Thursday, April 27, 2017

Heading North: Brisbane to the Whitsundays

It was with much anticipation that we collected Granny (Dave’s mom, Rosemary) from the Brisbane Airport on April 10th. She had had quite a trip, from Tampa to Dallas, to Honolulu to Brisbane; which included first a delay, then a cancellation, then an overnight stay in Dallas due to the cancellation, which led to missing the flight to Honolulu, then, when finally getting to Honolulu, the plane to Brisbane skidded off the runway due to a brake failure!! She finally arrived, very much delayed and very, very tired!

Granny finally arrives that the airport!  The kids are thrilled!
We spent another 2 days in Brisbane, and then made our final journey back down the Brisbane River. Our friends on “Nogal” were not far behind, and, after a nice sail across Moreton Bay, we rafted up with Nogal just off the Tangalooma Wrecks. We spent some time snorkeling the wrecks, and then the kids had some fun playing on their new SUP paddleboards. A family of dolphins decided this looked like fun and joined them! Benjamin, Gaby and Sophie were so close to the dolphins, they could have touched them!

Ben, Gaby and Sophie play with the dolphins.  You can see one coming up for air right behind Ben as well!

I love this picture of Sophie with a dolphin
Sophie and Gaby on the paddleboards

Rosemary enjoys watching the sun set at Tangalooma

We had a lovely evening with Frank, Marilia, Julia and Sophie, and Marilia’s mom and sister Maga, who had also joined them in Brisbane, having flown in from Brazil the day after Rosemary. So it was a merry band that gathered on Cool Runnings for drinks and a BBQ!

Party on Cool Runnings!  
The next morning, we both headed off toward Mooloolaba, about 40 miles north of Brisbane. We had stayed here for one night in December on our way down from Bundaberg. Granny, the kids and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the shops and caf├ęs of Mooloolaba, while Dave washed down the boat and made some new acquaintances in the marina. He met Richard Holloway, a fellow South African, who had also sailed with Dave way back when. Richard is now a delivery captain, and has also been a captain in the Whitsundays for many years, so he was a great resource for getting information on our next destination! Thanks, Richard for your advice and continued help on the way up! 

Frank took this cool (no pun intended) photo of us with our spinnaker up on the way to Mooloolaba, with the Glass House Mountains in the background.

Rosemary enjoys the sail up to Mooloolaba
We decided to stay an extra day as the kids (and adults) were invited to a “boat kid birthday party”! Daniella on “Dragonfly” was turning 11, and we stayed to enjoy the birthday celebrations. I had been in contact with Heidi on “Dragonfly” for a while via email, but we had never met, so it was great to finally meet her, Jeff and Daniella! Along with “Dragonfly”, we also met another South African family on “Noah’s Ark”, so there were plenty of kids to play on the beach in the morning, and then everyone headed back to the marina for a BBQ. Dave and I also took the opportunity to go to the supermarket and provision.

Gaby and Julia on the beach at Mooloolaba

"The Grannies" enjoying the beach too

The kids from Nogal, Dragonfly, Cool Runnings and Noah's Ark at the birthday party

The following day we headed out again, and sailed towards Wide Bay Bar, which is the entrance to the Great Sandy Straits. We anchored offshore, just south of the entrance so that we could time our bar crossing at slack tide the next day. It was a rolly night, with the swell from the ocean consistently sneaking in behind the headland. The Wide Bay Bar is rather notorious, and we didn’t realize how bad it could get, until we read an article in a magazine a few days prior to crossing it, about a catamaran, about our size, that pitch-poled while trying to cross the bar. When we had gone out of here back in December, it was fine, and we hadn’t been too concerned about it until we started reading more about it, and talking to other sailors. Unfortunately it had been blowing strong South Easterlies for days on end, and the swell was big. Even the marine weather warning was for “deceptively large swell, making crossing bars dangerous”. Great. The swells were 3.5 meters and every now and then waves broke across the entire bar in huge sets, so it was pretty intimidating and dangerous looking! We battened down the hatches (literally), and all put on life jackets. We watched the swells and breaking waves for a while to establish a pattern, and when we saw a break, Dave gunned the engines and we went for it. We had breaking waves all around us, and surfed the swell in. Many a time there were foaming waves cresting behind us, but never actually breaking on top of us. We had received the coordinates for the entrance from the Tin Can Bay VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) the day before, so we knew where the best possible area was to cross over. We had one section to cross, then we had to turn, bearing 238 degrees and line up some markers. We did this, and, after what seemed like forever, we were finally in calm water! We had crossed our final bar – one thing we won’t miss about cruising in Australia!!

