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3 September 2017 - Medana Bay “Marina” Lombok
As we moved West along the coast, we first stopped at Bari Bay, a very small and poor fishing village. Although we didn’t go ashore, it seemed that all of the local children paddled out in dug-out canoes to greet us. We gave them peppermint candies, but they were too sweet. They asked for pens and pencils, and we gave them a container and they fought over them, at least the first bunch did. A few of the kids spoke a couple of words of English. I gave one boy an English language book on boating because he really wanted an English language book, even a dictionary. We also gave out hats, and T-shirts, but all of our clothing and shoes were much too big for them - even the adults. Here is Island Pearl II being swamped with kids at sunset in the anchorage.
The next stop was Labuan Bajo, at the gateway to the Komodo National Park. This was our first exposure to tourism in Indonesia. This is a big diving and tourist hub for Indonesia. I snorkelled under the boat for a few hours scrapping the hull and could barely see my rudder and keel with all the garbage floating in the water. Every two minutes a plastic bag floated by, freaking me out. Well, this might be a diving mecca, but I really wonder if the reefs are all that good with all the garbage. Its like having a garbage dump next to a nature preserve! There is even a major airport and a downtown strip like what you might find in Bali. Well, we haven’t been to Bali yet so maybe its hard to compare. We ate at a restaurant that served Mexican food! We took a taxi out to the local markets (the pesar) and bought lettuce, broccoli, green pepper and cauliflower - the first we’ve seen in months.
One afternoon, while still at LBJ, we took our boat to Rinja island, a part of the Komodo National Park. We had a very difficult time anchoring in the soft mud, particularly since the water was so deep (60 feet and more) and there was lots of garbage on the bottom. I think it took 8 tries before the anchor was set. On the seventh attempt our anchor got fouled on an old anchor and with the windlass I brought up a 100kg piece of steel (L shaped) which no doubt was somebody’s anchor or previous mooring. This is a view of our boat in the Rinja anchorage.
Early the next morning we went ashore and took the 0700 walking tour to see the Komodo dragons.
We saw lots of them. This one was just near the path.
The females lay their eggs in the July - August period, so we were able to see lots of Komodos, of all shapes and sizes. We even saw their source of food (buffalo) and snacks (monkeys). Our guide told us that there are more than 1,000 Komodo dragons living on Rinja Island, and that they are not fed by the park staff, but rather hunt and feed from the large herds of buffalo that live there. This is a mama Komodo dragon, working on her nest, a big hole in the ground.
How’s this for a photo? The tour guide carefully took a picture of a Komodo dragon, with us in the background. Yes, that is a living Komodo dragon, not a sculpted piece of plastic! Our guide was very skillful, and careful in taking the photo. These reptiles are dangerous and fierce.
Leaving Rinja, we headed West, skirting the Komodo National Park and anchoring at Teluk Gili Lawa on the North side of Komodo Island. After spending the night there, we anchored at Werra Bay. This is a nice shot of Werra Bay, a traditional fishing village.
We then left after only an hour to join Island Pearl II towards Medang Island. Medang was quiet, and well sheltered, and there was no sign of life except for a weak Internet signal through the GSM network.
Finally, on 28 August we arrived at Medana Bay “Marina”, Lombok Island. Although we didn’t stop there, we did drive by several McDonald’s, KFC and Burger King fast food restaurants - true signs of Western civilization. We did eat though at Nasi Goreng 69, an Indonesian Fast Food joint in the Epi Centre Mall.
One other noticeable change as we move West is that since there are more people, there are more mosques. On the island of Lombok, since there are 4 million people, there are thousands of mosques. Every morning we awake at 0500 with a cacophony of prayer calls coming from the dozen or so mosques that are within loudspeaker distance to our boat. Needless to say, I sleep with ear plugs in every night.
This store in the mall focussed on selling hijabs, and only hijabs.
One day we took a private tour of much of the Northern side of the island, East of our location and up into the mountain to see the village of Sembalunlawang. Up in the hills, since we were there early (0900-1030) in the day, the clouds hadn’t rolled in yet and we had beautiful vistas and clean air.
At seaside, the daily temperature range is 31C-23C and up in the village, it was more like 21C-13C - great temperatures for growing strawberries in the strong sunlight. These are strawberry fields, and they tasted wonderful.
At one stop, our driver was eating his breakfast when a monkey darted out of the jungle and confronted him. The driver was trying to protect his food, but had his cell phone, wallet and car keys out in the open - a very bad idea. He left his breakfast and kept the other stuff - giving the monkey satisfaction.
Coming back from the mountains, we stopped off at a traditional village, where people are still living in the old ways - although with cell phones.
These boys were playing cards in the afternoon.
I’m still fascinated by the things I see people carrying on scooters, but I’m never quick enough to get a photo. Here’s a pretty common shot of a family of four heading somewhere.
For the most part, people stop at the traffic lights and remarkably, we’ve not seen any evidence of accidents.
It can take an hour or more by taxi to get anywhere, but having a metered cab for 6 hours still only costs about $40. As we drive into the big city, we’ve driven through the monkey forest about 5 times, seeing hundreds of monkeys lining the road like beggars, looking for handouts. Here they are at a roadside stop.
This is an out of sequence photo, but I’ve been meaning to put it in the blog. This is one of the many hundreds of squid boats that work the coast at night time, catching squid. They are typically brightly lit up, although they don’t display any legitimate navigation lights per se, and pose a real hazard to sailors navigating at night. We try to avoid travelling at night, for just that reason.
A few days before arriving in Lombok, our 8 year old Garmin Chart-plotter gave up, refusing to start. This has been our primary source of a GPS signal for the past 8 years. I ordered a new one on arrival, and it was delivered from Jakarta in 3 days - now that is service. It has now been installed and is working fine.
I don’t think I mentioned it yet, but the price of gasoline at the pumps is about $ 0.70 per litre, while diesel is $ 0.56 per litre. We can’t buy it at that price though, since its subsidized, and mostly pay $ 1.00 per litre for diesel.
One final thought, about bugs. Although there is the constant smell of burning grass or burning garbage (no such thing as municipal garbage collection or dumps), there is a noticeable lack of flying insects, no-see-ums or even mosquitoes. Although we don’t really go ashore at night, bugs were much more of a nuisance in Australia than they are here. They haven’t been a problem at all, yet.
18 August 2017 - Riung, Ngada Regency, Flores
Now that we’ve reached the island group of Flores, I’ve done a bit of research into Indonesia. With some 13,677 islands, the Indonesian archipelago is the largest island group in the world. The main islands are Java, Sumatra, Papua (formerly known as Irian Jaya - the western part of Papua New Guinea), and Kalimantan (formerly Borneo). Indonesia sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire, which leaves it prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Flores is an island arc extending East from Java and in 1992 an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale killed 2,500 people in and around Maumere, where we were a few days ago - the largest town in Flores. In 2013 a volcanic eruption on Palue, 40nm NW of Maumere killed 6 people.
We stayed in Maumere, just in front of the Sea World Resort and stayed for 7 days. We still had one broken system, the ONAN generator. This thing had been broken since we crossed from Thursday Island Australia into Debut Indonesia. A month ago, when I tried to start it, the switch would go “click”, and then I’d try again and it would fire right up. The next day, the switch would “click” again, once or twice. This went on for about a week until it would “click” 10 times, and then not start at all. Hmm, sounds like a starter solenoid - I thought. I hadn’t had a good opportunity to have a look at it until we got to Maumere, where I believed I could get better technical support. Well, forget about the technical support, this is Indonesia after all - I figured it out myself anyway. In fact, there are two solenoids involved, a relay solenoid external to the starter motor, and a second one built onto the starter motor. It was the external relay solenoid that was faulty. The “click” I heard was simply the fuel shut off solenoid sliding from side to side. I bypassed the faulty +ve post with a jumper cable to the battery and now this means the startup procedure is a little more complicated, but definitely works. The next problem was that since the generator hadn’t run in a month, the stator “lost its residual magnetism”. Who knew this was even possible? Apparently, this is simply from not being used enough. This was evident because the output voltage was only 1.8 VAC. I cleaned the slip rings and “flashed” the stator with 12 VDC (just 5 seconds) to re-magnetize, and then we were “golden” again. Who knows how to do this?
