August 19, 2014

Gambling With the Suck to Fun Factor

Maia's dream beach

Ever have one of those days that starts out warm and sunny, moves into a perfect sail, and then brings you humpback whales? Not spouts in the distance. But a mama resting on the surface a few hundred meters away and a curious baby who decides to come and visit?

Baby heads over to see us with mama close behind
But then the day turns—your main motor doesn’t start, so you use your outboard. And when you sort out the main motor’s problem the outboard hops off the back of the boat and falls into the ocean (thank-goodness for that safety line). And then you tip the mocha flan that you made, to soothe your sad soul, into a dirty sink and the pickle jar explodes over the floor, where you notice a trickle of saltwater from a seeping thru hull (and you just hauled out…). And none of the good—not the sail, not the whale, can make up for the fact that some days just suck.

I think cruisers must be bad gamblers at heart.

abandoned rail track
Roo prints on the beach
Those perfect days, where you wake with the plan of sailing on but a quick morning hike shows you’ve stumbled upon an abandoned resort with a perfect beach and clear warm water, are the ones that keep you sailing from country to country, endlessly searching for the combination of magical elements that feel like a row of cherries in the slot machine.

our morning turtle
But mostly we plug coins into the slots, taking the little payoffs; the turtles, the sunsets, the clear water and empty beaches. They’re our reward for the endless repairs.
Endless repairs.

abandoned train
The good days though? They are so good. Yesterday we planned to travel. But I wanted to see shore before leaving Brampton Island. Evan needed to finish flushing the outboard so after communing with a huge, wise-looking turtle Maia and I headed to shore on our own. We set off down an overgrown rail track the lead us past shy kangaroos and outgoing butterflies and into an empty resort.

There was a Christmas tree in a window, a pool table with cues and balls, an ancient banyan tree and sailboats for guests. There were linens on the beds and furniture in the dining room. And it was empty except for two other cruisers. We learned the resort was abandoned after a 2010 cyclone. Eerie and perfect we thought Evan should see it.

So we spent the day on abandoned lawn chairs, drinking from coconuts, cooling in the blue water and exploring the resort. In the evening we joined newly arrived sailors on the broken jetty to watch the sun drop into the sea.

the only guest
what the resort lacked in bar service it made up for in ambiance.
 And today we’re sailing on, gambling that someday soon we’ll have another day as good as yesterday.

August 6, 2014

It Blows

Last night the boat shuddered and shook in the gusts and leapt in the swell. Instead of the blow blowing through, the wind has stayed strong each day. In the bay, the water is no longer calm-the swell bounds and rebounds off the cliffs and we bounce.

On Monday we got confirmation that we could haul the boat out in Mackay and that the wind that day would be the lightest for the week at 20-25 knots. By the time we set out it was past noon-but with only 25 miles we thought it would be fine. Four days of strong wind and current has led to big boisterous seas and the sail to Mackay turned out to be more upwind than the weather report promised. Ten minutes in, we realized we wouldn't make it by dark.

We headed back to our anchorage and requested another weather report. More wind for more days. So now we're pondering options for plan 'B'. This morning we watched another boat leave for Mackay. For the first hour we watched him make no progress against the wind and current-slipping further and further downwind and closer to the shallow banks before disappearing in the swell. So that's out for now.

Heading downwind would be uncomfortable and quick-but we still need to haul out the boat to replace our cutless bearing, paint the bottom and get our insurance survey and after checking the alternatives Mackay is the best option (other than the bit about not being able to get there easily...).

Waiting does make the best sense. We're well provisioned. Our anchorage is beautiful and as protected and we're guessing everywhere in this region would be just as bouncy, breezy and uncomfortable. And while moving might get us internet we'd lose the turtles that visit us each day and would get further from Mackay--which is where we need to go if the wind ever drops…
At 30/07/2014 11:49 PM (utc) our position was 21°39.21'S 150°14.61'E

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

August 2, 2014

Waiting with Wind and Whales but not Wifi

According to our most recent schedule we should be pulling into Airlie Beach about now. This would be revised schedule #3. Sort of impressive for a boat that's only been out of Brisbane for a few weeks... As I worried over not meeting yet another self-imposed sailing deadline, I thought back to all the other times I stressed over not meeting a sailing deadline and realized that not one of them mattered. Not one. Somehow whether were were in a specific place for two weeks longer than we intended, or two weeks less, it all just folded together into our journey.

Instead of being in Airlie, where they have wifi and I could be underway on my next project and catching up with friends, we're hunkered down in Scawfell Island waiting for a 30 knot blow to blow by.

As far as places to be hunkered down--this is a good one. The bay is wide and deep and held in by steep green hills. Despite a frothing ocean in the distance, in here the bright blue water is calm. This morning, before the wind rose, the bay was still enough that I could hear whales breathing off the point. I watched them spy hopping and diving for a while on my own. A turtle swam around the boat and butterflies migrated past. Then a cloud boiled up on the top of the island and spilled over in gusts. The butterflies blew away, the whales swam on and Evan and Maia woke up.
We got a weather report that concurred with the gusts that are shaking our boat, so we've settled in for at least two days.

