Sunday, August 27, 2017

Airlie Beach - 20° 16' 03" S 148° 42' 59" E

Our time aboard Popeye has come to an end.

Over 7,000 nautical miles and ten months have passed since we met Craig in Krabi Boat Lagoon and accepted the responsibility for this lovely 47 foot Beneteau.

We now both intimately know the boat, having been hoisted to the top of the mast and down to scrub the bottom of her keel.  We've dealt with leaks and creaks, battled the electrical system, maintained the engine, stitched sails, whipped lines, tried to sink her twice, ran her onto a reef, scrubbed her bottom, swobbed her decks and recaptured rogue halyards.  We've pushed her through rough conditions and marvelled at her robustness.  We have shed skin and blood on sharp, pokey things above and below decks.  We have found and learned to avoid spots where you can stub a toe or catch an elbow or shin.  We know where the squeaks are, how to stop them and if they need to be stopped.  We can sail and motor, anchor and moor her double-handed, in light or heavy conditions.  We can make our way up to the foredeck in three metre swells, hanging in mid-air as she drops into the next trough and dive into the rear lazarettes to turn on the water-maker.  We have experienced amazing places, stunning sunsets and slept on her decks in deserted coves under a star-studded sky.  Through perfect, blue sparkling days, ferocious rain squalls, Malacca Straits traffic, and the relentless Trade Winds, she has kept us safe.

Shortly after racing finished on Saturday, our eleven race crew made short work of the big job of reloading the cruising gear.  The new delivery crew arrived and we felt somewhat redundant following months of being responsible for Popeye and keeping her afloat.  So many nights we lay in our bunks, listening to every ping, creak, slap and rattle that came from above, below and around us.  We learned to identify the dangerous sounds and ignore the benign.  We were always aware of how she was secured - by anchor, mooring line or tied to a dock - ever conscious of the slightest change in the weather, tide and current. Something feels oddly missing to be sleeping in a bed without one ear open.

Sunday morning saw Popeye leaving Hamilton Island, bound for Pittwater (near Sydney) without Sean and Kate.  Co-skippering Popeye was an amazing experience.  Craig has kindly offered us 'Lifetime Use' whenever we want to take her for a sail.

Safe travels, Popeye. We'll see you again soon.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Hamilton Island Race Week - 20° 20' 46" S 148° 56' 58" E

Wild Oats X, with the Prince of Denmark aboard.
XI is 9 metres longer!

Racing IRC Passage Division 1 had us milling around the start with the big boys.  Wild Oats XI and Blackjack are the two maxi yachts competing here.  At 30 metres, they make Popeye seem like a dinghy.  Being able to wander down the wharf to have a casual look at the two boats was a treat.  The size of the lines and winch barrels, nevermind the amount of electronics and instruments, is impressive.  There are also some lovely double-ender yachts like Drumfire and Dorade, a 86-year-old american classic sailing yacht.

Dorade under sail

A upwind beat down Whitsunday Passage with a hundred other yachts tacking back and forward. Helicopters, Wild Oats X and XI, Black Jack and Fred (Crown Prince of Denmark). A loop around Lindeman Island, all fleets squeezing through the narrow passage and pop, out come the kites. Over two hundred yachts barrelling down to the finish under a glorious array of colourful spinnakers.

What a great week of racing! After a slow start, big mistakes and broken stuff, we got our act together. With two podium finishes and able to drop our ninth place, we came a very respectable fifth overall.

Second Place in Race Four - hooray!

Spinnakers behind us as we rounded Lindeman Island - beautiful!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Casuarina - 20° 20' 37" S 148° 56' 55" E

The rest of Popeye's crew has arrived on Hamilton Island and we have set up shop at a rented accommodation.  It is great to have so many hands to help with unloading the boat and putting it into racing mode.

Clearing EVERYTHING off the boat

Popeye is certainly a different thing to what we've been used to over the past nine months.  All non-essentials have been stripped off the boat - food, pots, pans, cooking utensils, all our personal items (clothes, souvenirs, etc.), cushions, the biminy, the kayak, boat manuals and books, tools, spare engine parts, extra anchor and 80 metres of chain, spare jerry cans of diesel - all packed onto trolleys and hauled up the hill to the garage of the house we are renting.  The six sails that were stowed in front locker of the boat have been unceremoniously dumped into salon.  The boat is literally thousands of kilos lighter and should just fly with ten or more knots of wind.