Anchoring in front of the Sea World Resort on the outskirts of Maumere gave us most of what we’ve been wanting. Warm, crystal clear waters invited us to swim off our transom several times per day. We hadn’t had this much relaxation since were were in the Caribbean. There were no crocodiles, no sharks and no poisonous jellyfish!
Here is a photo of a classic Indonesian charter boat that anchored behind us.
One kind and English speaking local came out at least once per day to offer us diesel (which I bought) and fresh fruit and vegetables (which we bought and ate). I can’t say we used any of the amenities of the Resort itself, but some cruisers did. I did contract with a local diver, Johnny, who drove us around the area and showed us the sights. He had a very nice car, and affordable rates.
This building was under construction in Maumere, and the scaffolding was entirely bamboo, no surprise here, and a lot of manual labour was involved in construction.
On passage to Riung, our next stop, we passed by many Fish Attracting Devices (FADs) in the water - at all depths and distances from the coastline. These things are prolific in Indonesian waters. They are unmarked, unlit, unattended and pose a serious hazard to navigation. They are usually structures made of bamboo, fishing line and nets. If we can avoid it, we don’t travel at night - for obvious reasons.
On arrival in Riung, I thought this dock entrance was quite spectacular.
Tied up to the dock were mostly small charter boats taking tourists out to the pristine island beaches and their clear waters. This fishing boat stood out amongst the crowd.
Onshore, we walked by local homes on stilts.
Also, we passed by this Tsunami route sign.
Every hundred metres or so, there was a small convenience store, and somebody selling gasoline for the scooters.
I couldn’t help but take this photo. Isn’t this a LOVELY BUNCH OF COCONUTS?
10 August 2017 - “Sea World” Anchorage, Maumere Indonesia (island of Flores)
We left Debut on 31 July, and just as the Sail2Indonesia Rally (over 60 boats) left to go NW, we went SW. There were many reasons for this, one to get away from the crowds but more important - to get someplace where we might be able to diagnose and repair our ONAN generator, again. This time, it appears to be the starter solenoid. Also, when first looking at this Rally, it appeared to have 14 stops, which I thought was pretty aggressive for a 3 month stay in Indonesia. Each one of these stops included not one but several welcome ceremonies, gala dinner, etc. However, at the first briefing in Debut, we were informed that there were now 17 stops, not 14 stops - much too aggressive a timetable for us. Our initial plan then was to short circuit many of those stops and slow down a bit.
Our first stop as we headed SW was the island of Romang, where we anchored amongst coral just in front of the village of Hila. Later, on the same day, SV Huck also arrived. I spent a full day with Joe and Heidi on SV Huck helping them with their motor driven (Westerbeke) raw water pump. The bearing had burned out and they couldn’t run their engine. Thankfully, I had an assortment of bearings on hand, and the one for my Spreco SilentWind Generator “nearly fit”. I only had to ream out the inside a bit with my Dremel tool. By the end of the day, they had a working engine again, and we had gained some friends! Two days later, SV Althea and SV Yaga 2 came into the anchorage as well. The water was crystal clear, unlike the mud and filth of Debut. When I dove on the anchor, I had the best visibility in years! A black and white banded sea snake threatened to chase after me when I checked out my anchor, for example - and it was pretty unnerving! Both Diane and I swam in the salt water and then showered on the stern. I don’t think we’ve done that since we were in Bora Bora nearly two years ago!
We went ashore and it was like going back in time to a primitive culture. There were only a few hundred people living in this village on the shoreline, with a concrete road and wharf that seemed to have been built for them, and nobody else. The road stopped at the top of the hill when the village “ended”. There was no cell phone signal, hence no Internet. Children were playing with old bicycle tires, and ropes, not iPads and GameBoys.
We had lunch ashore at “the” restaurant, where all 5 of us (SV Joana and SV Huck) ate for about $14 CDN. There was no fridge and we drank bottled mineral water.
Here in the “restaurant” they were making donuts, the old fashioned way.
I had 4 of my jerry cans filled with diesel, for about $120 CDN. This fellow tipped off the diesel using a 1 litre measuring can into my jerry cans. The fuel is of dubious quality, but then before putting it in my tanks, I’ll be using a 3-stage “Baja” Filter.
Several homes had harvested cloves and were drying them. I’m sure that there was lots of manual labour involved.
We found that this was a nice, quiet Christian village. There were no loudspeakers announcing early morning prayer, but on Sunday, it appeared that everything shut down in the morning as the church on top of the hill was packed with worshippers. The children were really interested in us and practised what little English they knew. “Hey mister, or good morning”. Nobody in this village could hold a conversation with us in English, not even close. We found a couple of girls with what appeared to be Scouts uniforms on.
29 July 2017 - Debut Indonesia
We arrived in Debut after a 5 night 700nm passage. The wind was either directly behind us or on the port quarter (SE) all the way, and it was pretty strong at 20-25 knots all the way. Diane and I rotated between watches every 3 hours, without an issues, well, almost no issues.
We passed this fishing boat along the way, it was anchored in 170 feet of water.
The ONAN generator has been giving problems again, this time with not starting. Over the past few weeks, I’d press the starter button and get a click, then press it again and the motor would start. Over time, this built up to 2 clicks, then 3 clicks, then 8 clicks and then no more starting - regardless of how many clicks! I’m pretty sure its starter solenoid, but there are no parts and service here. Sure, there is lots of service for motorbikes and scooters, but nothing for diesel engines! We’re going to run our little Honda 2K gas generator for the meantime, until we get to a more industrialized area.
The other negative thing to happen was our hydraulic steering. Ever since I had the cylinder seals replaced in NZ last year, I’ve noticed a small weeping of oil from the cylinder. This was being monitored, and I always topped up the reservoir. Diane also noticed that the wheel was a little stiff to turn. However, as we were closing in on the anchorage when arriving a few days ago, about 1.5nm out, Diane put the autopilot on standby and started to turn the wheel. Holy shit, it spun free and did not turn the rudder! Our stress level immediately went up. We put the autopilot back on, and punched in 10 degrees to get a 2 degree turn. We essentially used the autopilot to steer us near shore where we dropped the anchor in 13 feet of water. I then went into the engine room and topped up the oil in the reservoir so we could then steer our way into the anchorage - at the back of the pack, for safety. After examination, it appeared that the cylinder was indeed weeping quite a bit of oil and the bolts that secured it had worked their way free - making the leak even worse. The good news is that with Robert on SV Yara’s help, I changed all the seals (I had a seal kit on hand) and the cylinder works LIKE NEW now, with no evidence of sticking or leaking!
The administration required to enter and sail in Indonesia is mind boggling. Since we are part of a rally, we effectively have an agent in charge and an English speaking agent in every port. I completed and submitted dozens of pages of forms submitted both by .pdf and over websites, months ago. On arrival, we were asked to fill them all out again, by hand, and then put our ships stamp over them. Our in clearance is complete, and we finally have the set of papers required to clear out of this port. Who would have thought that Indonesia would put so much effort into keeping tourists OUT of their country?
This boat (Balikcil) was towed in, after sailing for over 300nm without a rudder. The boat struck an object (probably a reef) and the rudder shaft and rudder were sheared off at the edge of the hull. Emergency repairs are “underway”. I think the boat is a Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 42, and it definitely has a “spade rudder” with a composite shaft.
We heard of many boats that struck fishing nets and passed over them, as well as at least 3 boats that were entangled in nets and took 24 hours to get clear.
Our first visit ashore showed that nothing could be paid for with a credit card, you need cash for everything. On shore, there is no gas station, no grocery store, no ATM, no hardware store. In fact, the only thing that is here in Debut of any interest to me, is the dock, where we can tie up our dinghy - but the water is so shallow, that when the tide is out you have to walk through the mud to get to your dinghy and then pole your way into deeper water about 200m away! My first visit to an ATM was marred by a “disruption in communications, twice”. What do I mean? I tried to take out about $350 in local currency, but the transactions failed, although I noticed that it debited my bank account when I checked the next day!
The people, especially the kids, have been very welcoming and very friendly. We are definitely a tourist attraction here!
17 July 2017 - Thursday Island, Northern Queensland, Australia
We anchored at Horn Island, adjacent to Thursday Island on 15 July, just as many of the Sail2Indonesia Rally participants were leaving. As I look around the anchorage, about 75% of the boats have already left, many too soon in my opinion! Oh well. We really hate to be on a schedule.
