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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More Fraser

None of us has the means or interest in hiring a 4WD vehicle for a more wide-ranging tour of huge Fraser Island, so we just hiked along the beach and followed one of the many trails inland. I can see why the island attracts so many tourists, mostly on the outer, ocean side, but we were happy to enjoy the continuing fine weather in our own little world and only ran into a few resort guests on walkabout. 

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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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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 blas√© 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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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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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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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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