Cheshire Cat in Australia

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Adventures and an unexpected visit

It’s always interesting when we involve ourselves in another escapade – and the trip to Australia was both a surprise and an adventure.

Dreambird – a 48 ft Gibsea sloop was in Bundaberg Marina on the east coast of Queensland and needed to be sailed to Opua in New Zealand. We had hardly agreed to do the trip when we found ourselves in Auckland prior to the short 3 hour flight to Brisbane on 24th April. Gary, Mike and I stayed overnight in the Queensland capital city and next day drove north for five hours to reach Bundaberg.

The road trip was fairly monotonous – flat and featureless countryside with scrubby “bush” on either side of the straight road. We passed through an occasional village and stopped for a break in one of the many roadside rest areas. Although people have said Australia is a large country, only first hand experience actually makes it a reality.

The marina is about 20 km from the nearest town and located up a river, some 50 miles away from the open sea and sheltered by the most southern part of the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island. Dreambird was in a cradle on dry ground and we spend the next few days cleaning up, checking all the systems and doing chores.

Back in the water we went through the systems, provisioned and declared ourselves ready to depart. Just a few hours later we returned to the marina as the auto helm seemed to be playing up. A loose connection was rectified, and we cleared with customs again – this time returning after three hours as the blamed auto helm decided to malfunction again. This time the motor was replaced and we finally cleared out and left Bundaberg on 15th May.

While we had use of the car we were able to go into town to have a look around and do a little exploring. In one shop we met a young woman who was painting small boomerangs. She painted one especially for us and explained that her home was near Alice Springs with her tribe and also signed her aboriginal name. The boomerang turned out very nicely and proved to be quite a bargain as we saw similar ones for sale at double the price in Brisbane.

We met ………… on the hard stand in town. They were busy refurbishing and painting their catamaran. We all went to a BBQ put on by, the local sailing club and met some of the other people who had boats in the marina. Later on I was able to buy a nice Sailrite sewing machine from the people on Sunflower and we were invited to a special 70th birthday party. Nice people and a good time had by all.

We missed the best weather window, but Bob McDavitt and the grb files seemed to agree that the first part of the 1200 mike passage would be relatively uneventful, so we settled in to make the best time we could in this lovely 28 ft Gibsea Master. We motored for several hours and then set the sails and turned the engine off – blessed quiet! We had heard there was a front coming off the coast but also knew that the wind wouldn’t be terribly strong. Two days later it got a bit lumpy and we had about 20 knots coming over the deck (the annometer wasn’t working) we noticed that the edges of the genoa were coming apart under the sunbrella covering, so we furled it in enough to minimize the damage. Unfortunately a few minutes later a rip opened in the mainsail – and the whole sail soon deteriorated, making it difficult to furl into the mast. If the seas hadn’t been too confused and the wind had been less we might have been able to pull the sail down, but after consulting Gary, Dreambird’s owner, our only alternative was to furl it in as best we could. Mike went to start the engine and discovered that the water cooling wasn’t functioning.

This was definitely a time to consider all the options available to us and to be extremely careful not to make hasty decisions that could lead us into even worse circumstances. We decided to deploy the sea anchor to ensure that we would be safe and stable. That done Mike examined the engine again, looking for deficient hoses or a problem with the impeller. He wasn’t able to find any faults, but when he drained the bilge area he discovered the ‘o’ ring from the water filter housing lying on the bottom. What a relief! (It still didn’t explain why the water wasn’t flowing when he tried to start the engine the first time, before examining the engine)

Cutting a long story short – we found ourselves heading back to OZ under motor, luckily in fairly calm conditions. This time we ended up in the East Coast Marina, Manly Bay, just south of Brisbane. We had no trouble with Customs or Immigration at any time despite the rumors and stories we had heard from other people.

Carmel and Nick, on the yacht Thistle took us under their wings, even taking us out for a day to see the much advertised Gold Coast with its beautiful beaches, surfers and countless high rise condo towers and glitzy hotels. There are no less than four major attractions within easy reach of each other – Waterworld, Warner Bros Movie World and more.

We rented a small car so that we could re-provision and also go to the local garage to collect jugs of diesel – the most economical way of re-fuelling and also easier than trying to get to the gas dock at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron in the shallow water conditions.

We took off for a day and visited the Lone Pine Koala Reserve. This interesting little reserve is just a few miles out of Brisbane, not a long bus journey from the centre of the city. Here we found lots of Koala – most of them rolled up and cosily sound asleep in the eucalyptus trees. Occasionally one would open its eyes to gaze glassily at their admirers, (us) or maybe find enough energy to pluck at a nearby leaf and eat it. They apparently do have very small brains inside those attractive furry heads!

We fed the kangaroos; these were smaller young grays. The big reds live in the interior of Australia and can grow to be over 6 feet tall and weigh in at over 200 lbs. Not to be argued with as I am sure they would win any tusstle Apparently they rock back on their tails and biff you with their strong hind legs!

There were a few wallabies and some even smaller varieties whose names I don’t recall. Disappointingly the Tasmanian Devil wasn’t in residence but we were amazed to see that the Wombats were much bigger than we previously imagined. They too were asleep, shaded and protected in nice hollowed out log homes. We admired the dingo dogs, a single lonely crocodile was dozing on a rock, showing his sharp snappers, and, very briefly, we peeked at several venomous snakes in their warm cages. There were several varieties of parrots, a group of curious young Emu and a couple of peacocks strolling around.

The slow river ferry took us back along the scenic route to Brisbane and spent a couple of lazy hours admiring the luxurious properties on either side of the river banks.

Dreambird’s sails were soon mended or replaced (Andrew at Ultimate Sails was extremely helpful) and presently we were ready to move off again.

This time the 8day passage was reasonably uneventful. We motor sailed a lot of the time, as we knew there was weather around that we wouldn’t relish getting caught up in. Dreambird behaved and we had a really fast night sail around the top of the north island – managing 7- 8 knots consistently!

Opua was strangely quiet when we arrived back – most cruisers had left for the warmer islands of Fiji and Tonga. As usual our Cheshire Cat had shrunk a couple of sizes (it seems to happen if we spend time on a larger boat). The weather was definitely much colder – positively unpleasant out on the mooring. Luckily we were able to get a nice berth in the marina and our first purchase was an electric heater. Life became a great deal more pleasant.

KangarooSacred Ibis
Boxing in the field behind our boat
Mike feeding the roo
Halfway to where?"
Marina south of Brisbane

Condo building

Wombat asleep in tree trunk

Vehicle with above water exhaust and 'kangaroo catcher'

Overlooking Gold Coast from a nearby hill