Author Archives: Marce

Back in the Sandy Straits

As soon as we were able we left Scarborough for Mooloolaba, spent a couple of days patronizing our favorite gelato emporium, then continued our campaign northward.

After a day of motorsailing in very light wind directly behind us we knew we weren’t fast enough to get over the Wide Bay Bar and into the Sandy Straits by high tide and darkness, so just like last year we anchored overnight at Rainbow Beach. It’s rolly and not a restful anchorage, but a necessary evil in order to cross the hated bar in daylight and on the right tide.

Ideally you cross during the latter part of the incoming tide, but on that day it was also when the wind was predicted to pipe up from a doable 10-12 kts. on the beam to a decidedly uncomfortable 20-25 kts. We figured out how far we could push the entrance to beat the wind and timed it perfectly, with the wind just starting to increase dramatically during our last two miles into the straits. It also helped that the volunteer Coast Guard tracked us on AIS and talked us in. We never saw less than 11 ft. under the keel, but oh, some of the swells were a little sickening, especially watching the wild rolling of the boat that followed on our tail, and the breakers to the left of us.

No worries now. We’re just going to find a quiet anchorage, crack a few beers and bid a not-so-fond farewell to Wide Bay Bar forever. We won’t miss it at all.

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The ties that bind

Another easy day of motoring northward through the shallow waterways finds us approaching a Manta Convergence Zone. No, it’s not an underwater wonderworld of giant rays, but rather the homeports of three other Manta catamarans. Our boats enjoy a near cult-like following and our owners website with a private technical forum means we mostly know each other, if not personally then at least by boat name and often boat history. We share repair tips, upgrades and mods, and a general appreciation for our unique vessels.

Most Mantas are concentrated on the US East Coast and in the Caribbean, but there’s a growing South Pacific fleet and we’re hoping to meet up with a few of them here in the greater Brisbane area.

Our initial idea was to get the boats together for a weekend at some beautiful anchorage but we have an unpredictable cruising schedule and the crews of two of the other boats are still part of the working world. We hoped at least for a visit with Maggie and Peter of Shamara III. We met in Florida back in 2012 just after Jack and I bought Escape Velocity, and again a year later in Grenada. Six months ago they opened their home to us for an entire day of good eating and drinking, and of course admiring their late model Manta and all the beautiful and practical touches Maggie and Peter have added.

We made contact when we knew where we’d be and when, and to our delight not only were they home and up for a visit, but they convinced the others to drop what they were doing and join us. That’s what Manta owners are like.

Raby Bay is not the best of anchorages depending on conditions, but we were lucky the weather was settled and the holding is good. At the appointed hour we dinghied into the canals right to their house, admiring the shiny and pampered Shamara as we tied up.

Peter is an amazing chef and they’re both wonderful hosts. Soon we were joined by Terry and Coralie of Catalina and Glenn and Carol of Speakeasy, and we enjoyed non-stop bubbly, delicious food, and lots of Manta talk.

All three of these Aussie boats are a decade newer than our humble abode but all share the same basic design and layout, with the differences being in more subtle evolutionary tweaks during the production years, and interior finishes that were upgraded in later boats. Mechanical systems remained more or less consistent in all the boats so we can still share tips and tricks among us, even though our boat is hull #30 and theirs are #110, 111 and 114. Mostly we all learn from Maggie and Peter, who’ve owned their Manta the longest and are a treasure trove of experience and ideas.

The next day we motored a quick seven miles to Manly for a couple of days at a marina to do a provisioning top-up and knock a few more things off the list. The harbor is the home port of Speakeasy and we were wined and dined by Carol and Glenn at their club. After work the following day Carol drove us to Ikea so we could stock up on cheese (yes, cheese. Don’t judge) and gave us good tips on where to buy a few items we were having trouble sourcing. It’s good to have a concierge!

As reluctant as we are to leave the company of our Manta friends, it’s time to move on. We have a long way to go and the wind is in our favor. For now.

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Yanks and other yachties

It’s been so long since we’ve been in a boatyard I’d forgotten how social the environment is. Maybe it’s because there are so many boats thrown together for a brief period of high energy, maybe it’s because at the end of a day of hard physical labor you want to kick back with a coldie and bellyache about the long list of repairs, or maybe it’s just watching the bank balance drop precipitously and not caring anymore, who knows? In any case we end up having some fine times in the company of other cruisers whenever we pull in to get some much needed work done.

Our first boatyard experience in St. Augustine brought us together with the Boyer family, previous owners of Anything Goes. Then it was Moana Roa and the Haynes clan in Trinidad, and the Jameson/Fitzgerald troublemakers of Toucan in Whangarei. All memorable experiences that took the hurt out of hard work and draining pocketbooks.

