnificent.
Sea Piper moored off Russell Island.
The other side of the sandspit in the previous photo.
Royden soon sussed out the overgrown track to the lighthouse and up we went through the rainforest. It wasn’t a very big climb but the lighthouse was a bit disappointing. It’s simply a steel trestle structure with the light on top – and a `no access’ board over the bottom of the ladder. From the bottom the view is of the thick rainforest around you. For those able to get to the top, the views are far more spectacular.
Looking north to Fitzroy Island (far right) from the top of the lighthouse structure on Russell Island.
Who? Me?
Beautiful patterns on the beached coral.
After a restful night, we opted for a 6am start to again make the most of the northerly conditions which were predicted to change to south-easterlies late Saturday.
Again we were able to make good knots with the main and Code Zero and one motor.
An added bonus was a double hit on the mackerel lines - and we managed to land (? land or deck?) both fish. After filleting and vaccuum sealing we've ended up with eight meal packs.  
All in a day's work.
We had anticipated anchoring for the night at Dunk Island but we arrived there at around 1.30pm and decided to push on to the Hinchinbrook Channel.
By then the wind was picking up so it was too good an opportunity to miss.  We whizzed across then made our way up to Gayundah Creek, about 10 nautical miles up the channel, dropping anchor in this beautiful spot around 6pm. A long day but by no means an exhausting one.
Besides, we had earmarked today as a definite `rest’ day and we’ve kept to the plan, having done nothing much more than eat, read and enjoy the view.
We plan to spend about a week around Hinchinbrook and will make the journey down to Magnetic Island off Townsville at the next weather break after that.
Looking from Gayundah Creek towards the Hinchinbrook Channel and the mainland.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Ugh - weeds

I see weeds of green, spreading burr plants too
My, how they've grown, out the back and front too
And I think to myself what a different world
(Apologies to Louis Armstrong)
First impressions of the garden on our return to Rochy was the beaut spring colours - trees flowering, the ground cover daisies blooming purple and white. Glorious.
Growing pile outside the garden bed instead of in it.

The odd weed or two.
But that extra green tinge was a thousand weeds, some a metre tall.
While we had the two youngest grandkids staying, I blissfully ignored the extra growth but once they had returned home it was time to address the burrs, thistles and other weedy objects to give the real plants room to spread and hopefully choke the weeds out in the future.
A downpour on Saturday and another yesterday softened the ground and I have dedicated this week to weed removal, crawling progressively through the jungle to pull them out. The result is very muddy hands and knees, some reclaimed garden beds and huge piles of the unwanted stuff waiting to go to the tip.
I guess it could be likened to cleaning the hulls, maybe.
Maybe not!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

One last snorkel on the reef

Looking back  across the Great Barrieer Reef towards the mainland.

With confirmation from the rigger that he wouldn't be arriving yesterday we quickly closed hatches and untied ropes to get out of marina and the Moon River on the dropping tide - usually a no-no for us with its associated risk of getting stuck on the sandbar for eight or more hours.
The Vlasoff Cay, and our last opportunity to snorkel the reef before stinger season, was too tempting so out we went with just a metre of water under us at the bar. Phew!
We had a magnificent day.
There was a light 7 knot breeze so we put the head sail out and kept a motor going to make the three-hour crossing.
With school holidays and this run of great weather we expected see a lot of boats at the reef but there were only half a dozen others apart from the regular commercial cats heading to Green Island and Michaelmas Cay.
The previous day, Sunday, over 70 boat trailers were parked at the boat ramp adjacent the marina so we guessed it had been a bit busier at the reef then.
Vlasoff was just as beautiful as last week but, as we arrived just after low tide (0.8m) there was a lot more of the sand cay out of the water - and some tricky reef heads to negotiate into a sandy anchoring patch. As the water is so clear, it is almost impossible to determine how far under the water the reef patches are but we knew we had over a metre less water than our last visit so couldn't necessarily take the same route as before.
Once safely anchored we dropped the ladder and hit the water.
Beautiful! And we had four hours to lap it up.
Vlasoff Cay with a bit more sand and reef showing.
The camera did a rare change of hands to prove that I was there too.
If you're not sick of seeing reef photos, here's some more.
 We returned to the marina on the high tide last night. The rigger is due today (maybe) to check the rigging he installed two years ago.
Today and tomorrow we'll tidy the boat for our month away, eat all the food or give it away. When we return at the end of October, it will be stinger season and so I doubt we'll be snorkelling anywhere as we make our way south to Townsville where Sea Piper will spend the Wet season.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Switched on

A project that has been several months in the making has been a new engine starting panel and our return to the marina marked the final stage - the installation.
Pulling out the old panel with its myriad of wires snaking every which way looked like a nightmare, but based on previous experience, I knew Royden had it sussed.
Out with the old ...
Some serious labelling took place at this point.
After two days, half of one spent racing to the bus to town to buy some parts following a change in the plan, the new panel is up and running - and looks great.
Neat as - and with circuit breakers.
With perfect weather conditions prevailing, we're itching to head out to the reef for another snorkel or two before our trip to Victoria next Thursday.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Wow: whales, then more whales

