Author Archives: Marce

T-shirts and shallow water

Garry’s anchorage is the most calm and peaceful place we’ve dropped the hook in a long time. It was so still that I woke up several times overnight thinking maybe we were aground. 

We’re at the southern end of Fraser Island, the largest all-sand island in the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This calls for some hiking of course, and we went ashore with Christian and Peter to explore. 

It’s a big island, and while the trails are nice and mostly level, the scenery didn’t change much mile after mile and we spent a few hours mostly chattering away and solving the world’s problems. There are a few destinations on this end of Fraser but much too far to walk. Christian has been here several times and he said most people explore on 4-wheel drive vehicles to see the lakes and beaches. 

At one point we could see a lake in the distance but there was no way to get to it from where we were. So it was back to the anchorage to plan our trip up the Great Sandy Straits to the northern end of Fraser. 

The next day dawned just as still and we poked our way through very shallow water for hours, slowing down through various pinch points, following marker after marker. The Straits are significant, my internet sources tell me, as critical breeding grounds for all kinds of wetlands species and there is a subtle beauty to the landscape but for boaters it’s just a pain in the butt to navigate the distance, watching the markers, timing the tide and avoiding the ubiquitous local fishermen who know the shallow parts like the backs of their hands and zip around with impunity. For Christian, whose boat has a deep draft, it was a tense day. For us, a little less so because we are shallow, but still, it was a long, slow slog to our anchorage just south of a resort before Hervey Bay opens up. 

It’s another quiet anchorage, and no sooner did we get Escape Velocity settled in but our phone dinged. It was Christian on Blackwattle letting us know there’s a dingo on the beach, heading our way. 

At last we’re seeing some of the famous Aussie wildlife right in front of us! 

Christian suggested sundowners on the beach. It was the perfect end to the day, and we finally feel like we’re back to the kind of cruising that made us choose this life five years ago. 

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North to Mooloolaba

Don’t you just love these names? 

For weeks we’ve been hearing a notice to mariners on the VHF radio about the river bar at Mooloolaba. One side is silted up pretty badly and boaters are advised to enter at a steep angle from the other side, avoiding the dredger working at the breakwater. We tossed around the idea of doing an overnighter all the way up to Wide Bay Bar, which would put us much closer to the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef and maybe some warmer weather, but true to form, the winds just aren’t steady enough in a favorable direction to sail most of the way, and the thought of having to listen to a diesel engine for 24 hours doesn’t  suit our style. So the decision was made to continue to day-hop our way northward. Slower, for sure, but quieter. 

From our horribly rolly anchorage at Tangalooma we followed the shipping channel out of Moreton Bay, then motorsailed north to the bar entrance at Mooloolaba. Luckily there were a few boats of various sizes stacked up to enter so we could follow their track in with no problem. Weeks earlier a friend hit bottom at the bar, got off, entered safely then struck a channel marker, doing some serious rig damage. We were happy to get in unscathed. The no-wind part is bad for sailing but mighty nice for crossing river bars because there’re no rollicking seas to contend with at these shallow bars.

It’s a long slow run over thin water past a few marinas to the crowded anchorage. We recognized Blackwattle, our Brisbane neighbor and dropped the hook nearby. 

Jack took up the binoculars to scope for a dinghy dock, as we could use some fresh produce and a walkabout. We haven’t been off the boat since we left the marina! What he saw disappointed us: the cruisers were landing their dinghies on the beach and pulling them up beyond the high tide mark. Ugh. We hate that. Our dinghy is big and heavy and the shape of the stern precludes us getting a set of wheels to help with wet landings. We couldn’t believe that in a town the size of Mooloolaba with so many boats there isn’t a public dinghy dock. 

I did what any self-respecting modern woman does, posted a plea for local knowledge on a private Facebook group for Women Who Sail Australia. Eureka! Within minutes we had a few suggestions on places where we could tie up our dinghy at a dock and avoid the dreaded wet landing. Thank you, WWSA!

Once ashore we babied our wobbly legs and took a leisurely stroll along the Esplanade in search of gelato and found the best we’ve had since New Zealand in April. 

