Some good friends of ours joined us for an adventure while we were in Australia and darn it, Gord did such a good job of writing up our time together I decided to have him as a guest author here, rather than getting ChatGPT to paraphrase what he had said.
Thanks Gord and Jenny for joining us and Yes, you have made it onto our first-round picks for crew members on Chinook.
Jenny and I have just returned home after a three-week trip to Australia. During this time, we were guests of Sean and Kate who were moving a friend’s sailing yacht (Popeye) from Hamilton Island down to its home base in Sydney.
Due to time constraints, Jenny and I were aboard as far as Southport, along the Gold Coast (south of Brisbane), a total sailing distance of 700 nm (almost 1300 km)!
Sean and Kate are starting a new adventure in their lives where they are having their own boat constructed and are planning on spending the next 10 years sailing around on it. It’s a romantic notion depicted in film and story, but it’s also a heck of a lot of work! The two of them have been working very hard developing the skills necessary to make this a reality.
In terms of sailing experience this was a completely new experience for Jenny. I had some notion of what to expect based on my experiences in my late teens and early 20s on the west coast. These trips generally involved a day sailing to various snug harbors on boats in the mid 30-foot range. In my early 20s I visited Australia and did some scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef. During these trips I had some experience with motion sickness and was a little concerned with how I would do on a trip of this type. Jenny had similar concerns, so we packed anti-nausea pills and ginger chews in case needed.
This adventure seemed like the right scale to find out, there would be some passages long enough to test things out, and opportunities to bail if things got really bad. Can you imagine the complexity of finding out you were hopelessly seasick a week into the northwest passage?
Popeye is a 47-foot-long sailboat with a notable racing record. In an anchorage she stood out like a corvette at the supermarket. Sleek lines, forgoing a lot of the comfort and convenience items that more cruising orientated vessels sported. While racing, her crew is seven hard working experienced people. With just 2 experienced sailors and 2 rookies on board we were not using her wardrobe of racing sails. When considering sailboat sizes, you have to think like you do when ordering pizza - a couple inches larger pizza… is a lot more pizza. The Mainsail on a 47-foot race boat is more than twice the surface area and weight of the 35 foot boats I sailed in my youth. Kate and Sean have 2-handed Popeye for thousands of nautical miles, in some incredibly remote waters (Respect!).
|Stock Popeye photo - she has a bimini (rear sun shade) now.|
That mast reaches twenty metres above the water, to give you an concept of scale.
During the first week of the trip we remained in the vicinity of Hamilton Island, in a famous cruising area called the Whitsunday Islands. This was partially to allow Jenny and I time to adapt in terms of Jet lag as well as just being on the boat. Hamilton Island provided a good starting point for the trip, it was just large enough to have the facilities we required to get there and provision, some nice hiking trails and a little place to go see Koalas and other interesting critters.
|Bloody glad that flight is over! Here we are!|
|A beach right next to the airport meant a dinghy pickup!|
|Way better than lugging bags via the road.|
After a couple of nights in the Hamilton Marina we provisioned up and did a tour of the Whitsundays.
|This place is a hybrid of Disneyland, a retirement village and Monaco. No private gas (petrol)-powered vehicles allowed. 100% golf buggies!|
Unfortunately, during this time, I developed a chest cold (I hate air travel!). Those familiar with mountain huts know how difficult it is to keep a bug from running through an entire group in close quarters. Jenny quickly moved to the other aft cabin, and I spent as much time in the cabin or positioning myself down wind of the rest of the crew over the next couple of days. I guess the training provided by Covid was effective because the rest of the crew remained healthy throughout the trip.
Most of the islands we visited involved a stunning beach and a hike to a high point for a view. It was interesting to note the differences in the islands in terms of wildlife and vegetation. Predictable many of these differences were caused by us humans messing with things (as usual). The most common practice was to introduce goats to islands, mostly just in case someone eventually became shipwrecked there. Forestry and Sheep farming were tried on some of the islands for varying lengths of time but few of the ventures lasted long term.
|The start of one of our hikes.|
|The view from Passage Peak, the objective of one of the hikes on Hamilton Island|
|Sometimes we did hikes that had less elevation.|
As with most outdoor adventures, you either listen to mother nature or you have an uncomfortable time of it. When sailing it is difficult to get somewhere that is up wind of you. You can only point the boat within 45 degrees of where the wind is coming from, this point of sail (close hauled) causes the boat to lean over sharply and heading into the waves gives you a bit of a rough ride. Good fun for a while, but uncomfortable in the long term. Conversely, going straight down wind is also not the best scenario because you are not going to be able to go any faster than the wind. The ideal is to have the wind coming from the side of the boat. This direction lets the sails act like the wings on the plane and will let you move faster than the actual speed of the wind. It’s also a comfortable point of sail in terms of cutting through the waves smoothly and not banging around too much.