Gaby gives a thumbs up after crossing the bar!
After that heart-stopping beginning to the day, we had a gorgeous sail in calm water, with only our jib up, all the way up the Great Sandy Strait, the water being protected by Fraser Island on the east. That evening we anchored near the top of the Strait, still enjoying the peaceful, calm waters. This was also the anniversary of our trip – we had left home one year ago to the day – so we had a family movie night, and the kids chose to watch “Captain Ron”. It was great fun, even though we had all seen the movie before, it never gets old!

Jib up and enjoying a peaceful sail in the Great Sandy Straits

We made brownies to celebrate our 1 year anniversary!

Enjoying the sunset

Sunset in a calm anchorage - that's what we enjoy!

The next morning, we headed out into Hervey Bay, and had a brisk sail, with winds up to 20+ knots up to Bundaberg. It was nice coming back into Bundaberg, this having been our first port of entry into Australia, almost 5 months previously. We stayed at the marina, once again staying longer than planned, as we did a few maintenance jobs, and having all the resources at our fingertips (chandlery, sail maker etc), it made sense to just stay and get the jobs done there. We were pleasantly surprised to find our friends on “Molly Laprena” there (we had met them in December on our way south), and we also heard “Hello!” on the dock one day, and Kim, Claudia, Lenja and Neele from “Elas”, whom we had met in Brisbane, had just arrived. On Friday night, “Nogal” arrived, and Ben and Gaby had a happy reunion with Julia and Sophia. Rosemary has come to realize what a social life this boating life can be, as we seem to meet old and new friends all the time! 

Boat kids...with Lenja and Neele of "Elas"
After 3 days in Bundaberg (and another HUGE provisioning run – they had a great Aldi in Baraga, just 15 minutes from the marina by car, and believe it or not, that Aldi happened to have a special on all things South African, so I was able to buy Ouma’s rusks, Mrs. Ball’s chutney, biltong, droe wors, Steers Monkey Gland sauce and Chocolate Logs!!! Sorry for all those who don’t know what I’m talking about, but all South Africans will understand!), we headed out again. 

Just some of the supplies...

Just a few more!  Where to put it all...???!!!

Some of the items in the South Africa section:  Ouma rusks...Steers sauces...Ceres Fruit Juice and Durban Curry sauces!

We had a long, relatively rough ride to a place called Pancake Creek, where we anchored for the night. We had to run the engines for extra speed so we could make it in daylight hours. Our days now are much shorter, with the sun going down at 5:30pm, and it is pitch black by 6:00pm. This cuts into sail time and the distance you can cover in one day quite dramatically. The following day we were headed to Keppel Island, our original plan being day hops up the coast until we reached the Whitsundays. However, after a conversation with Nogal, who were a day behind us, we all decided to bite the bullet, and go overnight, so that we could just reach our destination. So as the sun set on Sunday night, April 23rd, we headed into the first overnight sail since our passage from New Caledonia to Australia. That day, night and the next day were not fun – it was a washing machine out there, and the boat and its occupants were tossed around like a rubber duck in a bath tub (with a toddler in it). 

Onwards, ever onwards...heading north

Nogal, being much faster than Cool Runnings, not only caught up, but then overtook us on the morning of April 24th. This allowed for a great photo opportunity, as you don’t often get photos of your own boat under sail! Both boats had their spinnakers up, and cameras clicked furiously away as Nogal came gliding past! 