We've learned that if you stress over travel deadlines and treat enforced stops as waiting, rather than as part of the journey, you miss out. Some of our unintended delays have include our best cruising moments. If you let them, they feel a bit like a lazy Sunday afternoon--an unexpected moment between chores and obligations. We've used the days to catch up on chores, or cook with friends, to explore a bit more of a town, or a hiking trail... But some of our best found moments are spent in quiet creativity. Maia is busy working on her second animated short; with her camera on a tripod she's making a claymation version of Dr Who. I'm simmering marmalade from my Percy Island oranges (a story in itself). Charlie is napping, Evan is working on little chores. None of us is thinking too hard about where else we might have been.

The wind is blowing and blowing.
At 30/07/2014 11:49 PM (utc) our position was 21°39.21'S 150°14.61'E

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

July 28, 2014

A better anchor snubber

If your anchor rode is all chain, or a lot of chain, you should (must?) use an anchor snubber. For sailors that anchor mostly with rope, an anchor snubber is a short length of rope which you attach to your chain. It is used to take the direct anchor load off the windlass and to add a bit of elasticity to your rode and reduce shock loads.

It's the "attach to your chain" part of things that gets tricky. We've always used a simple galvanized metal chain hook. It has a few drawbacks - after a while it gets to look like the picture. Because we have a catamaran, our snubber is a bridle arrangement that goes to both bows and meets in the middle at the chain.  The legs of each bridle section are about 25' long.  I'd dutifully hook my chain hook to the chain, let out more chain until the bridle snubber took the load and call it good. If  we were anchored in less than 25' of water, and the weather was calm, the hook would end up on the bottom, and more often than not, it would detach from the chain. This was a headache to put it mildly.

So I've started using a Better soft shackle made from 1/4" spectra rope (fits inside 5/16" chain). It's easy to open and close, and never lets go of the chain. You can do it up on deck and the snubber won't pop off the chain as it goes over the bow roller. People test these shackles at well over the breaking strength of 1/4" spectra - about 7500 lbs. So it will be strong enough for a snubber. And it's cheap, never rusts, and is easy to replace if I drop the shackle in the water!

Two closing thoughts - I'm using dynamic climbing rope for the snubber. Fantastic stuff and you can easily watch it stretch 20% of more in a blow. Much stretchier than 3 strand nylon.  It really absorbs the force of a wind gust at anchor and reduces that dynamic loading on the anchor rode. This type of rope can't be easily spliced so the eye in the middle is just a seizing.

2nd thought - If you're a monohull, without a bridle, you can ignore this part. Our anchor rode is a mixture of about 160' of chain and about 160' of rope spliced to it. We don't really need a snubber when we get to the rope portion but we do use one; the bridle keeps our boat pointing straight into a strong wind when the monohulls nearby are shearing back and forth. To attach a snubber to the anchor rope, I use a 3/8" prussik loop and then attach the snubber soft shackle to the prussik. The prussik doesn't slide up the anchor rode when tightened a bit.

- Evan

July 27, 2014

Cattle Crossing to Starboard

Charlie checks out the view

As we wove past freighters and work boats, and inhaled the dust of heavy industry on our way into Gladstone Harbour I was reminded of a town review I’d once read. It was in Lonely Planet, Mexico and the sole entry for the place was, “X has a bus station and a train station. Use them to get out.”

Gladstone: not even a little bit scenic
Happily a cheap mooring buoy, even cheaper laundry and the chance to see my first wild red-tailed black cockatoo soon redeemed Gladstone. But in all honesty we didn’t really hit the area’s highlight until we had motored out past the coal heaps, refineries and LNG plants and on into Curtis Narrows.

We could have left Gladstone the way we came in and carried on up the coast in the deep water. But who turns down a chance to meander through a mangrove wetland. The chance of bugs and salt water crocs aside—it was cool to make our way through narrows that can only be traversed at high tide.

winding through the narrows

We hit the shallowest patch at the highest tide. Normally dry at low tide we wound our way past markers and squeezed past the few boats that came from the opposite direction. At one point we passed a fence—when we called Maia to see it she was surprised to realise we were sailing over a cattle crossing.

Monte Christo Cattle Station, was established on Curtis Island in the 1860s (once upon a time they even bred horses there for the British India Army). But time, and a huge amount of development on Curtis Island, means the station may have seen its last round up two years ago.

By mid-morning we back out at sea—Great Keppel Island chosen as our next stop.

July 26, 2014

Home Schooling Fail

Sail on sailor: Maia learns to fly the spinnaker

When we were crossing the Pacific Maia had a homeschooling segment on explorers and navigators. I was really into it. While we had modern navigation tools at our disposal, Cook had a sextant, chronometer and lead line. While we had paper and electronic charts, he was making the charts. I found it fascinating to anchor where Cook anchored and explore the route he explored. To say I was impressed at his skills doesn’t begin to cover it.