We picked up our groceries and as we headed back to EV we saw that the skipper of Blackwattle was out in the cockpit. We stopped by to say hello and learned that he is in fact singlehanding, but was expecting a friend to join him later that day. We invited them both for sundowners the next day, and what fun we had! They’re both Germans but longtime Sydney residents who met through their sailing club. We also learned that their cruising plans, at least for the next few steps, coincide with our loose plans so we got to share information and ideas and mapped out a plan for the Wide Bay Bar crossing into the Great Sandy Straits and Fraser Island. It’s so good to be in the company of cruisers again! 

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Get me outta here! 

After a week of boatwork and watching big ships squeeze under the Gateway bridge and sail downriver we were eager to get back to cruising.

We’re happy — happy may be a poor choice of words — to pay good people to do their work, but boy do I resent having to pay a premium for a marina berth with very little to show for it. No bar, no restaurant, no friendly cruiser community. Nothing within walking distance. On the plus side the office staff are friendly, the dockmaster went out of his way to help us get our propane tanks exchanged and we got to do laundry and take hot showers but we were so ready to stop the meter running on the expensive berth and get EV back at anchor where we belong. 

Again the fast running tidal current dictated when we could safely leave the dock but at least now we have two working engines and we got off on our own without having to rely on dockhands to maneuver the tight turn. Slack tide came too late in the day to make it all the way down river and across the bay so we dropped the hook just upstream of the rainbow-lighted Gateway Bridge. It felt so good to be swinging again. 

The next day brought a cold rain and we decided to wait for better weather. By evening an unusually thick fog moved in putting us in an eerily self-contained Twilight Zone where even the bridge disappeared. 

Finally the fog lifted and we made our way back past the shipping port and across the bay to what has to be the rolliest anchorage we’ve ever experienced. I don’t know how we got any sleep, especially since a boat that was in front of us cranked in his chain in the middle of the night and moved behind us. We can only assume he was dragging — we certainly weren’t — and he ended up moving again before dawn. We were only too happy to move on the next day to Mooloolaba. 

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The view from the front porch

We had an unusual convection event here in Brisbane that was reported on the evening news. It caused the enormous bridge right beside us to completely disappear. 

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It’s not all coffee and pastry

Sometimes it’s ice cream too, you know. With our new propeller due to arrive in a day or two we spent one last afternoon wandering Brisbane. We’ll definitely come back on our way south in October and most definitely pick up a pile mooring for safety and security, assuming we eventually have two working engines again. From a mooring we’ll feel better about leaving the boat for longer days of touring farther afield. Maybe we’ll even finally see kangaroos in the wild. I can’t believe we’ve been in Australia this long and haven’t seen any outside the zoo in Sydney. 

Again we have no plans other than following our feet wherever they take us. Waiting at a cross walk we saw a reminder of our ex-home. Seems wherever we go, Pittsburgh pops up. 

Never mind the levitating guy in gold. What the heck is the golden casket in the background?

Our final mission is of course to find good gelato. We found ok gelato but any gelato is better than no gelato. 

We found a pretty little arcade and drooled over the Mont Blanc display. Well, I drooled over it. Jack like the hydroplane model. 

Back aboard Escape Velocity we watched a police boat approach. Uh-oh. Jack thought maybe they’d make us move because without Blackwattle anchored in line with us it might appear that we swing out into the ferry channel twice a day. We think we’re well within the channel markers but some of the ferries have been cutting it a little close lately. 

Sure enough they told us one of the ferries complained that we’d dragged (we hadn’t) but the police said they’ve been keeping an eye on us and we’re fine. We told them we’re disabled and waiting for parts and they responded with the usual “no worries, mate.” After that they just wanted to chat. Where are you from? How long will you be here? Where are you going next? They said they’d continue to watch over us until we left. Whew! We weren’t in the mood for trying to reset the anchor again. And anyway, it looks like we’ll be on our way soon. 

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Family affair

Unexpected and unbudgeted boat repairs are always depressing but that’s the price we pay for this life of constant adventure and new horizons. We can’t imagine what would cause two of three blades to suddenly fall off a propeller. They were installed last year in Whangarei by a mechanic we loved and trusted after some shaft work, so it certainly wasn’t any fault of installation. We hope to find the answer when the hub is removed whenever the new propeller arrives. 

