Monthly Archives: June 2018

Northern exposure

Australia is not letting us off easy. Our journey up the Queensland coast has so far been a mix of unexpected delights and confounding frustrations. As I write this it’s just about dawn and we’re safely anchored in the lee of Lizard Island. The full moon is a beacon in the west and the sky is brightening over the mountain opposite. The catamaran that was in front of us closer to the beach just weighed anchor and motored past. We waved to each other and I yelled, “Where are you headed?”

“Darwin! You?”


“Have a great trip!”

“You too!”

They put up the tiniest scrap of sail as they left the shelter of the island because while all of this sounds idyllic the wind is a steady 25 knots (about 29 mph) and gusting higher, even here, hidden behind the rocky peak of the island. That’s the frustrating part. We dream of sunny days and 15-18 kts of wind but instead we’ve got the strong trade winds that North Queensland is known for and a mostly overcast and often rainy sky. In the six years of sailing Escape Velocity halfway around the world we somehow managed to avoid bad weather, except for brief squalls, but there’s no getting away from it here.

We do get some sunny hours each day when the jackets come off and our mood lifts but the wind keeps us from kayaking, swimming, snorkeling or any boat chore that requires being on deck for long. Our trips ashore are timed with the tide and that means we’re often boatbound for long hours. That’s fine with us, as there’s always something to do, cooking, reading, cleaning. We have no internet here so our minds are blissfully empty of disturbing world news. That doesn’t mean that we, along with the other yachties in the anchorage, aren’t occasionally seen walking around deck holding cell phones aloft hoping for a signal. I watched one skipper climb onto the roof with his phone and then suddenly throw both arms around the boom as a strong gust nearly whisked him to Kansas.

At anchor in these winds the soft top crackles against the cockpit superstructure. Jack takes our American flag down to save it being torn to ribbons, and we sway and bob as the wind gusts vary slightly in direction. I wrap a bungee around the aging jib cover to keep it from being shredded as the wind billows through the front opening. We find open seams in the cockpit enclosure where the thread has broken down in the sun. Restitching goes on the to-do list but not today. Not in this wind.

Last night an older Lagoon catamaran sailed in and anchored behind us. They promptly launched the dinghy and went ashore for a half hour or so and stopped by to say hello on their way back. It’s a yacht delivery on their way to Darwin and the skipper, a veteran of many voyages on this route, told us this next bit, Lizard Island to the Flinders Group, is the worst of it. That’s two daysails for us and we have no ambition to head out in these conditions if we can avoid it knowing the overnight anchorage in between is secure but uncomfortable.

We expected the delivery boat to leave at first light but at 9 o’clock the crew went ashore again to retrace the challenging ascent Captain Cook and Joseph Banks made in 1770 to search for an escape route through the Great Barrier Reef to the Coral Sea. Jack is watching through the binoculars as they struggle upward against the wind. We plan to make that climb too, but not today.

There’s a hoi-toi resort on the other side of the bay but it’s not welcoming to yachties, not even to dine in the restaurant. That’s ok. We have the same view from the comfort of our own home, so we’ll take the zen approach, enjoy this gorgeous outpost and wait for more favorable conditions for our next hop. Just not today.


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We got work to do

We had some critical chores to take care of at this last big town before we sail further north.

We’ve had difficulty getting Escape Velocity’s sails trimmed properly and wanted to get a rigger to take a look, not just for tuning but to make sure everything’s copacetic before we head back out to the big stuff. We found someone we liked and trusted and he did a thorough inspection of everything, then scheduled another time to tune and adjust. We’d forgotten that we replaced the forestay a year ago and it’s stretched considerably since then so we knew we needed some tuning. When the appointed day came the rigger sent another guy who was a catamaran racer. His instincts were to really crank down on the stays but when the doors down below stopped lining up we had a bit of a clash of the titans. We called the original guy and we all compromised on tension. Now the doors still shut but the rig is well tuned, a fact we confirmed when we started sailing again and found how much better we could trim the sails and how much quieter the whole rig is.

A tough but necessary job was to end-for-end the anchor chain. We carry 275 feet of chain but really only the first half of it gets used regularly, and often less than that. Turning it around puts fresher chain on the working end and will help us sleep at night. Any boater will tell you good ground tackle is the best insurance.

Once the chain is reconnected it all has to be marked again so we can put the right amount out for the depth we’re in and the conditions. It was pretty much an all day job.

Finally we installed a life raft, courtesy of a gift from Drew. Yes, it’s true, we sailed nearly halfway around the world without a liferaft but with an empty bracket where the original raft used to be, gone before we bought the boat. We’ve joined a rally for the first time for our trip through Indonesia and a raft is one of the safety requirements. They don’t actually check, just take your word for it, but we figured the Indian Ocean was not to be messed.

I spent a few weeks talking with vendors up the coast and we chose an appropriate raft for our boat. When I called to place the order the company said they didn’t have the 4-man raft we wanted and offered a 6-man for the same price. Deal! We had it sent to Cairns and hired a welder to adapt our existing bracket to accommodate the different geometry of the new canister.

We send many thanks again to Drew for bringing us up to spec on safety. A liferaft is something you hope you never use but like good ground tackle, helps us sleep at night.

While we were in Cairns we got a welcome visit from the crew of Enki II. Alex and Diana were on a Queensland vacation from chilly Sydney and we were all thrilled that their schedule and ours lined up. They met us on EV and then treated us to a great dinner out. The best part is that they’re on their way to Cooktown and so are we. There will be more Enki Time soon.

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On a cassowary mission

We arrived at the marina in Cairns just before the weekend so no actual work can get done for a few days. We joined up with the crew of Erie Spirit and rented a car for a day to drive in search of two of the most elusive of Australia’s unusual wildlife. We picked the brains of locals and searched for likely locations and set off on an beautiful day to explore the coast we just sailed past and the tablelands inland.