Sleepy but sweet: 1770
Maia, however, was less than enthralled. By about Tahiti she was ready to move on. By Australia her reaction to Cook was similar to that of the Aboriginal people who encountered him in Botany Bay; they ignored him and told him, “Warra warra wai” (go away).

Visiting 1770 in Queensland (Cook’s first landing point in Queensland) didn’t change Maia’s disinterest. While she chuckled (halfheartedly) at the recollections of the local aboriginal people who found Cook & co a bit daft for getting themselves stung by ants and poisonous caterpillars, and for collecting up useless plants, I’m pretty sure she would have liked to have banned all talk of Cook on our ‘let’s hike where Cook hiked’ hike. Actually, she suggested we ban him.

Happily for Maia, as I was trying to rouse her interest in speculating about which 33 plants Banks may have collected on his walk, she noticed butterflies.

And then more butterflies.

Within a few minutes it was pretty clear that as cool as Cook was—thousands and thousands of blue fluttering insects beats history.

It turns out the Blue Tiger butterfly breeds up here. Come spring they’ll migrate south to Brisbane and as far as Victoria. For one enchanted walk though, they were all ours. Their wing beats sounded like a breeze blowing through the canopy—and in places it was impossible to see the tree trunks
for all the butterflies that clung to it.

I mentioned to Maia that it would have been cool if Cook had arrived during butterfly season and asked her what she thought his journals would have said.
She ignored me.

July 23, 2014

Sailing Into Year Six

Today we’re celebrating our 5th cruisiversay by hiking where Captain Cook hiked. He arrived here, in the town of 1770, in you guessed it; 1770. After exploring the shore and hiking up Round hill he wrote, “In this place there is a room for a few ships to lie in great security, and a small stream of fresh water.

So here we are anchored in great security savouring where the five years have taken us, how we’ve grown and changed, and what we hope for the next few years.
Year one: BC to Mexico
A year into cruising
life was blissful
Our Second Cruisiversary was in the South Pacific
Arahoho Blowhole-Tahiti

School was the adventure of our fourth year

And our Fourth Cruisiversay was spent out on the water in Oz.

And now we sail into year six.

July 18, 2014

Cruising Time

I woke up feeling like I should be doing something. I wasn’t sure what, but it seemed urgent. I double checked my deadlines, looked at the weather, checked my email and calendar, and came up with nothing. It takes a while for the restrictions of a nine to five life to fade away. By the time we reached Australia two and a half years ago we operated on a schedule that focused on sunrise and sunset, weather reports and tourist visas. It reorders your day when you don’t have to be somewhere specific by a certain hour.

crossing the Wide Bay bar
Beaches and more beaches
We’re rediscovering that.

It sounds idyllic, like an endless vacation, and in truth the only way to let go of the urban anxiety most of us carry is to start off treating this like a holiday.  But then it’s time to find our own rhythms and decide what we want to accomplish in the short, near and long term.

Yesterday felt like my first day of ‘real’ cruising. I finished off a story in the morning and then watched the dolphins frolic while we sailed through the Great Sandy Strait. When the tide changed we chose an anchorage on a whim. Then Maia and I baked and practiced our ukuleles and we watched the sun set and the stars grow bright. The day felt just full enough; like I had time for everything.

gooey cinnamon buns
But then that nagging sense that there’s more to do, and not enough time, crept back in this morning. I've always said we are sailing to something, not away from anything. But when I counted the hours that stretch before me today, I realized there are enough of them. If we’re sailing away from anything it’s that; short days that are filled with too much.

following the markers in the Sandy Strait
Sailing is a very deliberate way to travel the world—and by moving unhurriedly, you live slowly. And when you live slowly there is so much more time.

July 11, 2014

On Our Way

Charlie the cat has come out of hiding. He tends to tuck himself away when the engine starts or the sails come out. Usually he’ll stay hidden until we drop anchor—but now that we’re sailing full days I guess he’s resolved to be brave and face the open ocean.

We haven’t made it very far yet. When you consider a sailboat moves at the speed of a novice runner, and because of a heavy whale migration we are only doing day passages, we can, um, still see Brisbane. But the city is behind us.

Unlike catching a flight, leaving by sailboat follows a looser schedule. It’s kind of like the final weeks of pregnancy—you know the baby will arrive at some point, but it’s better not to get too attached to a specific day. We had an EDD, but went overdue enough that I think our friends and neighbours started to pretend we weren’t actually still there. But then everything aligned and we slipped the lines and headed away.

Our first day saw us tucked behind Peel Island, sipping hot rum toddies as the sun set. Years ago we were given the advice to leave in stages; get away from the hubbub and then regroup somewhere quiet before really leaving. So that’s what we did. The wind was coming from the wrong way to head north so we hunkered down and visited friends on Straddie. The 3-mile dinghy ride in 25 knot winds may have been ill advised but the visit was worth it. And starting our way north well-rested and well-organized feels right.

Now we’re en route to Mooloolaba. Whales are spouting in the distance, Charlie is curled up against me, and it’s gradually sinking in that we’re on our slow way. Behind us are wonderful memories and precious friendships that we hope will follow us into the future. Ahead of us? I guess we'll see.