Author Archives: Jack

A very full day

It had to be planed with military like precision. There were many individual interlocking parts all of which had to go off without a hitch, and to make it even trickier, good weather was imperative. This definitely was a job for Uber Marce. Yours Truly is more of a where-and-when-do-you-want-me-Hon kind of bloke. Drew and Ericka only have 7 days vacation here in Australia, and Brisbane, while nice, isn’t so very different from where they live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After spending a week anchored off Peel island and North Stradbroke Island we thought it would be nice to show them this iconic slice of Australian Beach. It quickly became obvious that to pile into Escape Velocity in Brisbane and steam down the river, cross Moreton Bay to the island –a whole day in itself — then hop on the bus out to spend the day at Lookout Point and then reverse the process, done properly would take three days. Not an option when you’ve only got a week.

M got to work. Turns out, after a short dinghy ride to the dock, we would take an early morning brisk walk to the train station, train down to Cleveland where we would hop on a shuttle bus to the docks, take a high speed ferry across Moreton Bay to “Straddie,” reconnoiter the ever so cute Dunwich Village, maybe see the Koala Bear reported to be hanging out at the grave yard, grab a bus to Lookout point, have lunch then hike the magnificent Gorge Walk, hopefully see some kangaroos, dolphins, turtles, mantas, maybe even whales and, given an excess of energy, take the thousands of stairs down to the amazing beaches. One very full day. Brilliant!

It didn’t take much to talk Drew and Ericka into it, but after an hour on the train and another half hour on the ferry they may have had second thoughts.

Ah, but then we were out of the city and back to where the sea meets the sky, our natural habitat.

Drew bought a hat and we had lunch with a view of the Tasman Sea, then we hiked the Gorge Trail that M and I so enjoyed a few weeks ago. We hoped for some wildlife and we weren’t disappointed. From the cliffs we saw sea turtles and manta rays, then as we followed the path around the gorge our sharp-eyed scientist daughter-in-law spied two kangaroos feeding on the other side of the gorge. We tiptoed around to where they were and watched them close up for a while until it was clear they had no interest in us and we walked by within six feet of them.

At the end of the gorge trail steps lead down — way down — to the beach. Drew and Ericka came prepared for some beach time and headed off on their own while M and I wisely got ice cream and stayed topside. We may have made it down, but there was no guarantee of getting back up again. If you look closely you can see the two little pinpoints of our nuclear family on the beach below.

Drew treated us to fancy cocktails at the same restaurant where we had lunch and we took the last bus back to Dunwich, the ferry back to Cleveland, the bus back to the train station and the train back to Brisbane. It’s a long journey but what a great day! Ericka said they liked it so much that if they ever come back to Australia they want to spend a few days on Straddie. We like it too.


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Bali bound

This is exciting stuff. We live at sea level and a speed of six knots is a good day. It’s not that we haven’t taken our ride. As a matter of fact we used to fly a lot for work but lately it’s been strictly sea level at six. So after what seems like months of frustrating torturous planning by Marce, the day arrived. Not for nothing, this has been an ordeal, for Marce and for anyone closer than forty feet from her. 

First of all, those rumors about dirt cheap flights to Bali are apparently “Fake News,” and our journey to Bali, some 2,300 nm to the North West, will expensively start with a nine am, 250 nm flight South East to Brisbane. Not too bad but the next leg, continuing in the wrong direction, was 380 nm to Sydney where our plane to Bali was not to be found. On the plus side, on the way South we passed right over Barren Joey, the iconic headland into Pittwater Bay where we waved to the Toucans still moored off Royal Prince Albert Yacht Club. 

An hour later a plane showed up and it was Bali Ho for the Escapees. Our tour of Australian airport cuisine was put on hold while we shuffled our way into an aluminum tube that was soon rending the air at some 600mph crossing three time zones in an afternoon when, at sea, it’s a red letter day when we get to change the clocks one hour during a weeks-long passage. 

Landing in the dark after 15 hours of travel we disembarked into another world. We prefer to wing it when traveling but it was quite late so Marce, our activities director, pre-booked a driver to deliver us through the dark streets of Bali to our guest house in Ubud. For an hour and a half we stared out the front wind screen as our headlights swept across an otherworldly scene, like search lights in the movie Blade Runner. An urban scene dissolved into suburban sprawl where each hut was a different business. Wood carvers, take out food, paintings of fabulously proportioned Asian women, stone carvers, t-shirts, birds in cages, pets or meat? I didn’t ask. 