Nogal under sail

By Monday afternoon, we both made it to Scawfell island, and decided to anchor there for the night, a nice respite from the rough past 2 days and night. We had all agreed that we would make the final sprint to Airlie Beach the next day, putting us right in the heart of the Whitsundays, our long desired destination! Nogal was looking for stinger suits (full length light neoprene or lycra suits that are recommended for swimming in these waters due to a dangerous jelly fish called Irukanji), and Cool Runnings had developed an oil leak in the starboard side sail drive, so we needed to find a mechanic to confirm what David feared...a bearing that would need to be replaced. And so we upped anchor, early on Tuesday morning, and started enjoying a calmer sail through the southern group of the Cumberland Islands. Over the radio Frank (on Nogal), informed us that they had caught a nice tuna (Sophie emphasized that it was a pink lure that caught it!), and in a dramatic fly-by, Julia, with a very impressive hand, tossed a beautiful fillet of raw tuna to us, to enjoy as sushi! Thanks, guys!! It was absolutely delicious!!

Happily anchored in Scawfell Island

Sunrise as we left on our final leg to Airlie Beach

Nogal's fly by - Julia just tossed the tuna to us!

It's a little scary having this huge catamaran so close to you!  Nogal pulls away after the fish toss!

On our sail to Abell Point Marina in Airlie Beach, we passed through the Whitsunday passage, with Hamilton Island on our left, and Whitsunday Island on our right. It was amazing, and sad to see the obvious devastation that had been left by cyclone Debbie, who had rolled through here not quite a month before. We saw some resorts that were absolutely destroyed, and all the trees that were left, were just bare trunks and branches, all the leaves having been stripped off by winds of 260km/hr (160 miles/hr). 

This resort is completely destroyed

We came into the marina on Tuesday afternoon, and here we are, stuck again. It ain’t all roses, I tell you!! The mechanic from the local Yanmar dealer was not able to come the first day we were here (Wednesday), but he did come this morning (Thursday). He confirmed that the shaft, bearing and oil seal that connects the sail drive to the main engine was leaking, and that the bearing needs replacing. That’s a cool $600 for the bearing and $100/hr for his time (he was here for about 5 hours). On top of that, it is costing us about $130/night to stay in this marina, which is extremely frustrating when there are beautiful cruising grounds with gorgeous anchorages, just an hour’s sail away. But that’s the cost of cruising, we’ve discovered. 

Marina life...Dave gives Gaby a ride in a trolley we use to transport stuff.  The pylons are huge, primarily due to the big tidal ranges (this was at low tide, so you can see the hill Dave has to climb to get off the dock).  We were told that during cyclone Debbie the water came to just below the white caps on these pylons!

We are, nonetheless, looking forward to exploring the Whitsunday islands a little more before our continuous journey north. Before we do that, however, we have a birthday to celebrate! Benjamin turns 13 on Saturday (yikes!  A TEENAGER!!!), and Julia, on Nogal, turned 12 last Sunday. So our plan is to do a joint birthday celebration for the kids on Saturday…what a year for birthdays it has been: Gaby in Sydney, me in New Zealand, Ben in the Whitsundays, and Dave…probably in the Seychelles!  It's a tough life (yes, sometimes it REALLY is, I promise!!), but someone has to do it!!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

One Year Down the Line...

Yesterday was April 17th, and this marked the 1 year anniversary of our trip. At times it seems as if we just left, and then other times, it seems as if it was a lifetime ago. If I think of the experiences we’ve had, the countries we’ve visited and the friends we’ve made in this short year, then, yes…it’s enough to pack into a lifetime! But a year goes by so quickly, and I know that when I write this blog in April 2018, our journey will be almost over, and at times I can’t bear to think of what that means, and how we all will feel.