As we made our way North along the windy, extremely windy coast, just inside the Great Barrier Reef, we anchored at Double Island, Low Islets, Cape Bedford and then Lizard Island. Lizard Island is described as the best anchorage North of Cairns, and it was. There is a private resort there, as well as some nice parkland and facilities. The Marlin bar, open to non-resort guests, is open three nights per week, Monday/Wednesday and Fridays. We frequented the Marlin Bar on four separate nights and sampled much of the menu - enjoying the respite.
After three days, we tried to leave Lizard Island, but it was not to be. While hauling up the chain, we noticed that there was insufficient water coming out our exhaust (which can lead to engine overheating), so we aborted. I took about an hour to remove the raw water pump and installed a reconditioned one in its place. By reconditioned, I mean it had a new impeller, new seals and new bearings. This is always better than just replacing the impeller. However, after installing the reconditioned pump, the Volvo refused to start. It cranked, it turned over, but it would not achieve compression and start. This is very strange for a diesel engine. Over the next 5 days, we were consumed with this problem, drawing in other cruisers that were anchored nearby as well as the Volvo Penta dealer in Cairns (by email). The battery was full. We had two separate tanks of more than 800L of clean diesel. I changed both the primary and secondary fuel filters. I even borrowed a can of ether / quick-start from the Resort and demonstrated that the engine “wanted” to run. It achieved compression and ran for 2 seconds. I removed the 12V stop solenoid three times, checking its operation and interface with the fuel injection pump. When bleeding the injectors, it was apparent that the diesel was not spraying out in high pressure though, making me suspect that it was the fuel injection pump. I had even changed the fuel lift pump. Like, who carries a spare fuel lift pump? I did. But, what the hell was wrong?
A fellow Aussie cruiser, former diesel engine mechanic, former helicopter pilot and helicopter engine mechanic successfully diagnosed and solved the problem in about 20 minutes! He asked me to REMOVE the reconditioned sea water pump. After this was done (two minutes), the Volvo started up like a CHARM. It would appear that when reconditioning this pump, I had left the shaft “proud” about 1/4”. When installed, this additional 1/4” was pushing on the “backside” of the shaft that drives the fuel injection pump. This apparently pushed the rack “back” and shut off the fuel. Who would have guessed? I pulled out of my spares locker a brand new sea water pump, installed it, together with the hoses - and the Volvo crisis was solved. We were then back in a holding pattern waiting for the winds to die down a bit before heading North again. Since we were sailing downwind, heading out in 20-25 knots, is of little concern to us, but when the forecast and actual winds were 35-40 - we had to wait it out a few days before leaving Lizard Island.
We met two of the most wonderful people while “stranded” at Lizard Island: Paul and Marlene on MV Thirsty Dog. This couple lives year long on their motor yacht, plying up and down the NE coast of Australia, basing themselves out of Port Douglas. I wish I had a photo of them, as we’ll always remember them and our conversations by the beach.
We’ve been ashore on both Horn and Thursday Island and the area has sort of a Caribbean flair to it. The houses and stores remind me of what you might find in the Caribbean. You can keep hunting around in the shops until you might find what you’re looking for, or nearly. There is obviously Government money being spent on coastal surveillance and a new hospital too. There are salt water crocodiles here, and a few big ones. We’ve been told by many locals, that there is a big one, 5m or over 15 feet long that suns himself in the afternoons when the tide is low.
I have to say that this talk of crocodiles is all a bit concerning to me. The other night we went into the resort for a Chinese food buffet and came back by dinghy at about 2030, in the dark. Several locals were on the dock and saw the “big one” swim by just a few minutes ago. 15 feet is 50% longer than our dinghy. I don’t want to bump into this prehistoric beast, night or day!
Here are two photos of the Raytheon GPS cable, just rotting away in the sun. This GPS, one of four that we have - is non functioning - and we discovered this a few days ago.
This is a challenging environment, but often manufacturers, in a rush to save money - don’t use the right materials. Granted, this cable has been in the environment for 16 years, but its still pathetic in my opinion. I have a good mind to write Raytheon - now Raymarine, but they’ll never respond. Everything we buy has become highly scrutinized since we left Canada eight years ago, to avoid just this kind of thing. It will be a bitch to repair, if it can be repaired - and I won’t even look at it until December, when we’re due to arrive in Malaysia.
We’ve cleared Customs and plan to head out to Debut Indonesia, in a day or so, weather, and diesel fuel permitting. The local fuel operator won’t sell you diesel at the dock unless you need a thousand litres or more. I only needed 10 jerry cans (I only own 4 jerry cans) so it required several trips carrying diesel cans to the service station. Its also a messy affair, and there is always spillage. In fact, now that I think of it, only 1 of the 50 or so rally boats that were here, got fuel from the dock. When we do leave, we’ve got just under 700nm to go, and this might be done in about 5 or 6 days, dependent on wind strength and direction.
27 June 2017 - Cairns, Northern Queensland Australia
We arrived in Cairns on 16 June and are continuing to meet foreign flagged cruising sailboats bound for Indonesia. At the moment, there are some 66 boats signed up, although we know of at least one who won’t be able to make it, and expect a few others to drop out for one reason or another. That number may make it challenging in some of the anchorages or getting fuel.
The good news is that our welded skeg and hull area in the aft cabin seems to be just fine. Also good, is that I have no bad news to report.
After Townsville, we anchored at Magnetic Island, took a park mooring at Orpheus Island, anchored at Haycock Island in the Hinchenbrook Channel, anchored at Dunk Island, anchored at Mourilyan Harbour and then tried to anchor at Fitzroy Island but the conditions were poor (too much swell). Since there were still a few hours of daylight left, we proceeded to Cairns and anchored in very good holding across from the Navy Base and near the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron.
Here is Norm’s boat, DreamCatcher, anchored in the Hinchenbrook Channel. It was a very peaceful anchorage and the insects were only bothersome at dusk.
Oftentimes, we anchored side by side, presenting a “port” and “starboard” image. This is one of my favourite pictures of two home built steel boats.
Most of the Australian North Eastern coast looks pretty deserted to us, as we slowly work our way North. This photo was of the Southern entrance to the Hinchenbrook Channel, one of many places that we had to enter at high tide in order to have sufficient depth.
At the Northern entrance of the Hinchenbrook Channel, we spotted these two whales, in what appeared to be only 30-40 feet of water.
Occasionally, we came across some rocks that are UNCHARTED on our CM93 charts, that we use with MaxSea or OpenCPN. This is unnerving to say the least. In this case, they were displayed on the Navionics charts, but not OpenCPN. This is why I don’t like to navigate so close to the shore at night.
Another interesting place we stopped at was Dunk Island. There is a storm damaged resort there that is unused, although there is a caretaker staff on hand to keep it from getting much worse while the owners and the insurance company figure out what to do with it. This is a photo of the nearby beachfront.
This photo shows the awesome power of cyclones, as they have clearly uprooted these coconut palm trees, and the roots are obviously dead but still attached to the ground. This is not driftwood.
Many of the Northern Queensland park areas have signs warning of the presence and activity of saltwater crocodiles. Here, Norm shows us that we need to pay attention to this sign.
Its a little too soon to carry on North for the last 495nm to Thursday Island. The Rally organizers want us to check out of there on 14/15 July, so we figured we’d spend a week or two in Cairns, catching up on some chores and visiting the sites.
I bought some brushes for our ONAN generator (now 17 years old with only 1300 hours on it), on speculation that we’ll need them soon. When I did change the brushes, it was apparent that the bronze slip rings needed to be polished as well, in order to get the necessary self-excitation that the generator needs. Once this was done, our generator was working very well and apparently ready for this long trip. Just to be on the safe side, we invested in a new gas-powered Honda 2K (Honda EU20i) as a backup, just in case.
We had some more trouble with the carburetor on our outboard engine so we took that into a service shop for a quick and cheap cleaning. Norm, on Dream Catcher, has been a first class pal - offering us the use of his dinghy while our outboard was being repaired and then again when we fixed a tube leak. The ignition switch on our Volvo has also been occasionally faulty (not starting, not stopping, gauges with no power to them) so I bought a new switch and keys(2) from the local Volvo agent.
The Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron, Saretta Crawford (Duty Manager) has been very helpful. We were given reciprocal privileges and are able to berth our dinghy, and drop our garbage off somewhere - always an issue when we’re on anchor. They don’t have very many docks, but their club house and haul out facilities are great.