Finally, well past one o’clock am, after wending our way through a rabbit warren of narrow lanes, our driver abruptly stopped. I think we’re here. 

We opened the van door facing an ancient looking intricately carved gateway. Our driver smiled, nodded and drove away. We hauled our luggage through a small courtyard and into the foyer, startling the clerk who had valiantly tried to stay awake for us. He showed us his list and we pointed to our names, then we followed him up the stone staircase to our second floor room, where we promptly fell asleep with the exotic floral scents of Indonesia.

So Bali, hide the silver. The Escapees are among you.

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Out of thin water into a pancake

Our goal is the marina in Gladstone where we can stash Escape Velocity while resetting our visas by leaving Australia and getting another 12 months on the clock when we return. After much worry and research Marce and I decided that we’d rather Bali than Kiwi again, even though those rumors of dirt cheap flights to Bali turned out, like most rumors, to be rubbish. This is going to hurt. But first you have to get there, which means taking some distance out of the passage to Gladstone so we can avoid running through the humpback whale migration at night. 

Twenty miles up the coast is an anchorage called Pancake Creek. Not as shallow as 1770 but still we were provided with some heart stopping moments as we zig-zagged across the harbor following the markers into a shallow but protected anchorage with a nice beach. We never left the boat but we like Pancake and think we’d like to spend some time here, but we’re on a mission. 

It’s a long slog up to Gladstone against the wind and waves but we at least we began to see pods of whales with “whale minders” following along in little tinnies. 

We pulled into Gladstone at dusk and smiled at each other as the marina crew had stayed late to take our lines. We made it with a couple of days to spare and even had time to walk around town and found a yacht club with a happy hour by the river. Not a moment to lose. It’s time to fly to Bali.

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Sightseeing in 1770

We decided to wake up some long dormant muscles and bike to what the Lonely Planet guide book calls the Paperbark Tea Tree Forest. Apparently it’s what one does in 1770. The folding bicycles were loaded into Cat Nip and we set off through the shallows for the dinghy dock. It’s a balancing act, unfolding two folding bicycles on a bouncing floating dock while scratching ones head, trying to imagine what sort of bizarre Chinese puzzle each latch, lock, and do-hicky is supposed to accomplish. And you’ve got to get it right. We know several cruisers that have been seriously injured by having a folding bicycle re-fold while riding.

Off we Escapees flew like the wind. Well…a little wobbly at first, but it soon came back to us. It’s like…driving a car! Ya know if you can send men to the moon, well, if you used to send men to the moon, surely by now they could conceive of a bicycle seat that didn’t expect that tenderest of body parts to support your entire body weight! Ok, one last complaint. Who goes all the way to Australia and never sees a kangaroo? We do! Here we see a warning sign mocking us as we peddle past on our way to see Paperbark trees. 

So, Lonely Planet isn’t so good with maps in terms of scale at least. Some of us needed encouragement after we left Agnes Waters far behind, still on sealed road we seemed to enter the outback all alone. It’s hard to feel more alone than you can feel alone in Australia, mate. We did well, but we were definitely flagging when the Paperbark Tea Tree Forest slowly rolled into view. 

On the return ride we took a side trip to a beautiful beach we’d heard about and found a surf school class in progress. There are so many incredible beaches in Australia they don’t have enough people to fill them up.
Still no Kangaroos!

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Just like Marce says

Our time in Lady Musgrave’s beautiful lagoon was winding down. You could tell by the offerings on the nightly menu. Like Marce always says, “We’ll never starve on Escape Velocity but it can get a little weird.” It was weird. It’s time to reprovision. 

We’d heard that a country town called 1770 was charming with a good supermarket in the next town up the road called Agnes Water. It seems that Captain James Cook came ashore in May 1770. I’ve never read any kind of quote about what he said but I bet it went something like “Damn, it’s shallow in here!”

Bucking head winds and the now familiar mixed up, washing machine waves all the way across the 35 miles of Coral Sea, we came into what looks like a straight forward entrance but the charts say “Warning-caution shifting bar, obtain local information.” In Australia that means ringing up the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service and asking them for the latest condition of the bar crossing. Well, just go to the green marker and turn 90 degrees toward the red marker and Bob’s your uncle. This is nothing like the chart but, you know, when in Rome. 