This time, with two side-by-side boatyards and hundreds of boats coming and going every week, we had some fun meet-ups at one marina or the other. Most of the boaters were long-distance cruisers like us, but everyone was welcome at our potlucks at the barbie and often included local folks as well. It’s the kind of international social mix we’ve come to love about this life.

One Sunday we took the day off and spent the afternoon in clean clothes enjoying outdoor music and inexplicable stiltwalkers at an nearby plaza.

Inbetween the happy hours and potlucks we not only got our engine woes banished, we also fixed our tired freezer, replaced a broken watermaker pressure gauge, and ticked off a bunch of other small projects that had been cluttering up the list. The only think we couldn’t get fixed was the generator which has been low priority since we rely completely on solar power for battery charging. We don’t like having something onboard that doesn’t work even if we don’t use it, but the consensus seems to be that it’s stuffed and we’re looking at a complete replacement. So for now, it’ll stay on the list, to be dealt with after we win the lottery.

Meanwhile, the boats come and go. And we’re definitely ready to go.

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The view from the back porch

Look closely. There’s a kangaroo on the beach to the right of the plane.

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Northern hopscotch

Our first couple of days on a southerly breeze took us first to Lake Macquarie for a quiet overnight rest on a public mooring, then a pretty good overnight sail to Coffs Harbour with a few hours of frustrating struggle against the East Australia current thrown in for good measure. The southerly was predicted to continue and another day and night of sailing would get us as far as Southport but I wasn’t feeling well and wanted a break. I assumed the culprit was mal de mer but despite a preventive tablet I had symptoms that went beyond my usual first-day-out nausea and lethargy and I concluded I’d actually caught a bug somewhere. Thinking back it may also have been ill effects from a different medication I picked up for seasickness, as my tried and true remedy isn’t available here in Australia. In any case, we contacted Coffs Harbour Marina and they gave us the same good price on a slip as last time and I was happy to be tied to a dock and recover for a few days.

Unfortunately, those couple of days saw the end of our southerly and the beginning of a long period of north wind and building seas. Boats heading south happily left the harbor, while those of us wanting to go north had to content ourselves with boat chores and the patience we all learn when Mother Nature throws a spanner in our plans.

One day we got a call from Bruce on Toucan who told us to find a boat called Lukim Yu. They’re right near you, he said, and they’re good people.

This is not unheard of in our world. Every once in a while we get a call or an email from a friend pointing us to a boat nearby, urging us to make contact. “You’d love these guys,” they say, or “You’re anchored right near old friends of ours!”

At this point you might be wondering how they know where we are and where their friends are. Modern satellite technology is the culprit, often through Marine Traffic, an amazing website that tracks the movement of ships of all kinds all over the world. All commercial vessels are required to have a device onboard that sends and receives automatic position signals. Many privately owned vessels, like ours, also have the devices. We’ve learned that in the Atlantic and Caribbean, most yachts have AIS transceivers but the farther afield we sail the fewer vessels do. Luckily the practice is gaining as the cost of the technology comes down.

If you don’t mind falling down the rabbit hole of the internet for a while, check out the site (or download the app.) You can choose any place in the world and see what ships are there. Click on the symbol and get details on the ship and its destination, even the weather conditions where they are, a useful feature for us. You can also search for a specific vessel, say maybe Escape Velocity, and see not only our position but our most recent track. Often the data on private vessels is not quite up to date, owing to the fact that our devices are less powerful than the ones on big ships, but you’ll get the idea anyway. You may have to sign up for an account but its free and it’s fun. We track our friends this way, and also check sailing areas we’re headed for to gain helpful information like the correct line to follow when entering a reef, or whether any boats are crossing a river bar in current conditions. It’s great stuff and reminds me almost daily how much we value cruising in the era of modern communications and how much we admire the folks who did it with only a radio, a sextant, a good timepiece and paper charts. Hats off to them, but I prefer living in the future.

We found the crew of Lukim Yu and hit it off immediately as we knew we would. Bruce’s Seal of Approval hasn’t steered us wrong yet! Denise and Jamie are beginning cruisers but planning their first offshore passage to Lord Howe island, and that made me quite envious. We tossed around the idea of Lord Howe when we first arrived in Australia but got sucked into the city life of Sydney and never made it. Now we can follow their adventures vicariously, and you can too here.

The Lukims had a car and they took us for a road tour around the Coffs area, and they joined us to watch Formula 1 on EV. I know you can imagine how happy Jack was to find fellow fans to indulge in gear head chatter for a weekend.

For me, the best part of meeting Lukim Yu was Denise cooking Sri Lankan curry for us. Yum-O! We sure hope we meet up with them again some day, and to our cruising friends, if you find yourself sharing an anchorage with Lukim Yu, a Lagoon 380, pop over and say hello. They’re good people.