The anchor holding is quite good here in the river, but the current and wind are both very strong. At least once per day our boat swings around in the opposite direction because of the conditions. We’ve been having warm, humid and rainy weather for several days. A few days ago, we saw the best, most vibrant rainbow we’d ever seen.
Christopher and Christine (SV Scintilla) drove up from Townsville to pay us a visit, staying on DreamCatcher for a few nights. One afternoon, we went to the Cairns Botanic Gardens and took the Yellow Trail path through the jungle to the top of the hill.
I’d say the most interesting thing we spotted was this wild grub turkey, having his lunch.
We also made sushi one night on Norm’s boat. It was a fun activity because we all took turns making sushi, with our chosen ingredients. We had picked up salmon, avocado, cucumber, peppers, crab and shrimp.
No sign of any wild crocodiles so far, but the locals tell us they’re here.
5 June 2017 Townsville, Queensland Australia
We did leave Brisbane on 2 May, only a day later than our original plan. As we moved North, we anchored at Fraser Island for a night and then stayed at Port Bundaberg Marina for about a week, waiting for a cyclone to pass through Vanuatu (a late season cyclone, as the season normally finishes 1 May). This cyclone was nearly 1,000nm away, but it did influence the wind and rain in our area. We wanted to be in a safe place until it fizzled out - just to be sure. Then we continued moving North to Keppel Island, South Percy Island, Scawfell Island, Shaw Island and then Airlie Beach, a place we had visited before by road when Henry was with us in February. Since we were sailing more than 10nm from the coastline along very uninhabited areas, there was little if any Internet coverage.
For more than a week, we were sailing in the company of SV DreamCatcher (Canadian flagged Bruce Roberts design 49.5 steel cutter) with Norm Facey and his crew Monique on board. Norm is the proud builder and owner of DreamCatcher. These photos are from South Percy Island, where we stretched our legs and went ashore for a few hours.
We passed rather quickly through the Whit Sunday Islands, a popular tourist haven in the Great Barrier Reef, anchoring only a couple of times - because we were trying to “make miles”. However, by the time we got to Airlie Beach, we figured that we’d better attend to a developing problem, a salt water leak that had developed “near” the rudder post in the aft cabin. One night a few weeks earlier, we clipped the top off a coral head while sailing at 6 knots, and also grounded several times in the shallow waters near Fraser Island. We became suspicious that there was a minor leak around the rudder post or skeg area several months ago, but the recent movement and stresses had obviously made it noticeably worse. As we came into Airlie Beach we inquired about getting hauled for repairs at Hawkes Boatyard, the only yard there. We recalled that Airlie Beach was hit very hard by Cyclone Debbie only about two months previously. The yard is designed to accommodate 10 boats, but there were 17 in repair - so it was more than full. After talking with the manager, he regretfully announced that he just couldn’t help us, and recommended that we move further North to Townsville. Two days later, we set out on another overnight passage, this time to Rosshaven Marine in Townsville, where we made arrangements for a haulout and repairs.
As we hauled on 24 May, the source of our salt water leak became readily apparent. With the boat hanging in the straps, It was obvious that the leading edge of the skeg had cracked welds, as well as the top (more concerning), where the skeg is welded to the hull and the stiffener plate. The top/aft edge of the skeg had cracks running about 3” in length. This obviously filled the skeg with seawater, which of course was all draining out while in the travel lift. Somehow, this also led to water entering the boat under our bed in the aft cabin.
As we started to reveal the true nature of the problem, I emailed Bruce Roberts-Goodson, the designer of our steel “Roberts 53” specifically about any weaknesses in the skeg design, and about the utility of “filling the skeg with oil”. I’ll give him credit for his quick and thorough reply, only 4 hours later:
“Regards the skeg on your Roberts 53 ... Skegs have always presented a weak point on any boat including fiberglass, aluminum, steel and wood / epoxy boats. Our answer to the problem was to take some loading off the skegs by using what we have called the ROBERTS SAFETY SKEG which we believe will at help to solve this problem. We do advise any boat owner who has a boat with a skeg to have the area around the root of the skeg checked as often as practical. Regards filling the skeg with oil ... this suggestion was to prevent rust and corrosion from the INSIDE of the skeg ... I am not sure if this is a good idea or not but it seemed a good idea when I suggested it some years ago.”
The first order of business was to repair the external weld cracks in the skeg. Our welder/boilermaker Arthur repaired the six cracked welds and added 3 external stiffener plates to strengthen the area. The next part of the process was to pressure test the skeg. The theory being that if the skeg was airtight, then no water would enter the hull.
One of Bruce Roberts’ recommended changes was to add a 6”X6” square pipe (nearly 12’ long) from the bottom of the keel to the bottom of the skeg. While I agree that this would eliminate any issues with fishing nets or lines getting caught in the gap between the skeg and keel, I didn’t think that this would improve the skeg lateral stability and might actually introduce larger problems if this square pipe ever took the weight of the boat. It might draw the skeg/rudder assembly forward! Therefore, I dismissed this “bottom pipe” idea, but did add some more strengthening plates. If it fails again, I’m going to have to beef up the top area much more.
Once I had the aft cabin all disassembled (under the bed), we continued pressure testing the skeg and saw a few pinholes on the inside at the hull/stem joint, this is where the water was actually entering the boat. Arthur spent half a day “chasing” these leaks until they were all sealed.
With the aft cabin torn apart, we’ve been sleeping in the fore cabin until the re-coating of the inside of the hull is complete and the epoxy paint cured. Five coats of epoxy should be enough.
We found it pretty easy to slip back into “boat yard routine”, where we use the toilets and showers onshore. Diane still gets to use her shower and washing machine though. We’ve got water and electricity, and although the boat is getting pretty dirty/dusty, the yard is paved so its not nearly as dirty as it could be. The yard is also quite remote, but they’ve loaned us their utility vehicle (half ton) a few times so we could get groceries and eat out. Also, an unexpected bonus is that the yard has lightening fast Internet. They’ve also got a really good chandlery onsite and this is really practical.
Here in Townsville, we’ve taken delivery of our “Rally Package” for the Sail2Indonesia Rally, received our passports with our Indonesian visas - and received our “dinghy wheels” from Beachmaster in New Zealand. Over the years, we’ve noticed that more and more cruisers have attached “lower-able” wheels to the sterns of their dinghy. The rationale is that in many places there are no docks available and a dinghy landing on the beach has become more and more likely. With the tides, it is sometimes necessary to drag the heavy dinghy a long ways up the beach to make sure its still there a few hours later when the tide ebbs. We’ve seen lots of different models, but Norm showed us his Beachmaster wheels in operation, which in our opinion are the best model out there. We ordered a pair directly from New Zealand and installed them on our dinghy. In this photo, I’ve shown one wheel up and one wheel in the down position. They’re very easy to operate and its even possible to motor up right to the waters edge with the motor in the tilt-up position.
Diane has also used the time to make some decorating “repairs”. She bought some new “nautical” themed material at Spotlight and made up some replacement curtains for the aft cabin, and also replaced the shams on our bed.
We’ve been downtown a few times, and its quite pretty on the waterfront. Here is a photo of a picnic area and free electric BBQ down near the waterfront. There are some people sitting down having lunch, after cooking it on the BBQ. We’ve seen lots of these publicly maintained BBQs in Queensland. Its a clean and tidy arrangement.
Here’s an example of the difference in climate between Townsville Australia and New Zealand in early June. Kids are enjoying this waterpark, and the air temperature is about 26C. In New Zealand, the air temperature would be about 16C, at best.
Another massive tree, one that provide good shade and doesn’t demand a lot of water.
Now that I review the Queensland coast map, I see that we’ve covered about 60% of what was planned when leaving Brisbane, and we’re getting quite close to Cairns. Our plan was always to reach Cairns by mid June, and head North again bound for Thursday Island on 2 July. We’re doing just fine.
Since I had to repair the bottom paint on the welded areas of the skeg, I used the opportunity to spread 6L of Coppercoat (3-4 coats) over about 50% of the hull - the high traffic areas. This should improve the bottom paint job that was done just last year in NZ.
Our launch date is set for Thursday morning, 8 June. We plan to launch, fill up with diesel and sail over to Magnetic Island only 6km away, to link up with Norm on DreamCatcher.