Vlasoff Cay - popular with the locals on a beautiful day like this.
All tiredness left us as we cast off the mooring at Upolu and headed to Vlasoff Cay to the east. We'd no sooner hit the deeper channel between the reefs when we sighted our first whales of the day - a mother and calf playing in the deep leads that mark the way out of this reef complex and through to Green Island.
They were quite a way off so we watched for a bit before continuing towards Vlasoff, mindful of the tide.
We'd planned to approach this cay about an hour before high tide, spend a couple of hours there and head off again while the water was still high. It's way less stressful picking your way through the reef when you know you've got maximum water under you. When it's calm, the water is so clear it's impossible to tell the depth until the depth sounder is over the patch - bit late then though.
Sea Piper at Vlasoff from snorkel level.
Vlasoff was magnificent. We anchored in a clear white sand patch in five meters as we couldn't find the one public mooring listed on the Parks website. (We did locate it later through the binoculars. It's way off the cay, probably in a position where you can get to it on a low tide I guess.)
The tiny sand cay just had its peak out of the water and within the hour a number of small boats from the mainland had anchored on its verge, families had spilled out onto the beach and an aquamarine beach umbrella had gone up. It looked gorgeous.
A tiny part of Vlasoff Reef
We dropped our ladder and snorkelled straight off the boat, as usual, and within minutes were gasping out garbelled `Wows!' through the snorkel. There were thousands of tiny bright coloured fish amongst the coral gardens and again Merman dived down amongst them but they were barely disturbed by his presence. 
So many fish in this beautiful coral garden.
We stayed in the water till we both started to cramp up. It was hard to leave such a beautiful experience but our pruned (more than usual) skin was another indication we needed to stop.
We gingerly steered Sea Piper back into deeper water and headed back towards Upolu and the gap out of the reef complex. The mother whale and baby (assuming it was the same ones we'd seen before) had made their way further into the reef channel and came up almost directly in front of us. We had to move off to one side as the calf leapt and played around its mother. We just stopped and watched. It was awesome.
I know this is off-centre, but this shows how close the whales came - even the little camera could get a shot.

We had decided to quit while we were ahead with the weather and head back to the marina for the night. Crossing the passage between the reef and the mainland, three whales erupted from the water. They were well off in the distance but their size and the display they put on was awesome. It continued for at least 40 minutes until the sea haze and distance made them fade from our view. It must have been a perfect whale play day.
Bet they all slept well last night - same as us!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Norman Reef

Note to self: Despite beautifully calm weather and an available mooring, it is not a good idea to spend the night on the Great Barrier Reef with no protection from the swell.
We're a bit weary this morning after a lumpy night but it's another glorious day and we're making the most of it.
We left Low Isles yesterday morning and headed out on the high tide to the passage between Batt and Tongue Reefs.It was very peaceful but quite eerie out there. We were the only boat and because the tide was over two metres, the reef either side of us was not apparent - so no land marks and only the haziest outline of the mainland. As the tide starred to drop the waves started to roll over the reef edges giving some definition to our surrounds.
We were spat out on the other side of the reef into the Coral Sea. Again a different experience for us with a widely spaced rolling swell at the mouth of Trinity Passage, one of several shipping passages through the Barrier Reef.
Norman Reef - again my little camera doesn't do the colours justice, plus there's a water blob in the middle of the lens I've just noticed. Not surprising cos it's just come out of the water!
Our destination was Norman Reef which, we realised as we neared, was the end point of one of the big day-trip companies so there was a huge lunch platform and a helipad as well as two big boats. 
Fortunately the one public mooring was a long way from the commercial operation - and the mooring was unoccupied.
After a quick lunch we hit the water. It was stunning. Sea Piper was in 13 meters of water and it was crystal clear right to the bottom. The bommies and reef were full of fish and turtles - and my accomplished `Merman' had a ball diving down and rustling up some action.
The Merman of Norman Reef
Bommie - Norman Reef

Pick the little shape that is a turtle.

We reluctantly climbed back on Sea Piper when we could swim no more.
It was tempting to stay out at Norman Reef for the night but we decided to head for a little more protection at Michaelmas Cay which has a couple of moorings adjacent a sandspit.
There were so many coral heads and bommies it was like picking our way through a minefield to reach the mooring at Michaelmas only to find it was tagged for a smaller boat than ours and that we would swing out over some very big coral heads if we stayed put. One large mooring was already taken and the second large one, listed on the Marine Parks website, was nowhere to be found.
So we picked our way out of there again and headed to Upolu to rock and roll the night away with the turn of the tide sending the swell right through us and the slight breeze turning us side on to it. Blah.