For me, personally, I find it difficult to put into words how this experience has affected me. We had such a rough start to our journey that we came very close to just turning around and calling it quits. But we didn’t. And I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt. You don’t quit. You don’t give up. You keep going. And the experience makes you stronger. No matter how hard that lesson is, you learn from it. I think I’m a more confident person now, and I’ve seen my children grow and become more confident in so many aspects of their lives. I feel pride when I watch them introduce themselves to yet another new person, with a strong handshake, direct eye contact, and clear, loud voice: “Hi, I’m Gaby”, and, “Hello, I’m Ben”. I feel joy when Gaby says she loves sailing, and I am amazed when I watch Ben maneuver the big boat, and zip around in the dinghy as if it’s all second nature to him! I feel confidence in my own ability to handle the boat, (and of course, continued amazement in how Dave manages to sail and maneuver this boat!), and I feel astonishment and pride when I look at a world map, and realize that we’ve sailed half way around the world on our little floating home. The same one that sat in front of our house, at our dock in Madeira Beach, Florida, and is now cruising in Australia, having delivered us safely back to Bundaberg today.  But most of all, I feel love for Dave, for getting us here, for making his dream our dream, and being the driving force behind making it all happen.  Without him, we couldn't and wouldn't be on this journey.  "Dodgy Dave", we love's to the next year and all the adventures that lie ahead!.

The crew on Cool Runnings a year ago.  This was taken the day before we left.  We were exhausted from all the preparations, and a little apprehensive about leaving.  But we did.  And I'm so glad we did...!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Enjoying The River City - Brisbane, Australia

We had planned to spend just a few days in Brisbane, before heading north to start enjoying the Whitsunday Islands and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. We made the short trip from the Gold Coast up to Brisbane, and, timing the tides just right, made our way up the Brisbane River. It took us about 3 hours to make it to our spot on the public pile moorings next to the beautiful Brisbane Botanic Gardens. These piles moorings consist of 4 lines of poles, A, B, C and D, and each pole has a big ring attached. So you find 2 poles, tie your boat to the front, and to the back, and there you are!

Cool Runnings on the pile moorings

Brisbane skyline by night as viewed from our boat....its real pretty!!!!

We arrived on Wednesday, March 22, and on Thursday, we spent all day sorting out the boat, trying to lighten it for our upcoming ocean passages. Dave’s mom is coming to visit, and so we wanted to be able to send some stuff that we didn’t need any more back with her. On Thursday night, we met up with Greg Hall, another ex-South African sailing friend of Dave’s, who, together with his family, had sailed over to Australia from Cape Town about 7 years ago, on their catamaran “Merlin”. Greg and his son Victor happen to be rock climbing that eveing, and we could see the Kangaroo Point cliffs from our boat, so we took the dinghy over there and said “hello”! Dave, Ben and Gaby all had a go at climbing the rock face! Thanks, Greg, for introducing us to this sport!

Gaby climbing, while Greg holds the other end of the rope at the base

Ben geared up and ready to go

Dave makes it to the top

Thinking that we only had one day left in Brisbane, we took Friday off from school, and spent the day exploring the city. We walked through the Botanic Gardens, through part of the impressive University of Queensland campus, and over to South Banks. We did a little detour to the Maritime Museum, which ended up lasting HOURS, because while we were there, exploring the HMAS Diamantina, a river class frigate, (the last of its kind, Benjamin tells me), the heavens opened up, and it just poured and poured with rain, and we were basically stuck on a ship! But it was very interesting, and Benjamin, especially, was in his element and really enjoyed it and the commentary from our knowledgeable tour guide! We took the free city hopper ferry back to our dinghy and got ready to go over to “Merlin”, to have dinner with the Halls. Thank you, Greg, Emmanuelle and kids for the lovely evening! It was great to hear about your travels, and compare notes!

We got a pic of us with the Halls, but it really didn’t come out very well, so I stole this one of the family in 2016 from the website: “Women and Cruising”. The Hall family was featured on the site a couple of years ago, and then they did a follow up once they had stopped cruising. Emmanuelle has also since written a children’s book called “Merlin’s Voyage”, of which we are now proud owners of a copy signed by the author herself!! Thanks, Emmanuelle!!

The Halls in 2016 on their boat "Merlin". Clea, Emmanuelle, Greg, Felix and Victor
 ( Photo courtesy of

Walking through the beautiful Botanic Gardens

The Arbor – beautiful bougainvillea grows along this pathway along South Bank

Aboard the HMAS Diamantina

Ben and Gaby have a go at the wheel!