We found the green marker hiding impossibly close to the overhanging cliffs at Round Hill Head. The problem was that we were traversing over a very shallow bank to get there. Things began to line up once we rounded the green marker. But, like Cook probably said, damn, it’s shallow in here. As soon as we found a couple of boats at anchor we dropped ours. A guy on the cat next to us yelled over, “You don’t want to be there, it’s a sand bank!” We felt exposed to weather here anyway so we decided to wend our way upstream past the usual collection of rusting flea market boats that haven’t moved in a long time, and see what we could see. 

Still shallow but with a more peaceful location we thought about anchoring but it was tight and with the swirling currents at change of tide who knew where we’d end up. That’s when I spied a good sized yellow mooring buoy with heavy duty stainless hardware. That’s for us. It was dusk by the time we were ship shape and settled. I always feel weird borrowing someone else’s mooring but when a 3knt current started ripping through the anchorage I quickly made peace with it, and slept the peaceful sleep of the righteous, tied to someone else’s mooring.

The next morning we found our way across the shallows to a public dock just right for dinghies and soon we were wobbling our way up a steep hill towards Capt. Cook’s plaque up on Lookout Hill on boatbound legs. We summited, took the photo, and marveled at Cooks navigational skills exploring all of this thin water with out motors, GPS or chart plotters. 

After lunch we made the long walk into Agnes Water to resupply and found a quaint little town with a decent super market, but the folder bicycles are going to have to come out. It’s quite a hike for wobbly legs.

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Lost and found

We’ve seen it before. They are scattered all over the world’s forgotten, lost, outback places. It’s usually someplace hot and seldom visited, almost like they just forgot to leave or couldn’t, but you know there’s an interesting story hiding there. It’ll cost you a beer or two, but it’s always worth it. In Central America it’s liable to be ex-NSA or CIA assassin types. In French Polynesia it’s Gauloise-smoking, Pernod-drinking, four-day beard with the last couple of meals dribbled down his flowered shirt, unofficial “tour guide” types. Every anchorage we’ve ever been in has at least one boat looking more like a barely floating flea market than a yacht ready to cruise the oceans.

Entering the tricky pass into the lagoon at Lady Musgrave Island I noticed a small faded red sloop tucked up close to the reef. They always have the choicest spots in an anchorage because they stay so long they take over the best spot as other yachts move on. The decks were piled high with “spares” but this boat had a more purposeful nautical look to it. I noticed that as the occupant moved around inside the little boat would list one way then another. It didn’t take long before a dreadlocked head appeared looking out of their companionway and up popped a well-muscled skipper barely covered with half a flowered sarong, sunned to a deep nut brown. 

For the next few hours he never stopped, methodically walking here and there while manually working a piece of line or some such thing. They say his name is ” Shipwreck” and he sports a metal shackle in each ear. He never stopped, never rushed, always took his time. The next day, as I passed by the little red sloop in the dink, up popped a beautiful, very thin woman with long black hair, sunned to that same dark nut brown but she seemed to favor tiny mixed bikinis, or a micro mini skirt just short of the “fine china”. We don’t judge. Some sort of project commenced out in the cockpit for the happy couple. I never saw them talk to each other. I mean, out on the water you can hear a whisper at 300 meters!

Every afternoon they silently assembled large duffle bags full of snorkeling and fishing gear from the bowels of the little red sloop, causing it to rock humorously, loaded them into incredibly narrow kayaks and paddled off in different directions. I assume they were gathering dinner on the reef. It’s a life. 

This morning I noticed the usual level of activity in the little red sloop had increased. It’s a sure sign someone is moving on and sure enough they sailed away from their anchor, tacked right past us and out the pass. I’m going to miss that little red sloop.
Fair winds, Shipwreck.

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This is what we came for

You don’t have to cruise Australia long before you start hearing about Lady Musgrave Island. Safe to say the pecking order of national obsession would be…well, fishing would have to be first and maybe Vegemite, then rugby, but if you’re going to fish, Lady Musgrave is the place to be. In many ways it reminds me of Minerva Reef which is also a lagoon but much bigger than Lady Musgrave which, unlike Minerva, also has a small island attached to one end of the reef. 

After a heavy provisioning run at Urangan Harbour, we and Blackwattle formed a convoy and with the light winds predicted, left for Lady Musgrave Island with plenty of time for an over night sail expecting some motoring in diminishing wind. Entering the famously tight and shallow pass into the lagoon had to be done during high tide with a lookout on the bow due to the many bommies that are scattered throughout the lagoon.