1 May 2017 - Brisbane, Australia
Its time to leave Brisbane. We’ve been here for a little over 5 months, and we’re itching to see some new territory. We have “year long” visas for Australia, but we have to coordinate our travels with seasonal weather patterns, Customs and Visa issues. In this area, the cyclone season is from November to end April. Logically, it should be safe to move North of Brisbane, along the East coast of Australia - in May. We’ve signed up for the Sail2Indonesia Rally, to help us get from our last port in Australia (Thursday Island) through 18 Indonesian anchorages to Singapore - together with more than 60 other sailboats. This map shows the area that we plan to cover over the next two months until we leave Thursday Island in mid July.
The distance we’ll travel from Brisbane to Thursday Island is approximately 1272nm or 2355km. I checked on Google, and that’s about the same as a road trip from Ottawa past Winnipeg, and then about halfway to Regina. Its a long way, moving along at about 6knots, or 11km/hr with the wind blowing steady from the SE. We certainly won’t be doing it in one stretch though. There are some longer stretches, where we’ll have to sail overnight, perhaps 2 or 3 nights, just to make the mileage. For the most part though, we’ll be “day-sailing” hopping from one anchorage to another, especially as we move inside the Great Barrier Reef.
One of my tasks has been to “recommission” our water-maker. When we arrived in NZ in mid November 2015, I pickled the water-maker, and we haven’t used it since then. This isn’t a problem, but at some point - the membrane will become “unrecoverable”. No problem though, I bought a replacement two months ago, and have it on hand if required. I’ve flushed the system with fresh water a few times, and have also cleaned with an acid solution, and it is now primed and ready for operation - once we’ve left the silty/sandy water of the Brisbane harbour. I won’t try it until we’re in “clean” water. If it can’t extract the salt, then I’ll have to change the membrane a few weeks “down the road”.
Also, since we haven’t used our Volvo engine, or the ONAN generator for months, I’ve had to run some tests on those machines to verify that they’re ready for operation. The Volvo started up just fine, but it hesitated when I put it in gear. In fact, it was downright reluctant to turn the shaft. So I put the transmission in neutral, and then went into the engine room and rotated the shaft by hand a bit. Then I threw it in gear and the shaft rotated just fine. There is a lot of “river debris” which comes down the Brisbane River, so I figure there were some sticks, logs or even line caught up on the propellor.
As part of my tests, I turned on our Garmin chart-plotter and Standard Horizon loudhailer, but they didn’t power up. After a few hours, I tracked the failure down to two corroded wires. I made a zero cost repair, replacing some wire and using some solder and heat shrink tubing. This is what owning a boat is like, in a salt-water environment.
I tested our windlass (for hauling up the anchor and chain) and thankfully it works. Its full of oil too, all good. The wires don’t look corroded.
We’ve been stocking up on food, toilet paper, chips, chocolate bars, crunchy bars, canned goods, disposable propane cylinders, gas, diesel, oil, filters, bug spray - whatever we think we might need. With food, we’ve bought at least 7kg of Aussie cheddar cheese, at $6 per kg. We’ve also bought quite of bit of long-life and powdered milk. We probably bought about 50 bottles of $4 - $6 wine, as well as even cheaper boxed wine. We bought a bit of beer and some cider - but beer will be available in Indonesia. Wine - likely not.
I hired a Commercial Diver (Adam Dodson Diving Services) to give the hull a scrub at dockside three days before departure. I’d normally clean the hull myself, but in a marina, and even this marina, I’m more than a bit squeamish. Although the water temperature is about 26C, the water is so silty you can’t see more than two feet. There is also a high risk of poisonous jellyfish and bull sharks. Adam wore a neoprene suite and even had a special ultrasonic gizmo to keep the sharks away. He’s a professional, and I was happy to pay him.
Jeff and Tracey, our Aussie friends from Coff’s Harbour came by for a visit on the weekend. We had a good visit with them, and great weather as well.
This is my parting photo from Brisbane, as we took many walks around the local area, mostly for exercise. This little sanctuary on the edge of the city is a nesting ground for all kinds of sea birds.
I can’t deny that I feel a certain amount of trepidation about leaving here. We’ve been here for more than 5 months and the ties to the dock are fairly strong. We were planning on leaving here today, Monday, 1 May. But, we’ve decided to delay for a “few days” while we sort out our “Indonesian Social Visas”. We’re well placed now to take care of this administration. Our car has been sold to “a friend of a friend” for a heavily discounted price - yesterday. May marks the end of the South Pacific Cyclone season, and we’ve paid up until that date at the marina so it makes sense to leave - unless there is bad weather. When Rivergate Marina heard that we needed to stay on a few days, they generously allowed us up to 4 days for free! A few nights ago, the temperature dropped to only 12C and it was pretty cool in the morning, although during the daytime it rose up to 22C. In trying to compare our current geography with the Florida and Caribbean area, Brisbane is at 27 degrees South, nearly the same as West Palm Beach Florida which is at 26 degrees North. So I am comparing our exit to being in West Palm Beach in the beginning of November - and heading to St Johns Antigua - at 17 degrees North. This Caribbean landmark is comparable to Cairns at 17 degrees South. So, in a few weeks time, I figure we’ll be at Cairns, similar to being in Antigua in November. Its definitely time to move on, see some new territory and confront the challenges of discovery.
10 March 2017 Eastern Australia - Road Trip Part 2
When we returned to Brisbane, we found that we had one unsatisfied requirement in Henry’s month long tour of Australia, that was to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. We hadn’t booked anything yet, and although this was a bit short-sighted, it gave us lots of flexibility. Henry wasn’t feeling well when he first arrived anyways, so if we had made a firm booking, he might not have been able to dive. We didn’t want to go all the way North to Cairns (over 1600km), but did end up going 3/4 of the way (1100km) North to Airlie Beach - well situated with respect to the Great Barrier Reef (2300km in length).
Unfortunately, there just weren’t any live-aboard diving charters operating that were closer to Brisbane. We booked our passage on Anaconda III on a Saturday night, and by Sunday morning 0800 - we started driving North to Airlie Beach. We were stoked to be diving the Whitsunday Islands, of the Great Barrier Reef.
Along the way, we discovered that we were riding on the ISIS highway, and came across quite a few signs for ISIS businesses and even an ISIS “social club”. We found this all a bit ironic, in consideration of the “new” terrorist group also called “ISIS” in the Iraq/Syria area.
Airlie Beach looks very much like a touristy, back-packer town, if you can imagine such a thing. The downtown strip had a very touristy feel to it, lots of flashy signs and back-packer hostels - although the waterfront was very welcoming.
The Anaconda III is a 101-foot (31-metre) mono-hulled steel sailboat, designed and outfitted to be a comfortable live-aboard dive vessel. With 13 cabins, all air-conditioned and with ensuite toilet/showers, the boat can accommodate a maximum of 32 guests. There's ample salon and deck space, and some nice features for divers: an on board air compressor, two tenders, and a rear stairway for easy entries and exits to the tender. The captain did not permit diving from the stern, supposedly for safety reasons. What they didn’t have though was a working water maker. Therefore, showers were limited to 1 minute per day - per person - perhaps (depending on the number of Princess’s aboard). Our dive gear sat in the sun, baking in salt water all day long, because there was no fresh water to rinse suits, masks, fins, regulators or BCs - a less than ideal situation.
However, we put up with the shortfalls and enjoyed what was offered to us. The crew, food and dive sites were all really good. Of the 31 guests (32 max) aboard, there were only 3 card-carrying certified divers - which surprised me. The rest were either snorkelers, or beginner divers with no certification. This was great for Henry, because he isn’t certified and fit in well with the average 24-year old, and made the diving a little more personal for Diane and I (we were in small groups, only the certified divers). Nonetheless, Henry clocked in 4 dives, Diane 4 and I got 5 dives in (including a night dive). With summer conditions, the water was quite warm at 29C/88F, but visibility was often poor at less than 10m, although it was noticeably better on the outer reef. I’ve read that the diving conditions are much better in the winter, and we should experience that in June/July of this year as we sail up the coast to Thursday Island.
Everybody had to wear a stinger suit, which for us, was just a thin lycra suit with no neoprene.
There were lots of jellyfish in the water, and occasionally a deadly one. One night, one of the staff spotted an Irukandji jellyfish just behind the stern.
