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!

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