Just after the cyclone hit.

Hamilton Island was hit hard by Cyclone Debbie less than four months ago.  Most vegetation on the island was stripped of their leaves.  The inhabitants and workers on the island have worked hard to clean up all the shredded vegetation and get it presentable.  The rallying cry was "Raceweek is coming.  It has to be ready."  They have done a marvelous job.  Almost all the shops are open, with a fresh coat of paint and other enhancements to give the illusion of business as usual.

"Business as usual" is a very Disney-perfect world of clean footpaths, manicured gardens, hills lined with expensive-looking condos with huge balconies, all facing out towards a marina filled with shiny, white yachts or the emerald-green sea of the Whitsundays.  The owner (yes, there is just one family that owns the WHOLE island) has gone to great lengths to make those with money feel comfortable and safe here.  All non-commercial vehicles are golf buggies.  There is an airport with direct flights to Sydney.  Shops are all high-end products and brands.  The pools at the resorts are open to everyone who visits the island - not just the guests of each specific resort.  There are two main tourist strolls: the east island side Reef Beach, where the big hotels are located; and the west island side Front Street, where the marina and shops are located.  All in all, it works together to create an antiseptic tropical holiday environment.

Just up from Popeye's berth
Greenery coming back to life.  Looking west towards the marina and Front Street

"Anything for us?"

Keeping Popeye light and race-ready means sleeping ashore, in a rented house.  The view from the ample balcony is amazing, as is the avian visitors we get every morning while having breakfast.  We get up, have breakfast, prepare sandwiches and snacks for the day, head down to the boat.  Once there, lines and sheets (fancy names for the ropes) are run on deck and any repairs/modifications to last day's setup are put in place.  Once all the crew is on board, we leave our pen and head out to the start area.

Wild cockatiels are quite tame ... and hungry
Sandwich production line work at the condo
In our pen, getting ready to sail
Leaving our pen to go for a day of racing
Joining the procession to the starting area
A lunch break before starting
Richard trimming the main
and the foredeck crew on standby
Lots of beautiful spinnakers ... behind us!
Underway, with main sail and spinnaker up

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Hamilton Island - 20° 20' 48" S 148° 57' 33" E

Thanks Richard!
Dear Richard,

Not the pleasure cruise from Cairns to The Whitsundays you signed up for but instead 911 nautical miles bashing into the SE wind and current from Thursday Island to Hamilton Island.  We thank you for your great skill on the helm, your willingness to take four hour watches at the deepest, wee-est hours and for keeping us fed.

We could not have done it without you and greatly appreciate you joining us.

Always remember your father's wise words - an adventure is better than a holiday!

Leaving Thursday for Cairns
Rough conditions heading to Hayman island
Hamilton Island at last!
Big smiles all round!
Dinner with the welcoming committee

The Whitsundays - 20° 20' 48" S 148° 57'33" E

Dear Gordon,

Wow! 1,753.9 nautical miles from Darwin to Hamilton Island. (That's nearly three Sydney to Hobarts!!)

Despite the deceptively glorious crossing of Van Diemens Gulf, the problem-filled passage to The Wessel Islands, the seemingly endless bash across the Gulf of Carpentaria, the soul-destroying rounding of Cape Melville with 37kn of wind against us and one knot of forward boat speed, the final but surprisingly wild bash down to Hamo and having to deal with the Findlay Girls en mass, you maintained your good humour.

We appreciated your competence at the helm, your problem solving skills, your wrangling of the main halyard and your wicked sense of humour.

We are deeply thankful for your help. We could not have done it without you.

Next time, we promise a pleasure cruise.

Exiting the Darwin marina through a lock - very cool
Leaving Darwin - how hard could this be?
Beautiful conditions crossing Van Diemens Gulf
Even time for a nap in the sunshine...
Refueling in The Wessel Islands
A bit of maintenance up the mast!

Crossing The Gulf of Carpentaria,
conditions were a little rougher
Navigating through the tricky
approaches to Thursday island
Happy at anchor at Horn Island, Torres Strait
Leaving Thursday Island..
Exhausted - sleeping where we fell
Well deserved break in Cairns
But still work to be done: repairing the broken car on the main
And refuelling...
Welcoming committee with a banner!!
Findlay Girls en mass (plus a stray blonde!)
Even time to do a quick hike to Passage Peak before leaving!