As soon as we cleared Fraser Island the wind filled in. Not a lot of wind but at just the right angle that Escape Velocity loves. Soon we were romping along at 7-8kts, which would put us at the tricky pass at 2:00 am. Not good. For a change we’re having a romping good sail and we have to shorten sail to slow down! Escape Velocity had different ideas about slowing down however. We turned up into the wind four times to shorten sail and finally had Marce’s Logo reef which exposes only the Manta Logo at the top of the sail and our 90 percent blade jib. At midnight change of watch I was instructed to average no faster than 4.5kts. So I started to spill most of the wind we had but she still was making 5-5.5kts. When EV gets in this mood she’s a force to be reckoned with. 

I could see Blackwattle on the chart plotter marked with an AIS purple triangle and they were having none of this slow down stuff, barreling along at 8kts and angling to go east over the top of Lady Musgrave, probably thinking to heave-to once they make the pass. Catamarans don’t like to heave-to but it dawned on me to angle up into the wind a bit, which added distance and slowed us down. Yes, that’s the ticket. Now I won’t have to endure off watches’ disapproving looks in the morning. 

By 8:30am, a little early for high tide, we were lining up the red and green gate markers at the pass which were quite confusing and looked nothing like our latest charts. Things often look confusing until you get in close to a pass. No, nothing matches up, it’s completely different but it looks like it’ll work. You quickly learn to read the colors of the water or you’ll soon come to grief as so many have in these parts. We’re looking for deep blueish turquoise with as little tanish or sand color as we can stand. There were over-falls with roiling water everywhere except in the narrowing pass, obviously hacked through the surrounding coral reef. Through another set of gates and our Ovitalmaps satellite photo warned of a large bommie that drys out at low tide, but now appeared as an ominous dark brownish color just below the surface and situated dead center like a sentinel guarding the glowing iridescent turquoise lagoon. 

Using the Ovital satellite shots on the iPad, we made our way over to where we wanted to anchor. Somewhat relieved to have the hook down, we noticed a sailboat aiming right at us. It was Impetuous Too, friends we first met in Fiji’s Blue Lagoon, who were just leaving after two weeks and hadn’t realized that we’d just arrived.  Even though we wouldn’t be able to spend time with them it was a great start to our stay at Lady Musgrave Island. 

In a few hours Blackwattle joined us and anchored a discreet distance away. Can’t wait to explore this incredibly beautiful place. Now this is what we came for.

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Do be careful

The closer we came to Wide Bay Bar the more extreme were the reactions whenever we mentioned that we were heading that way. You know, the eyes widen, brows arch, the lips purse and you get the old standby, “well, be careful” as if we’re not being careful. We always seem catch each other’s eye with a look that says you can’t be more careful than we’re already being. Can’t say it doesn’t have a cumulative effect though. 

Our new friends on Blackwattle seemed to take all this with a blasé attitude. At sundowners we’d found out that they were headed that way in the morning but because we’d need high tide to get out of Mooloolaba basin, down the Mooloolah River, and most especially over the shoaling shifting Mooloolah Bar we’d never make it to Wide Bay Bar by slack high tide or for that matter even in the daylight. The Blackwattles suggested overnighting at a roadstead anchorage called Rainbow Beach, twelve miles shy of Wide Bay Bar. We’ll follow you.

Negotiating the Mooloolaba bar in the morning caused the usual rise in blood pressure. After passing the dredger you turn hard left around the stone block jetty, running parallel to the beach and then think a few kind thoughts before turning right to head out into the Coral Sea. We kept pace sailing with Blackwattle until the breeze began to fail and we started motorsailing. When we came around Double Island Point headland we dropped sail and while we could see Blackwattle’s purple AIS triangle on our chart plotter, we couldn’t find her against the incredible vastness of Rainbow Beach’s surrounding high cliffs. 

After running for what felt like hours we saw them right in front of us. At sundown we exchanged the latest information and new GPS coordinates and backtimed our morning departure to arrive at the bar entrance on the right tide. We all agreed to be “careful.”