Our first destination was a camping park that boasts resident cassowaries. Sure enough, right near the amenities building we spied a small male strutting his stuff. He didn’t seem to mind being stalked by tourists and campers and often seemed to be posing as we clicked away.

Call me crazy but I think that hat is just bizarre.

In the tablelands we stopped for a waterfall and a “curtain fig tree” that gave us a chance to stretch our legs a bit during a day spent driving.

Our final mission was the most elusive of creatures, the platypus. We know plenty of Aussies who’ve never seen one in the wild but still, we were hopeful. There was a recommended “viewing platform” over a muddy creek and once there our hopes fell. The water was so murky there’s no way you could see below the surface. My research advised watching for concentric circles in the water and sure enough, after we got the hang of it we could almost anticipate where the resident monotreme would come up for air. It was only visible to a second each time so getting a photo was a challenge but I finally lucked out.

What a strange animal! We called the day a success and for Jack and me that leaves only a crocodile on our list of must-sees before we depart the land Down Under.

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In which we lose our barnacles

A few more days of frustration brought us to Fitzroy Island, another lovely anchorage and within striking distance of Cairns, a major goal for big provisioning and some critical boat work.

The island is a convenient spot for both day trippers from Cairns and holiday makers from all over so there was an interesting variety of boats in the anchorage, including this gorgeous schooner. It was full of young boys and we assumed some kind of school or Outward Bound group. When the boat was settled and secured the boys took turns jumping off the bow with much hooting and hollering.

Another anchor neighbor noticed our American flag and dinghied over to say hello. It turns out he’s a diver and we jumped on the chance to hire him to scrape EV’s bottom. He declined the hire and insisted he’d do it for free but we pressed some cash into his hand, as well as a loaf of fresh banana bread and a small gift for his wife. Jack hates cleaning the bottom and to keep the peace I’m always happy to pay someone to do it.

We didn’t linger at Fitzroy and never even went ashore. We have much to do in the coming month and we’re eager to tie up at Cairns and get to work.


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Spring can really mess you up the most

Sometimes in springtime a young man, maybe even occasionally an old man, is overwhelmed by a certain sensation. It’s the combination of a number of factors like an awakening warming trend, gentle rain, bright green shoots poking out from under last years dead debris, and one can sense a general rising of life affirming sap all around you. It’s kind of nice but it makes you want to get…busy.

Even Yours Truly is not immune.

Down here in Australia things are not so subtle. Last year about this time, as we approached Lady Musgrave reef I began to notice large coagulations of what looked like really nasty bilge water, like maybe out of an old ore carrier. We were making water at the time so I ran down to the reverse osmosis water maker and turned it off while we passed through the horrible looking goo. Turns out it covered acres and acres but eventually we passed through. A short while later, after I’d gotten the water maker up and running again, I could see the signs of more goo coming over the horizon. It was a massive…spill, but what was it? Rusty beige in color, particles roiled and swirled around in the soup. I also couldn’t explain the wonder I felt as mile after mile slid past Escape Velocity.

Turns out we were in the middle of one of earth’s magical mysteries. Every year all the corral of the Great Barrier Reef, I guess the only word for it is “ejaculates” millions upon millions of spore into the waters surrounding Australia. All in synchronicity. It must be seen to be believed. It makes one kind of giddy.

On our forced march up Australia’s East coast it’s happened again. Seas of coral spore surround us. All this life. It’s like hope.

Editor’s note: Yes, we know it’s autumn Down Under. The skipper has earned an Advanced Poetic License.

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Magnetic hobble

Despite my aching ankle and Jack’s wobbly knee we undertook the hike up the Fort trail on Magnetic Island. It wasn’t a tough hike until the uneven steps at the top, and oh, what glorious views! It’s funny how those of us who live at sea level crave the high aspects once we reach land with any altitude.

The fort was built in 1942 to protect against attack from the Tasman Sea. Most of it’s gone now except for vague ruins of various buildings and the gun emplacements, missing the guns. It’s a lovely forest, and there are supposedly koalas in the eucalyptus trees. We didn’t see any that day.

It was great to stretch our legs a bit but we’re continuing our push north despite the uncooperative wind. Cairns awaits.

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Magnetic pull

We got a brief break in the weather, long enough to sail to Shaw Island on the southern edge of the Whitsundays.

It was great to be in a beautiful anchorage again as we waited out a passing front. I spent the day paying bills online and did some other admin, defrosted the freezer and made more passage meals to be frozen. The front blew through with a vengeance and as the sun set the wind was down to 10 kts. Four fancy Oyster yachts, part of the Oyster World Rally that arrived while we were at Mackay marina, sailed into the anchorage just before sundown.

We awoke to high winds again, which was not predicted. No one in the anchorage moved, not even the Oysters. They’re heading to SE Asia like we are, but apparently not today.

We got underway just past noon and as I was running back to the cockpit after loosening the jib lazy jacks my foot turned under and I fell hard on the side deck. It was the same exact fall I took two days into an 8-day cycling trip when I proceeded to pedal another 300 miles on what turned out to be a broken ankle. And it’s exactly the thing you don’t want to happen on a boat, especially underway. Jack handled the boat while I iced my ankle and took an Advil. Luckily by morning it was clear my ankle wasn’t broken, just sprained, and I could put my weight on it but only just. A couple of days of rest and ice and I’ll be back to normal.

It took a few more days of mixed conditions — great sailing for awhile, then motor sailing in light wind — but we finally made it to Magnetic Island, or Maggie as the locals call it.

Ice cream awaits!

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