In the meantime there’s nothing to do but suck it up and go have some fun. We heard there’s a Sunday market in the botanical garden just ashore and any kind of market always perks me up. 

The garden is peaceful and beautiful and the market is on the far side from the marina and dinghy dock so we enjoyed the long amble through the trees. 

The market is small this time of year with only a few craftspeople and food vendors. 

We timed our visit for lunch and while we waited for our orders I heard an unusual a capella version of one of my favorite songs, Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. At first I thought it was recorded but soon realized there was a live band playing at the other end of the market. We claimed a seat on the steps of a gazebo and settled in to enjoy a wonderfully talented family band, five sibs aged from 18 to 26 (their poor mother, I thought!) who’ve been singing and playing together petty much since birth. Consequently they have great vocal blend and their material ranged across styles from folk to R&B to pop. We don’t often get to hear live music, concert tickets being out of our financial reach these days, so when we come across this kind of venue, or good buskers, we always stop to enjoy and support with our dollars when we can. We stayed through both sets of the Fergies and we’d go see them again any time. 

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Short forays

We’re still reluctant to leave the boat to her own devices during tide changes when all hell breaks loose in the anchorage so we plan our trips ashore for the few hours each day when the boats have settled down and everyone’s playing nicely. 

Brisbane continues to charm us. It’s doesn’t have the artsy style of Melbourne or the vast scope of Sydney but the small size is more conducive to those of us who tour and shop on foot. In fact it’s so walkable that we haven’t even bought a public transportation card since everything we want we can find within a few blocks. 

We stopped at the tourist office for a walking tour map but the elderly gentleman manning the desk couldn’t find one and actually discouraged us from our quest. “It’s only interesting if you like architecture,” he told us. We said we do like architecture and that’s why we want a walking tour, to look at the buildings. I don’t think he believed us and he spent a long time leafing through various binders for something that looked like a walking tour map, ultimately with no success. We are on our own. 

We bit the bullet and bought a new Sodastream machine. Our old one is fine but for some strange reason the replacement CO2 tanks sold in Australia and New Zealand use a different thread from the rest of the world. We got our tanks replaced in New Zealand only to learn they won’t work in our machine. For the past year we’ve done without, but we’ll be in Oz for another year and we figured we’ll just get a new one and store the old one until we’re back in the World of Common Threads. 

We also found a store that sells the reusable produce bags and beeswax wraps that have been on my list for ages. I’m doing what I can to reduce the one-use plastic onboard. The reusable produce bags are wonderful and so far every cashier or farmers market who sees them wants to know where they can get them, too. They live in a little pouch in my backpack so I never have to use those plastic bags in the supermarket ever again. The beeswax wraps replace plastic wrap. Our previous owner left so much plastic wrap onboard that we haven’t bought any in five years, but still, I hate to use it to wrap cheese or black bread, which is pretty much all I use it for. Now we can almost eliminate plastic wrap from EV’s waste stream. Baby steps.

Any city that has a luthier right on a main street is ok by us. Normally we’d stop in to chat but today the shop was closed. 

When we got back to the dinghy dock we saw that Blackwattle had moved from the anchorage to a pole mooring. Jack thinks the owner is a single hander and we’re impressed that he could tie up bow and stern alone in these swirling currents. We’re also bummed that he moved because now we’ve lost our sight line that assured us we’re not sticking out in the ferry channel during certain tides. 

Our day ended with sundowners in the cockpit. We can’t see the sunset from where we are but the golden light reflected on the rocks at Kangaroo Point is beautiful enough for now. 


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Shore leave

We made it safely through twenty four hours of tide changes without whacking our neighbors at anchor and figure it’s safe to go ashore. There are free ferries in the downtown area, a nice dinghy dock and a river walk on both shores. I think we’re going to like it here! 

Our only plans were to get ourselves oriented and maybe pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. The Brisbane central business district reminds us of Pittsburgh, constrained by a river into a tight bundle making it an easy walk from one side to the other. We started across the river from the downtown area where the warm and sunny weather seems to have lured most of the populace into the gardens and parks along the quay. 

We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is winter and a few weeks ago we were freezing on EV under a duvet and sleeping in multiple layers of clothing. The air is still cool even in the daytime but we’re loving this glorious bright sunshine. 