What the Irukandji lacks in size it makes up for in the power of its venom. Measuring only 5mm (0.2 ins) across and with tentacles less than 1 metre (3 ft) it is one of the smallest members of the box jellyfish family. The venom though is insanely powerful; it is reputedly the most venomous animal toxin on earth, over 100 times more powerful than that of the cobra. In addition to this, the Irukandji Jellyfish is unique in having stingers on its bell as well as tentacles. No wonder the staff were ruthless about getting us to wear stinger suits!
Here are some proud Canadians on the beach.
I saw sea turtles, sharks (black tip and white tip reef sharks), lots of interesting reef fish and a wide variety of coral that I’ve never seen before. What I didn’t see were lion fish, crabs, lobster, crocodiles (thankfully) or any eels. Maybe the water was just too warm?
This is my compiled and edited dive video, posted on YouTube.
Along the road back to Brisbane, we detoured for a few hours, using the “Lonely Planet” Guide to Australia - and stopped at the
Capricorn Caves (situated near the Tropic of Capricorn). The Tropic of Capricorn, by the way, is the Southern Hemisphere’s equivalent to the Tropic of Cancer, the line of latitude that runs through the Bahamas, just South of the town of Georgetown in the Exumas. The dry rainforest or semi-evergreen vine thicket at Capricorn Caves has survived and adapted to dry conditions. The rare fern Tectaria devexa, seen in cave entrances, was threatened with extinction in 2006 after decades of drought (this is Australia after all - where the norm is drought, fire and flood). Five bat species roost in Capricorn Caves at different times of the year, but all species favour the caves in warm wet weather. Little bent-wing bats Miniopterus australis visit in their thousands, whereas Australia’s largest carnivorous bat, the vulnerable ghost bat Macroderma gigas, is rarely seen.
We also made a side trip into Bundaberg to take part in the Rum Distillery tour (no photos, cell phones or even battery driven watches are permitted on the tour). This is a very old distillery, founded in 1888 - and crucial to the startup of the sugar cane industry. The sugar cane industry continues to this day and is the basis for a number of products that come out of this area.
We made another side trip to the tourist town of Mooloolaba to have dinner with Kim Toonders - a second cousin of Diane and Henry’s. Henry expressed that if he had to live in Australia, he liked this town the most.
We spent most of a day at the Australian Zoo, about 100km North of Brisbane, the zoo founded by Steve Irwin’s family. Established in 1970, this small two acre wildlife park was home to native wildlife such as lace monitors, tiger snakes, freshwater crocodiles, magpie geese and kangaroos. By the 1980s, the wildlife park had expanded to four acres, had two full-time staff and was called the 'Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park'. Steve Irwin (the former “Crocodile Hunter” of TV acclaim) was enlisted by the Queensland Government to help with crocodile research and captured well over 100 crocodiles, which were relocated or housed at the family's newly established Crocodile Environmental Park. In 1991, Steve took over the management of the small wildlife park and sadly died in a snorkelling accident on the Great Barrier Reef in September 2006. He died from a stingray's barb to his chest.
I wonder what these dingoes are looking at?
The Zoo lives on, managed by Steve Irwin’s American-born wife, two children and a large number of staff. In comparison to the Taronga Zoo that we visited a few weeks earlier, we found this Zoo to be more commercial, more glitzy, more Disneyland-like (lots of fake rocks) - and a bit more confining for the animals. We were told though that many of the animals on display were rotated with “back-benchers” who were wandering around in larger areas in the back areas of the zoo. This zoo had the best assortment of reptiles I’ve ever seen, and the noon “live” show featuring one of the hungry crocodiles is not to be missed.
Last on the list of sites we visited on this road trip was the Glass House Mountains - a group of eleven hills that rise abruptly from the coastal plain in Queensland's Sunshine Coast hinterland. The mountains were named by Captain James Cook in 1770 as the peaks reminded him of the glass furnaces in his home county of Yorkshire. The range was originally formed as molten lava cooled in the cores of volcanoes around 26 million years ago. Open eucalypt woodland and heath vegetation, which once covered the coastal plains, provides a home for a variety of native animals and plants.
The day before Henry’s departure, we went out for one last tourist destination, the Tamborine Mountain Skywalk, about an hour South of Brisbane. This relatively new Eco-Adventure offers a unique way to explore the beautiful rainforest canopies. It is set in 30 acres of privately owned rainforest beside the rock-pools of Cedar Creek on Mt Tamborine. The entire walk totals 1.5 kms (taking about 45 minutes) and is a combination of forest floor trails, 300 metres of high-tech steel bridges through the highest points of the upper canopy, and a 40 metre cantilever bridge that soars 30 metres above the creek and rainforest below.
When it rains in these mountains, this will be flooding with water.
This is a short summary of just some of the Australian terminology that we learned in our travels over the past month - in no particular order:
ambo - ambulance
sunnies - sunglasses
flip flops - thongs
firey - fireman
coppers - police officers
chippy - carpenter
sparky - car electrician (they also work on air conditioning)
bottle store - where you can buy alcohol, beer and wine
crook - sick
poky’s - slot machines in a bar
crikey - Steve Irwin’s word for holy shit
rego - your car registration papers
Subey - a Subaru car
brolley - an umbrella
lollies - a generic word for candy
capsicons - peppers (green, yellow, red)
rock melon - cantaloupe
nappies - diapers
Macca’s - MacDonalds as advertised on radio and TV
Hungry Jacks - this is Burger King in Australia (same buildings, sign and menu)
Cuppa - coffee
UTE - utility vehicle (small truck, like an old El Camino - formerly made by GM)
Sadly, Henry’s month long vacation has come to a close and he left for Canada on 9 March. We really enjoyed his visit, and look forward to the next one, scheduled for January/February 2018 when we are expecting to be in Malaysia, sailing to Thailand.
Three hours after Henry left, I repaired our Maytag washing machine, that had been sounding like it was dying for the past 5 months. Henry had brought two parts with him from Canada, on speculation that the fault was either with the control board or the discharge pump. After removing the cabinetry and then pulling out the washer for better access, I removed the discharge pump and found that it had a US 25 cent coin in it, causing it to clatter and make noise whenever the pump was running. Now our washing machine is working like new again and “the Captain” is happy again.
25 February 2017 - Eastern Australia - Road Trip Part 1
For the past ten days, we’ve been touring around the Eastern part of Australia - and as we believed - its a very big country. Since leaving Brisbane, we first stopped in Coff’s Harbour to spend the night, again visiting with our cruising friends Jeff and Tracey. We had a few beers and a cheap dinner at a pub called “Hoey Moey”, where we met up with Norm Facey from SV Dreamcatcher. From Coff’s Harbour, we drove further South along the coast and stayed overnight at Newcastle. This was a very nice mid-sized city, one with a really good harbour entrance and downtown area.
I’d certainly recommend Newcastle as a cruising destination. We spent a few hours visiting Fort Scratchley, where we learned quite a bit about Australian and Newcastle history, particularly through WWII. We learned that Newcastle’s origins started with coal mining and exports back in the 1800’s.
Then, we drove further South to Sydney, where we stayed for 4 nights. We only planned to stay there for 2 nights, but we had an air conditioning failure with our car - pretty dramatic when the daytime temperature is 39-42C. On day one, we foolishly drove the car downtown. This was a big mistake. The parking was $75, for about 7 hours. Then, it took over 2 hours just to drive about 1.5 km to exit the downtown core. This was another big mistake. On the bright side, we had a great downtown walking tour, where we saw most of the sights, including the landmark Sydney Opera House.
We learned that in the beginning, the Sydney street surface was wood. Here there is a bit surviving to this date.
Late in the afternoon, there was a lot of rain for about an hour, and some local aborigines were busking at the harbour front with a didgeridoo and this guy was dancing about. It was all pretty cool.
I saw these external sprinklers on a building and thought that was unusual.
In a park downtown, this guy was busking by making huge water bubbles, but he wasn’t getting much money.
At the end of the day, we were treated to dinner by our friends Christopher and Christine (C2) (SV Scintilla) who were staying at the D’Albora Spit Marina at Mosman Spit.
The next day, we wisely took the Sydney public transit system (using an Opal Card), parking at a shopping mall where it ONLY cost $ 35 for about 7 hours. We took a bus tour of Sydney, learning even more about its history, particularly the importance of the name MacQuarrie. We stopped at the famous Bondi Beach for about 30 minutes.