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The view from the back porch

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Leaving Sydney

After six years and some hard travelin’ Escape Velocity needs a little love and attention. We’ve been keeping up with normal maintenance but we’ve got some bigger jobs to take care of and now’s the time while we’re still in an easy-access country. We came to Pittwater thinking there’d be the right services for the jobs we have to do, but we learned quickly that local mechanics have their hands full maintaining the huge local fleet and couldn’t really fit transients into their schedules. We did get the dinghy outboard serviced but the mechanic told us it might be six weeks before he could look at our recalcitrant starboard engine. That’s not gonna fly. On to plan B. Go north.

Leaving Sydney means leaving dear friends and it’s so hard to drag ourselves away. A couple of last hurrahs made us nostalgic for all the life-changing experiences, memorable adventures, and hours and hours of conversations over good food and fine drink in some of the most beautiful anchorages in the world. When you’ve made memories with people, they become part of your history and we hate to say goodbye.

Di and I on a girl’s day out; a little gazing at the horizon, a little shopping, lunch. Ahhhhh!

Di and I enjoyed a girl’s day out, starting with a pilgrimage to West Head Lookout to marvel at the fact that nearly 18 months ago we both sailed past Barrenjoey, a homecoming for them, a huge milestone for us. We both agreed that sometimes when we gaze out at the ocean we can’t believe we’ve crossed that big water in our boats. From shore it can look quite intimidating but once we’re out there it’s home.

We followed the lookout with a little shopping and lunch, all in all a nice break from routine for both of us.

On our last Sunday in Pittwater Sherm and Mia invited the crew to their new abode, a comfy house within walking distance to the yacht club, and with a private and beautifully landscaped garden. When you live on a boat it’s always a privilege to be invited into people’s homes, sit in real chairs and pass an afternoon in good company.

We couldn’t leave Sydney without a last visit to the home of Diana and Alex, late of Enki II. They offered to drive up to Escape Velocity but we wanted a last journey to the Big Smoke, which involved a long dinghy ride, a one-hour bus ride to downtown, and another bus that took us to within about a kilometer of their house. It was an odyssey that made us nostalgic for Sydney before we’d even said goodbye.

Walking to our second bus stop we were lured into the ornate Queen Victoria Building and how we missed it on every other city visit I’ll never know. It’s a beautiful gallery of exclusive shops and we couldn’t resist a box of pastries for our hosts.

Chez Enki we did nothing special but watch the Oscars, ruminate about EV’s options for the coming cruising seasons, and eat Diana’s gorgeous food. We all avoided the topic of goodbyes because we know in our hearts we’ll remain friends no matter where we are.

And then it was time to raise the sails and set a course for Queensland. Goodbye to Sydney. Goodbye for now to good friends. New adventures await us soon!


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The view from the back porch

Little Lovett Bay, rain on the way.

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A Manly day

Manly Beach is a favorite excursion for Sydneysiders, but even after a full year in Australia we had yet to go. On one of our last days before starting our long trek north we took advantage of the low weekend ferry fares and joined the throngs of worker bees enjoying their day off. It wasn’t the best of weather; in fact it was damned windy and if we hadn’t secured EV to a public mooring we probably wouldn’t have left her at anchor for the whole day.

The trip involved two ferries, first from Rose Bay to Circular Quay, the hub of the Sydney ferry network, where we waited in a long line of passengers through two departures before finally getting onboard for the trip to Manly clear across the harbor.

There was a small weekly craft market that we checked out but we were lured by the beautiful introductory notes of a soprano sax playing “‘Round Midnight” and we followed the sound around the corner to find two young men set up in front of a restaurant.

We parked ourselves against a wall in the shade and listened to their beautiful rendition of one of Jack’s favorites. Afterward we told them we come from Pittsburgh, the home of Billy Strayhorn and we loved hearing some hometown music. They’re very talented and we wished them well.

We left the shelter of the side streets and walked to the beach. You can tell from the flags just how windy it was. It seemed half of Sydney was there and they weren’t going to let a little wind ruin their day off. We stayed long enough to take a few photos but ran back to shelter to find coffee and ice cream.

The ferry ride back was just as crowded, with long waits for both ferries. The good part was that we rode the whole day for only AUD $2.50, one of the best bargains anywhere.

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Soft welcome

Here’s the throw pillow I bought, a year after I first saw it in a Melbourne shop. The design is taken from a 1908 postage stamp issued to commemorate the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet.” I love it because we have felt very welcome here, both from the Aussie cruising friends we’ve met from the time we started cruising to the new friends we meet every day. Our time here in Australia will most likely be the longest we’ll spend in one country and it feels like home to us.

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