This time of year should have been ideal for sailing south towards Sydney, but alas, weather patterns off the coast of Australia are a little unusual this year and picking good windows to make good distances south was not as easy as we would have liked.
|Goodbye Hamilton Island Yacht Club. We are off!|
Our first good window for getting south opened around October 14th and we performed a quick late afternoon raid on Hamilton Island in preparation. By raid I mean Kate went in early by dingy to start food shopping while we stood offshore. Then we brought Popeye into the fuel dock. Jenny and I got off and walked around to the drug store to stock up on cold drugs. Sean topped off the diesel and water tanks, and we were away, ready for our first night passage.
Our objective was Middle Percy Island about 120 nautical miles (1.85km per nm) south. We pulled out the headsail and made dinner as the sun got lower in the sky. Kate and Sean stood three-hour watches starting at 7pm (a little after sunset). Jenny and I staggered our watches starting halfway through Sean and Kate’s. Sailing through sunset and into the dark is a special experience, particularly the first time.
|Sunny afternoon, Gord and Jenny on watch.|
|Sunset quickly approaching. Gosh, it's pretty out here!|
The stars were very bright that first night (very little moon). On the other hand, one of the tricks to not getting seasick, is to focus on the horizon or other point off the boat, this was easy to do when the sky was light and the stars bright…. a little harder to do later in the night as some light clouds built up on the horizon and I needed to look farther up in the sky to find a focus point. I was ready to retreat to the cabin when my first watch was over at 2:30 a.m.
|This is what a five-story-tall cruise ship looks like at night from five nautical miles away.|
Getting up again around 5:30 was difficult, particularly as we had lost the wind for part of the night and part of my bunk time the motor was running. But despite Jenny and my responsibilities during the night just being social (hard duty for me) it was part of the experience and I crowbarred myself out of the bunk… almost on time. We arrived at Middle Percy a couple hours after dawn and dropped anchor. Then it was naps all around.
|Lots of beach ... and a little shack. What gives?|
|Crazy cool place.|
|The 'yacht club' with mementoes of the yachts that have visited over the past seventy-or-so years.|
|Even an island map!|
Middle Percy Island is a cool little island with a couple of hiking trails and an old telephone cabin on it that sailors have turned into a bit of an ‘I was here’ monument for all the folks that have passed through. Kate and Sean chatted with the other sailors. They were encouraged to leave their mark, but declined saying they would when the returned on their own boat (Chinook). I was keeping my distance still and Jenny and I headed off for a hike on one of the trails. Late that afternoon we pulled around to the other side of the island (on the advice of locals) and had some problems with the anchor winch, which resulted in a bit of effort to haul it up.
The next morning, we did another hike on Percy where we saw a bunch of wildlife Goats (introduced), Kangaroos (maybe introduced), Snakes, Lizards and various Birds. We finished off with a cool run down a very steep sand dune.
|Great spot for a bit of trail mix.|
Our plan was again to do a night sail - this time heading for Great Keppel Island some 100nm to the south. Some high winds from the south were being forecast and Great Keppel would be a good place to wait things out. We again had problems with the anchor winch and realized when starting the engine that the winch had killed the battery used to start the engine, not cool, but we boosted the engine and hauled the anchor by hand and were off. We motored for a couple hours to charge up, then sailed until 2am when the winds shifted, and it was time to start the motor again… and the battery was flat, it had not charged. Kate and I pulled apart the stairs and floor bits to expose the engine and battery, I set up the booster and then boosted Kate up the cockpit to start the motor (actually, she just stepped on my my back to get up). A little after dawn discussions with the boat owner (Craig) had occurred and a decision made to head into Rosslyn Bay Marina to troubleshoot the electrical issues.
Rosslyn Bay was only about an hour from Great Keppel so not far off our plan and perhaps a smoother place to wait out a blow.
|Roslyn Bay Marina|
Rossyln Bay is near to a very Australian town call Yeppoon. We spent a day in town experiencing what I would consider authentic Australia:
- Fish (Spanish Mackerel and “lazy” Sweet Lip reef fish options) and Chips for lunch at a shop offering four different types of fish and something called chicken salt. The owner really knew her fish and we chatted a while.
- A liter of sunscreen for $12.
- A nice little shop with stuff from an indigenous artist where I picked up some prezzies for the nieces and nephews (whoops - spoiler!).
- Australian playgrounds are all shaded, a necessity as the sun really really does beat down in the tropic of Capricorn.
- Australians are not afraid of public washrooms and public water bottle filling spots and the parks have propane grills.
- Instead of monster pickups, Aussies often drive Toyota Hilux trucks at much better price.
We headed back to the marina on the school bus run – a bus load of young students all dressed in uniforms – a common sight in AUS.
We spent a couple of days in the area, Jenny and we hiked around discovering Sea turtles mating and to us exotic birds (e.g., Rainbow Lorikeet, Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, AUS Brush Turkey, Blue-faced Honeyeater). Popeye received a new battery and some fridge parts, and we headed over to Great Keppel Island.
|Hooray! We found a fridge technician!|
Great Keppel is famous for snorkeling and has a small overnight tourist area on it. It used to have a large tourist area on it, but it got flattened by a cyclone some years ago and parts of the original operation are a bit of a mess. We snorkeled in two different locations (both great) and hiked to the high point of the island on a cool 12 km loop trail, where we saw our first Goanna (a type of Monitor lizard).