The next day, again, we wisely used the Sydney transit system, this time heading West to the Blue Mountains, a very popular vacation and tourist spot. The train ride was about 1.5 hours, after driving 30 minutes to a train station where we parked for FREE. Wow, we had spectacular views on that train ride - it was a harbinger of things to come. At Katoomba, we took the Explorer Bus, a hop on hop off bus, that allowed us the opportunity to visit most of the sites, and nearly all of the hikes - especially the hikes.
This is a photo of the well known “Three Sisters” rock feature.
I snuck up on this gecko.
I lined up a garage appointment for the morning of our departure, ensuring that it was functioning well for the next leg of our trip. After getting the refrigerant gas topped up, it worked well, even in the hottest times.
After leaving Sydney, we drove West to Bathurst, where we visited the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum - it was a real treat and good value. The collection of gems and fossils was better than anything I’ve ever seen before.
This is a photo I took of one of their exhibits, a gecko that was preserved in amber millions of years ago. Shades of “Jurrasic Park”.
Continuing our drive West, we were always “on the lookout” for kangaroos crossing the road. It is a real risk at duck and dawn.
The scenery changed from mountainous to steppe, and was quite apparently very arid as well. In my opinion, it started to resemble the dry rolling hills of Alberta. A major difference though were the dead kangaroos on the side of the road. Apparently, hitting a kangaroo with your car is a common problem for Aussies. The animals can be quite “bottom-heavy” and damaging to your car, although I would argue that hitting a Canadian moose is quite a bit more damaging. Nonetheless, we tried to avoid driving in the early morning and at dusk to minimize the risk.
This SUV is typical for the lesser travelled roads in the Australian Western Plain. Note the “snorkel” air breather, which is designed to help in fording flooded rivers, or flooded plains - and when it rains, these plains FLOOD. Although Jeff told me that he has driven vehicles like this all his life and never had one with a snorkel. In his opinion, once the water level is above the wheels, you start to lose traction and the vehicle starts to float. Note also the big bumper and bright lights.
Another thing we noticed as we drove away from the coast and the major urban centres was the distinct lack of the hordes of Chinese tourists we saw in the major cities like Sydney and Brisbane. Evidently, they don’t like all-day-long bus rides to remote towns.
We stopped at Cowra overnight, where we visited the Japanese Gardens, Japanese POW cemetery and ruins of the former Japanese POW camp. Like Canada and the USA, Australia interned many Japanese citizens, nearly all civilians, mostly out of fear - during WWII. These people were confined to a “camp” which later became populated with genuine Japanese and Italian POWs, ie soldiers. The UK had asked Australia to secure over 25,000 Italian POWs, many of whom were not returned to Italy until late in 1947 due to shipping limitations.
Driving NW from Cowra, we stopped for a few hours at the site of the former Wellington Phosphate mine - closed since 1918. The Phosphate Mine is located at the Wellington Caves Holiday Complex. The mine dates back to 1914, with 6000 tons of phosphate mined during its four years of operation. Phosphate is still used worldwide as a fertilizer and is a component of dynamite. It is written that Charles Darwin became interested in the discovery of fossils in this area, and it was influential on his thoughts on evolution.
The phosphate is found in the sedimentary layer, formed by bat guano - millions of years ago. In this photo, phosphate is evident as the white strip, just below the caramel and white coloured quartz.
Continuing on from Wellington, we drove NW to Dubbo (pronounced Dubb-Oh) on the Western Plain, West of the East coast and still not yet in the “outback”. On the secondary roads, we saw more and more kangaroo carcasses on the side of the road (at least one per kilometre), and yet the road was lined with fencing - evidently inadequate to keep the kangaroos from getting on the road. Occasionally, we saw kangaroos off in the distance, and a few times next to the road, but this was normally only early in the morning or late in the afternoon - due to the heat.
In the morning, we visited the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, home to hundreds of animals from around the world, with a 6-9 km circuit that meanders through natural bushland and around large open style exhibits. In the late 1960s, plans to develop a large plains zoo to complement Sydney’s Taronga Zoo were established and this zoo was opened in 1977. It was established as an open-range design, with walls and fences replaced by concealed moats dividing the animals from the visitors. This creates the impression of actually being with the animals in the wild. I believe that this zoo was by far the best zoo I’ve ever visited. In 1994, Western Plains Zoo was awarded as the Best Major Tourist Attraction, the highest honour in Australian Tourism - and it certainly deserved it.
These photos are of elephants, eland, meerkats, rhino and zebras.
In the afternoon, we visited the Old Dubbo Gaol. This remarkably complete and intact gaol operated for 119 years from 1847 to 1966 and is still nestled in downtown Dubbo. This regional gaol is representative of powerful, surprising and dark moments in Australian prison history. The gaol houses important collections such as the hangman’s kit and gallows, and provides unique experiences such as the dark cells and the bird’s-eye view from the watchtower.
This interesting feature in the wall was described as the “Watchman’s Telltale”.
After visiting Dubbo, we continued NW to our first stop in the Australian Outback - Lightning Ridge. This was a small, frontier type town really - in the middle of nowhere. The view on the road side was admittedly unspectacular, outback scrub.
All the rivers were dried up, and the last rainfall was more than a year ago. However, every few years, it rains for weeks at a time. The rivers fill up, and the plains and roads flood, stranding many communities for weeks at a time. This is just one photo of many dried up river beds.
We took a self guided tour through the Opal Mine Adventure in Lightning Ridge. Black Opals are uniquely found in Lightning Ridge Australia and we found the tour quite interesting. Both Henry and I hit our heads on the ceiling many times.
The water found in the Lightning Ridge bore baths comes from the Great Artesian Basin (below ground) and is approximately two million years old. Natural pressure sends the water to the surface through an artesian bore and it maintains a constant temperature of 41.5C degrees. The Lightning Ridge open air (and FREE) Artesian Baths were first opened in 1962 and are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week - were found just 250m from our cabin at the Opal Caravan Park.
On Day 10, we drove back to Brisbane, and along the roadside again saw lots of kangaroo (mostly road-kill) and wild emu. Now we’re taking a pause for two days, to rest, refresh and regroup - before continuing on North along the coast to experience the Great Barrier Reef.
13 February 2017 - Brisbane, Australia
Diane’s brother Henry arrived a few days ago, and will be spending a month with us. For the first few days, we covered some of the same ground as we already have over the past two months. Henry has been recovering from a cold and needed to be more healthy before we leave on our road trip, but it was all new territory for Henry.
We took Henry for a cheap Brisbane River cruise, on a CityCat, ending up at South Bank where a relaxing dip in the pool was in order.
We took a day trip to visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in the South of Brisbane - our first visit there. This is an excellent way to see not only Koalas (which are difficult to find in the wild) but other Australian wildlife as well. Of course, we saw lots and lots of Koalas, but I refused to pay the extra price to have a picture taken with one, so I had to settle with taking my own photos of the little fellas.
At the sanctuary, we saw the “Bird of Prey” show, a pretty interesting “live action” show with owls and eagles. I never knew owls were such good hunters.
Henry got to see kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos at the sanctuary. We also expect to see them in the wild, but this was pretty interesting. Since these animals are so accustomed to humans, you could touch and pet them.
Diane participated in the daily Lorikeet feeding. She held a container up with a slurry of milk, honey and nuts - and the Lorikeets just loved it. They made lots of noise and flew in by the hundreds to munch away on this tasty mixture.
These two Lorikeets were smooching before the big meal.
We saw an Emu.
and several laughing Kookaburras.
Although it was really hot and humid, they did put on a pretty decent sheep herding demonstration, using about a dozen sheep and 3 very specialized dogs. At the end of the demonstration, one of the dogs was commanded to hop up on top of the sheep and lie there.
I always like taking photos of lizards, so here are three different animals - none in a cage.
Of course, we also saw a few creepy spiders, again, in the wild.
Afterwards, we drove to the top of the hills, just West of Brisbane for a panoramic view of the city.
This morning, we drove South to Surfers Paradise, our second trip there - to see the annual sand sculptures. The judging was completed yesterday so we were able to see the results. These people are working on one of the sculptures.
Here, Henry is posing in front of the prize winning sculpture.
Here, I caught the staff spraying a sand sculpture with a mixture of water and glue, to help keep it together for the weeks that it will be on display. I suppose the wind (and eventually the rain too) can erode the art work.