About to board the free City Hopper ferry

Cool Runnings on the piles from the other side of the river

Saturday morning dawned clear and sunny, which was good news, as we had arranged to pick up the Chambers family (Brian, Carla, Brett and Annie), and head out into Moreton Bay, and over to the Tangalooma wrecks. The 300m line of wrecks are 15 old harbor work vessels that were dumped there between 1964 and 1984 to form an emergency harbor on that side of the bay. They lie about 180m off Moreton Island, and while I don’t see how the harbor idea would really work, they do provide great artificial reef and great snorkeling!

Going back down the river - Brisbane CBD skyline and the Story Bridge

Another view of the Story Bridge, which is the longest cantilever bridge in Australia. It reminds us a little of the Sydney Harbor bridge.  IT opened in 1940 and is named after a prominent public servant, John Douglas Story.  Every night it is lit up in different colored lights!

Another view back onto Brisbane.  The catamaran you see in the middle of the picture is "Merlin"
We had a nice sail over the bay to the wrecks and a lovely afternoon snorkeling and swimming. For overnight anchoring we moved the boat a little further south, and a great evening was spent relaxing and listening to music. Brian, I will be thinking of you when I am listening to those songs on my upcoming 2:00am watches!! Sunday was also a nice day, and, after cleaning the hulls (which still looked good, since having been painted at the Boatworks a month previously), we swam and the kids enjoyed playing on Brian’s Stand Up Paddleboard. Thanks for a great weekend, Brian, Carla, Brett and Annie!

Gaby has a go on the SUP

Our anchorage for the night

Time for Sundowners!

Ben loves the SUP too!

Sand dunes on Moreton Island
After dropping the Chambers family back at their car, we anchored in the river, just past the big Gateway Bridge. We were waiting for 2 SUPs that we had ordered, to be delivered to Brian’s house. And a good thing we did have to wait for those SUPs, because our original plan had been to immediately head north after our weekend with Brian and family. We had been watching the storm, cyclone Debbie, but at the time, it was not as severe as it eventually turned out to be, and it was also expected to make landfall further north. But, since we had to wait for the boards, we thought we’d wait and see what the storm did, maybe wait a day or two, and then go. 

On Monday morning we moved further up the river, and found a good spot to anchor. On Tuesday, Carla drove all the way to Brisbane with our paddleboards. Thank you, Carla….that was very, very kind of you!! 

We got the paddleboards!!
By this time, we were monitoring the storm a little more closely, and saw that it was making landfall right on the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach, and it was a monster category 4 cyclone storm!  Wednesday came with rain and miserable weather, and on Thursday, we woke to the news that the remnant of cyclone Debbie was heading to Brisbane and the Gold Coast. We monitored the news and spoke with all of our local friends, and, with the threat of 40+ knots winds, severe thunderstorms and possible flooding, we decided that we had better get to a safer spot. So back to the pile moorings we went. Our only other option would have been to try and get a spot in a marina outside of the river, but it would have taken too long to get there, had there even been one available.

In the absolute pouring rain, we headed back up the river and tied up to the pile moorings again. A fellow cruiser on another boat came out in his dinghy to help us tie up. It still amazes me how friendly most cruisers are, and how willing to help! 

Back on the pile moorings - the storm is coming!

With the rain now bucketing down, and the winds getting stronger, we hunkered down to wait out the storm. We heard updated reports of flooding in the streets, and especially in the Gold Coast, and we kept a keen eye on the Brisbane river, but the level didn’t go above the Botanic Gardens pathway that runs next to the river. The winds increased as the afternoon went on, and by evening we were experiencing some severe gusts. We didn’t have our instruments on, since our batteries were low (the sun hadn’t been shining to charge our batteries through our solar panels!!), so we were not sure what the wind strength was, but we estimate at least 40 – 50 knots (around 80 – 90 km/hr). Just before Dave and I went to bed, we did a final check of the lines, and we heard an almighty “crack”. We assumed a branch had broken off a tree, but when we woke the next morning, we saw a huge, beautiful tree in the Botanic Gardens had actually been blown right over! Further inspection of the gardens the next day showed numerous other branches broken off, and a lot of debris on the ground. This storm also brought a lot of flooding to the Brisbane and Gold Coast areas, and areas north of us, are still dealing with flooding.