A coming period of calm winds now gave us an opportunity to head out to Lady Musgrave Island. This island is near the south end of the Great Barrier Reef and is an island with a barrier reef encircling it. Outside the reef you are exposed to big ocean swells, inside you are protected and exposed only to amazing snorkeling and lots of turtles. The break in the reef is narrow and caution is required both getting in and getting around when inside, but ohh so very cool. After a night of sailing and motoring we arrived at Lady Musgrave a little after dawn. There is a time to participate and a time for us landlubbers to stay out of the way and let the Seafolk get things done. This was the later and Jenny and I stayed out of the way while Kate (at the helm) and Sean (at the Bow) brough us into the lagoon and maneuvered around reefs, bommies (AUS term for submerged rocks, reefs or other fun things to not hit) and anchored hazards to find us good spot near the inner reef.
|A well-deserved nap after getting into the reef around Lady Musgrave Island.|
Look at that water!
We napped, then prepared the SUP and dinghy. Amazing snorkeling was available right off the back of Popeye and we saw a great variety of coral, fish and giant clams. Later we visited the island itself which was a noisy place with a variety of birds nesting in the trees (e.g., Black Noddys – a type of tern) and evidence of sea turtles (green) nesting on the beaches. One of them even followed One-Pull (our dinghy) into the beach. There was no shortage of wildlife in what seemed like the middle of the ocean.
|The only land in sight tonight.|
Our second day at Lady Musgrave was not glass calm like the first, but still good enough for another great snorkel before preparing for our last and longest leg of the trip. Jenny was interested in snorkeling the end of the previous day; however, Sean wisely reminded us that it was “Shark O’Clock” – a term to remind us that recreating in the water is not recommended near dusk, as low light conditions are such that sharks may be more likely to mistake you for a floundering fish.
Lady Musgrave to Southport is 293 nm and we planned on being there after two nights and a day worth of travel arriving in Southport before the next predicted strong blow. Our route had us generally 50 or 60nm off shore and there would be no Great Barrier Reef between us and the Ocean. I prepared dinner for the evening before we left, thinking that working in the galley after we left would be…uncomfortable.
We headed out, raised the main sail (double reefed) and pulled out the head sail. For the first evening and couple watches into the night we had the wind coming just right and some amazing sailing. The ocean swell was running with us and that night I think I got my first real feel of what it like to really sail on the open ocean. Later as we changed course and the wind shifted more directly astern the motion became a little harder on land-lubberly equilibrium, but we were rewarded at dawn with dolphins on the bow. This was followed by many Flying Fish (likely trying to escape aforementioned dolphins). It is an amazing experience, and Kate says it never gets old.
Late in the afternoon we decided to take down the mainsail as it was not doing much for us, and doing so at night would not be possible without leaving the cockpit (which we did not do as a rule). We started the Motor and headed up into the not inconsiderable swell. Kate was on the helm, Sean at the mast controlling the lowering of the sail, and I was standing on top of the closed hatch just in front of the cockpit. It was a wild ride and it was a good thing that I was secured to the boat with a lanyard, as the boom swung back and forth I desperately hung on not wanting to get pitched down into the cockpit or over the rail (the tether would have kept me connected, but it would not have been fun). My job was to secure the portion of the sail that was lowered to the boom, then move forward as more came down. As the sail came down and I was able to move closer to the mast, the swinging of the boom lessened, and the footing became more stable. With the sail down Sean detached the line used for raising the sail (halyard) and walked it back to the cockpit. During that time, I was free to take in the experience, standing at the highest point of the deck, while we climbed over 3 meter swells, it felt very high off the water at the point the wave was under Popeyes stern. Very Cool!
|Here is Kate in front of a WHOLE lot of mail sail lashed to the boom. Whew!|
If you have seen “Finding Nemo” (which we did by the way on the reef) you have heard of the East Australian Current or EAC, and we managed to catch it for a while. It gave us quite the boost (4 - 4.5nm) and enabled us to arrive early at Southport.
|Can you spot the harbour entrance navigation lights?|
Plenty of lights to guide us in, in fact if Sean and Kate had not been there a couple of times before, I doubt they could have picked out the actual navigation aids from all the background lights. We anchored around 1 a.m. and went to our mostly stationary bunks. In the morning we were greeted by full civilization - Marineland and rollercoasters on one side, towering hotels on the other. The place was overflowing because of a supercar race scheduled for the weekend.
That night, we had an excellent celebratory dinner in the marina restaurant and the next day Jenny and I headed off to Brisbane for several nights before flying home.
Many thanks to Sean and Kate for having us along on this adventure and best of luck with the final outfitting of Chinook in the coming months. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to join them on another adventure in the future!