Of course, we all took a dip in the Pacific Ocean. The wind was strong and so was the undercurrent. No sharks around and the yellow flag is up.
A few weeks before Henry arrived, I finally fixed our ONAN 6 KW generator (circa 1999, 1280 hours), after being down for about 3 months. I now understand what happened, and will describe how I fixed it and more important - how to avoid this happening in the future.
First off, this generator’s heat exchanger never came with a replaceable zinc anode. That meant that the heat exchanger was a “ticking time bomb”. I remember calling the ONAN/Cummins dealer before we left Canada 9 years ago, and they insisted that it was not built with an anode. Perhaps it was unnecessary? In my opinion, eventually, it would fail. It seems that everything that is exposed to sea water fails. Before leaving NZ, testing the generator at dockside revealed that yes indeed, the heat exchanger had failed and had consequently introduced sea water into the fresh water coolant system. This compromised the coolant manifold on the head, corrosion of several attached aluminum parts and consequently extremely poor circulation of the coolant - and then shutdown due to high temperature. This is when I first noticed something was wrong. When in NZ, I had the head removed by SeaPower, the coolant manifold changed, the heat exchanger replaced and coolant circulated/cleaned and replaced - and most of the problem seemed to be rectified as it ran under load for a 40 minute test. However, on passage to Australia, the only time I tried to run the generator, it again shut-down due to over-heating after only 4 minutes. While dockside here in Australia, I followed through with more trouble-shooting and repairs and also replaced the fresh water cooling pump, but still there was still poor sea water flow out the exhaust. I tracked this down to the exhaust elbow being obstructed. That meant that it was now shutting down due to high exhaust temperature, rather than high coolant temperature (as happened in NZ). When I removed the exhaust elbow, the SS was barely corroded, but the water jets were seriously blocked, probably due to the melted metal gasket. A few weeks ago, I replaced the exhaust elbow and gasket with new parts and ran up the generator - and it passed with flying colours. I’ve cleaned up the exhaust elbow, including sandblasting the small holes - to keep as a good spare. All told, we spent $2800 in NZ, $1200 in Australia and another $ 750 online to get an exhaust elbow - totalling $ 4750 to “refurbish the generator”. The best news is that the new heat exchanger installed in NZ, came with a replaceable zinc anode, one that I will be replacing twice yearly! I will also be changing the coolant every two years.
Tomorrow, we’re heading off to see some new territory, heading South towards Sydney.
16 January 2017 - Brisbane Australia
We’ve now been in Australia, and mostly Brisbane - for 7 weeks. Its time to make a few observations and report on what we’ve seen and learned, and not in any particular order.
The minimum wage in Australia is $18 per hour, based on a 38 hour week. Casual employees are paid an additional 25% lifting their wage to $ 22.5 per hour. This is all good, because it provides most people with what is described as a “living wage”. The cost of living is a bit higher than we’re accustomed to in Canada, but there are lots of differences. On the one hand, you can get a decent bottle of wine for only $ 5, but yet we couldn't get the oil changed in our car for under $ 159, at the cheapest. It seems that only mechanics are permitted to work on cars (unless you do it yourself), maybe there are legal liability issues? When you buy something in a shop or take a meal at a restaurant, the taxes are always included in the bill, unlike the Canada/US model where the establishment posts one price and then tacks on all the taxes at the point of sale. Also, since the restaurant staff are paid a decent wage, they don’t expect an additional tip of 15-20%. These two items make the initial assessment of a restaurant meal seem more expensive in Australia but its likely cheaper in the end. Cheese and other dairy products are noticeably cheaper, certainly as good as NZ, maybe even cheaper - probably due to success with exports.
Many years ago, my son Raoul gave us a Christmas gift of a “Dutch bottle scraper”. For years we had referred to this device as the “Raoul scraper”. It was so handy to remove the last of the jam, honey, yoghurt etc from a container. It wasn’t until we needed to replace it that we figured out what it is called and how difficult it is to get one. Unable to find one in the stores, Diane ordered a replacement from eBay Australia - for delivery to the marina. Its called a Dutch Bottle Scraper.
A few weeks ago, we made a day trip South to the Gold Coast, to Surfers Paradise. Yes, it is called Surfers Paradise, and it is only about 1.5 hours drive South.
This was our first opportunity to actually get to the ocean, and an Australian beach since arrival. The views were breath-taking, and the surf pounding. Although I didn’t take this photo, it is a true rendition of what we saw.
Diane and I were both keen to feel the saltwater on our body, and check out the beach. You could wade in to about hip depth and then it was time to dive in and get wet. The waves and rip current were quite strong.
Swimming areas were well marked by the lifeguard patrols, and they use jet-skis and 4X4 vehicles as assets. There were several people surfing with small boards, but none that I could see that had serious boards for riding long waves. Apparently the sharks are a bit of a deterrent. Once you’re deeper than your shoulders, there is the risk that a shark could take a nip out of you or your board. Although sharks don’t often eat people, a quick bite is often enough to kill someone from the rapid loss of blood. Maybe the serious surfers are on another beach?
After rinsing off at the fresh water showers …….
We then drove over to the Pacific Fair Shopping mall. This area of the Gold Coast has a lot of inland (probably man-made) canals and waterways, similar to what you’d see in Venice Italy, Fort Lauderdale Florida or Puerta La Cruz Venezuela.
The Pacific Fair Mall was a glitzy affair, with lots of high end boutique shops. We had lunch at the food court, and picked up a great deal, two pineapples for $ 3. Who would have thought that we could find a deal here?
This past weekend, we took another trip, this time to Coffs Harbour (in the state of New South Wales) about 5 hours South of Brisbane. Coffs Harbour, we learned, is the furthest South on the East coast that bananas grow. The climate is just right. Our primary purpose in going to Coffs Harbour was to visit Jeff, Tracey and Dallas, Australian cruisers that we first met in Bermuda in July 2009 - in the early days of our cruising lifestyle. This family had a cruising lifestyle for 4 years aboard a Fontaine Pijot catamaran, buying it in the BVIs, sailing the Caribbean and then heading across to the Azores and Europe. They sold their boat several years ago after their 4 year adventure and then returned to a shore-side existence in Coffs Harbour. Now, in catching up to them, we learned that Dallas will be heading off for post-secondary education this year, while Jeff and Tracey are keen to buy a catamaran and return to the cruising lifestyle.
When we told Jeff that we still hadn’t seen any kangaroos in the wild, he rectified that about 30 minutes later with a visit to a nearby school soccer pitch, just on the outskirts of town. There, we saw our first “mob” of kangaroos, eastern grey’s munching away at the green grass - near dusk, that’s why the photos are in low light. We learned that they find shade and rest during the hottest time of the day, and are a bit shy of humans. Its best not to approach them on a direct line so they don’t get scared off.
This photo shows a little “joey” (the young ones are called joeys) and they’ve stopped eating for a moment to study our intentions.
Having finally seen kangaroos in the wild, I thought I’d do a little research into the animal. The term kangaroo is used to describe the largest marsupial, with variants living almost exclusively in Australia (Papua New Guinea apparently has a tree kangaroo). The types of kangaroo are the red kangaroo, antilopine kangaroo, eastern grey kangaroo, and western grey kangaroo. The Australian government estimated that 34.3 million kangaroos lived in Australia in 2011, up from 25.1 million just one year earlier. Kangaroos have large, powerful hind legs, hop a lot like a bunny rabbit (and are capable of hopping 30 feet or 10m at a time). They have large feet adapted for leaping, a long muscular tail for balance, and a small head. Their comfortable hopping speed is a leisurely 20-25 km/hr, but they can hit speeds of up to 70 km/hr when they need to. Kangaroos normally live in social groups called mobs, comprising 10 or more kangaroos. Their only natural predators are dingos, but even dingos can’t chase and take down a fit kangaroo. Dingos mostly attack and kill injured and lame kangaroos. Like most marsupials, female kangaroos have a pouch called a marsupium in which joeys complete postnatal development. When a new-born joey is born, it is only about as big as a jelly bean and crawls up and over the lip of the pouch and then inside where it will nurse on a nipple to complete its development.
Wild kangaroos are shot for meat, leather hides, and to protect grazing land. Although sometimes controversial, kangaroo meat has perceived health benefits for human consumption compared with traditional meats due to the low level of fat. We’ve seen several packages of kangaroo meat for sale at the local Coles supermarket, although we haven’t tried it yet.