Brisbane is a bike friendly town, so much better than Sydney. If we weren’t so worried about the boat at anchor we’d love to take our bikes ashore and explore the many trails. There’s even a public bike repair station. (Hey Pittsburgh, check it out!) 

One more ferry stop took us across the river to downtown and right into the center of the weekly market. Street food for lunch, fresh fruit and veg for the larder and a wander back to the boat before the next change of tide. Yep, we do like Brissy. 


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Now what?

For the first time in our five years aboard Escape Velocity one of our engines failed us. Oh sure, we’ve had moments when we knew one of them wasn’t operating properly and needed attention, but when Jack went into reverse to pick up the pole mooring yesterday and the whole boat shook, we knew we had a serious problem. I ran down below and took a look. The engine was thumping up and down violently. “Shut it down!” I yelled. I’m not a diesel mechanic but I’d heard plenty of tales over beers at the cruisers bars and my first thought was that we broke an engine mount. Funny, because every time Jack checks or changes the oil, changes the impellers or does any other routine maintenance I always ask if the engine mounts look ok. “They’re fine,” he assures me. 

“It’s the propeller,” Jack said when I came back to the cockpit. There were stray lines dangling from the pole moorings and he thought maybe we got a wrap, but I’d been watching carefully and didn’t see one anywhere near the props. I told him how the engine looked, flopping up and down like it was loose. “Engine mount,” I insisted. 

Whatever it was, we needed help. I already had the number for a recommended mechanic because we want to address a couple of lingering problems with the other engine but we couldn’t wait until after our Brisbane sojourn to call. I explained what happened and described the behavior and the mechanic promised to come to where we were the next day. He passed the phone to his wife for details on our location and to get preliminary billing info, and we ended up chatting for 20 minutes about Australia and Brisbane and ended up somehow on Vegemite, the tar-like yeast spread that most Aussies grow up on, like Americans grow up on peanut butter. 

“Yuck,” I said, and she bristled. Oops. We don’t want to insult the mechanic’s wife before the engine’s fixed. I softened my take on gummy black goo and asked how best to enjoy it. Toast is the usual answer, but she also recommended avocado. Well hell, who doesn’t like avo toast but why sully it with Vegemite? I promised to try it again and really, when in Rome and all that. 

The next day we saw that we were anchored behind a boat named Blackwattle and it made us feel almost at home, since we’d spent so much quality time in Blackwattle Bay in Sydney. As advertised, though, the current runs swift in Brisbane and we also had strong winds. Escape Velocity rode perpetually over the anchor. Every six hours boats swung in unpredictable ways and twice a day we came dangerously close to a small green steel boat. With limited maneuverability we tried threading the needle between getting far enough away from Mr. Green and staying well enough out of the channel where the ferries zipped by many times an hour. We aimed to line up between Blackwattle and a channel marker and after several tries managed a pretty good compromise. Still, we didn’t feel confident leaving the boat. 

The mechanic — Bruce, what else? — came by late in the morning and checked out the engine, having Jack throw it into gear, forward, then reverse, then forward. Propeller, he said. Maybe a line wrapped around it, or bent, or something. He looked over the side at the murky river. “You’ll need a diver,” he said. “Unless you want to go for a swim.” 

Jack followed Bruce’s gaze to the yucky water. Diver it is, and Bruce left a message for the diver he works with. He took a preliminary look at the other engine and quickly diagnosed one of the two problems we’re having — intermittent charging — and gave us a plan for figuring out the other — persistent smoking on high load. Then he told us to call when the diver figured out the prop issue and we’d schedule the work. 

The diver called and told us he’s booked all week but promised to come up river on Saturday morning. It’s Tuesday. 

So here we are in the middle of a beautiful city on a boat that’s well stuck to the bottom but among other boats all swinging wildly at every tidal change. All we can do is stay aboard and monitor the swings through a whole day to be sure we won’t make contact or get dislodged. Oh how we wish we could pick up a pole mooring and feel safe! But it’s completely impossible with one tiny engine way off to the side. Ashore there are cafés and gelato and shops and parks and museums. But they will have to wait. For now we’ll watch the climbers and rapellers on Kangaroo Point and wave to the passing ferries and cross our fingers that our propeller is ok. 

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The view from the back porch

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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