True to form, even though the conditions were quite benign, there were breaking waves on both sides of us as we made the hard left turn right on top of the GPS waypoint. Must be some kind of surf spot. Blackwattle had made it through there enough before us that they weren’t much help checking the GPS waypoints but I had made waypoints from the AIS as they made their way in on the chart plotter. Waypoints or no, it was still a long and impressive bar entrance. We decided to bypass Tin Can Bay and make for Garry’s Anchorage on Fraser Island, another fourteen miles up the incredibly shallow Great Sandy Straits which is really more of a kind of river/estuary. Anchor splashed and Sundowners on Blackwattle. Ah, the serenity. Life is good.

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Spending what we have not got

Bruce the mechanic showed up early which was a nice surprise and the now familiar routine of apparently all diesel mechanics began. Start her up, shut her down, start her up, shut her down. Right off he found a problem with the incredibly expensive Volvo alternator which involved a worn exterior case mount but he said he had a used Volvo alternator and he might be able to put our guts into his case and Bob’s your uncle. Next he did a full compression check and we passed. He puzzled over why the engine is smoking and pulled the injectors to get them tested. 

Next up was Mr. Sea Hunt, Adam the diver, with a perfectly new, shiny and smooth three bladed Volvo folding prop, which is now easily the shiniest thing on the boat. I’m more than a little familiar with the eccentricities and quirks of the Volvo three bladed folding prop and between Bruce and me we kept Adam on the straight and narrow. 

First he brought up what was left of the old prop and the mystery of why we lost two blades was readily apparent. While the blades are held in with large heavy stainless pins passing through the hub and the base of the blades, the pins are kept from sliding out with a #8 allen head bolt screwed into the hub but standing proud of the hub. The head of one bolt had sheered off which allowed two pins to drop out, along with the blades. Ouch. No idea what caused the bolt to sheer but after one and a half times around the world I guess we can’t complain. We’re just glad it happened when and where it did instead of in a remote area or on a dangerous lee shore. It’s only money, right?

At the end of the week Bruce returned with our alternator and injectors. One injector was bad which could account for some of the problems we’re having but instead of having to buy three new injectors he found three nozzles at a fraction of the cost. All and all, for this motor, not too bad. Whether the problems are fixed we don’t know. 

Our last day was a comedy of errors having to do with U.S. propane fittings verses Aussie propane fittings on which I refuse to elaborate. 

We pulled away from the dock by ourselves, pirouetted and our incredibly expensive mini refit was brought to a close. We ran up to the anchorage just past the highway bridge dropped the hook, looked at each other and said, “I wonder how we’re going to pay for this?” We dug out the good rum.

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No happy hour

It’s never been far from my mind these last few days. As moving day approaches, if I’m reading the diagram the marina sent us correctly, we’ll have to enter a narrow gap between two piers at the marina, staying under control through nasty swirling currents, heading straight toward shore passing about six slips lined with luxury yachts, execute a ninety degree turn to the right against the thrust of the starboard engine which is trying to turn Escape Velocity to the left. Trying to stop EV using the only operating engine would just spin her to the right but definitely not stop her. I knew the key to keeping this from going all pear shaped would be speed. Enough to get the rudders to bite but as little as possible because I can’t really stop her. The dockmaster suggested running the hour and a half down river the day before and anchoring across from the marina to wait for slack tide because of some wicked currents they have there but I just didn’t want to add still more tricky maneuvering. It’s shallow down there and from a dead stop it takes EV an alarmingly long time to get the rudders to bite with just one engine.

I once helped a friend on a catamaran with one inoperable engine shift from one mooring ball to another further away from a little steel sloop that was whacking them. It took everything we could muster, using our 15hp Yamaha on our dink as a tug and his one engine to keep her off the other boats. It took 45 minutes of harrowing near misses to get her secured to a nearby ball. This is what is going through my mind as we up anchored with plenty of extra time to get to the marina at slack tide. It was a beautiful sunny morning without much wind and I was able to manage our unhappy starboard engine. 

Too soon the moment of truth arrived. After a deep breath I turned into the gap between the piers feeling the swirling currents slewing EV about and reduced throttle. I needed to make the 90 degree turn with as little throttle as possible. She made 45 degrees of that turn and stalled there so I reversed the engine which spun the bows to the right that put them very near the dock and with delicate touch of forward throttle we were next to our slip. I would have never taken that bet. 

Rivergate Marina is nice but expensive, located in an industrial area so no tiki bars, restaurants, or grocery stores. They were good about courtesy rides but really…no happy hour. And I needed it.

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