The huge tree that came down in the storm

The tree with Cool Runnings in the background

So now it was Friday, and our original plan to wait a day or two after the storm and then get going was foiled yet again. Weather forecasts still called for very strong winds, and rough seas. A storm of that size doesn’t just go away quickly! One of our biggest concerns was also the flooding of the rivers, and the debris that they could be washing out into the ocean. To head up the coast, we would have to enter some of these rivers to anchor, and I was not anxious to leave in too much of a hurry! On top of that, reports of the damage to the Whitsundays was still trickling in, and it appeared to be severe.

So now, here we were…eager to get going, but really, with nowhere to go! One of our additional concerns was our visa. We are on a multiple entry visa, but it is valid for 3 months at a time, and our current 3 months are up at the end of May. Each day we stayed in Brisbane was a day less we were able to spend in the Whitsundays and/or getting to Darwin. But ultimately, what could we do? Another factor was that Dave’s mom, Rosemary, was flying in to Brisbane on April 10th. We had originally planned for her to simply fly to wherever we would be at the time, but now it was turning out that that might actually be here in Brisbane! So we made the decision to stay put, wait for Rosemary, and then get going. 

Still Here...

We went to the visa office, to see if we could get an extension on our current 3 months (we really only needed a week or two to give us a bit of cushion), and, although they were extremely friendly, they would not extend our current visa, and our only option is to apply for different visa, at a cost of $340 EACH (almost $1,300)! We could also leave the country and come back in, resetting our 3 months, but that meant a flight to New Zealand (which is the cheapest), but it being school holidays and Easter, the cost of those tickets for 4 of us was coming in at $1,800 at the very least. In the end, we have decided that we simply have to stick to our timeline, and leave Australia by the end of May. This means we will check out of Thursday Island, right at the top of the Torres Strait, and sail directly from there to Indonesia.

So now it’s Friday, and the week has flown by! Last weekend the Hall family took us up to Mt. Coot-tha, for a walk in the forest, and to an amazing lookout point, where we could see the entire Brisbane river flood plain, and incredible views of the city in the distance. 

The view from Mt. Coot-tha

A closer view of the city

With the Halls –Emmanuelle, Clea,  Gaby, Dave, Gudrun, Ben, Victor and Felix.  Just Greg is missing because he’s taking the photo!!
We’ve had pretty cool, rainy weather, but today the sun is shining and hopefully the weather will hold for the next few days. We’ve taken this time to do more planning (always planning/researching!), schoolwork, and most afternoons have gone into the Botanic Gardens for a walk, use the free Brisbane wifi (to post these blog updates!) and to let the kids play on the cool playground they have here. Dave was kept busy fitting a new trampoline on the boat, and we spent a whole afternoon at the Queensland Museum.  The kids splashed around in the water at Streets Beach on South Bank, and were absolutely thrilled when our friends on "Nogal" arrived, and they reunited with Julia and Sophia.  While we say hello to some friends, we are saying our farewells to others: Dave had lunch with his friend Brian Chambers on Friday, and today met up with Gavin Cubbin to say farewell, and last night the Hall family came over to Cool Runnings for dinner, also to say farewell.

The Wheel of Brisbane

Ben and Gaby enjoy a splash at Streets Beach

The learning never stops!  Enjoying the Queensland Museum

Brisbane is a beautiful city and we hope to explore just a little more over the next few days, after collecting Granny, who arrives tonight, and then finally, finally, heading north!! 

Beautiful Brisbane, Beautiful Gardens, Beautiful Girl!

Lily Pads at the Botanic Gardens

A special note before I end off…a huge thank you to Brian Chambers and his wife, Carla, for everything you’ve done for us! You’ve hosted us, fed us, driven us to and from airports and boatyards, lent us your car, collected our parcels and dropped them off, arranged the builder’s reunion, organized the school for the kids, and so much more! We only hope we can repay your kindness and hospitality when you come to visit the States in August 2018!!

Thank you, Brian Chambers!