Monday, January 30, 2017

Family Time on the Gold Coast

We were very blessed to be able to spend some time with Dave's family in the time leading up to, and including, Christmas.  Shortly after arriving at the Gold Coast, Dave's aunt and uncle, Gaylor and Brian Smith, drove down to where we had anchored, and welcomed us on the dock.  It was so nice to see them, after we had corresponded along the way, and Gaylor had written us such wonderful encouraging emails while we sailed across the Pacific.  She has a knack of providing such good advice, and encouragement when we most need it....THANK YOU, Gaylor!!!

They took us back to their house and we were treated like royalty....the kids could not believe their luck!  Later they took us back to the boat and then lent us their car, which made running errands, (such as sorting our phones and internet hotspot!), and doing grocery shopping a breeze!  What a treat to have wheels again!  Thanks also for having Ben and Gaby for 2 days, while Dave and I stayed on the boat! The kids often talk about their stay in pure luxury and were treated to movies, great food, and just generally fussed over!

Thank you for everything, Gaylor and Brian! 

A few days later we sadly said goodbye to Bruce and Lyn Savage as they headed off to Sydney to be with their own families for Christmas.  It was strange to be on our own...Cool Runnings was missing her friend JoliFou!  But we knew we would see them again as we were planning to be in Sydney for New Year.

Before heading off to be with our family, one of the major tasks we accomplished was beaching Cool Runnings for the first time!  We had seen another Lagoon beached on the sandbank in the Broadwater, near were we anchored, and we went over and chatted to the owner about the processes. Seeing Erik (the boat's owner) do this, gave Dave the courage to beach our boat, which allowed us to clean the hulls more easily, and would also allow Dave to change the sail drive oil.  It was a mathematical calculation of tide times and variances, to make sure that once you were on the sandbank, you could get off again at the next high tide!  But we did it, and it was fun to see our home on sand instead of in the water!

Cool Runnings high and dry!

With boat tasks out the way, first up was a trip to Casuarina, a lovely seaside town, where Dave's cousin, Ingrid Taylor, has a beautiful beach house.  We spent a blissful weekend here with Ingrid, her husband Dave, and their 4 kids, Raine, Travis, Dustin and Paige.  It was so nice to be in a house again, relaxing and reconnecting with family, and for the kids to meet second cousins that they had never met before!  We cycled to Kingscliff for pizza, had coffee at SALT, and went for long walks on the beach, which was right on our doorstep.

Cousins!  Gaby, Benjamin, and twins, Paige and Dustin
The beach at the Taylor's beach house

On Sunday, Dec 18th (the date references are more for us, as a diary of our voyage), we went to Byron Bay, a really cool, artsy town, whose headland, Cape Byron, is the easternmost point in Australia. We had a great time wondering up and down the streets, window shopping and then going to the local market, where you could find anything from fresh fruit and vegetables, clothing, plants and food.  Our only drama on this day was a call from our friend Erik (the beached Lagoon owner) regarding Cool Runnings, whom we had left anchored in Bum's Bay.  The wind came up really strong, and a boat that was anchored in front of us started dragging, and was about to crash into Cool Runnings!  Our deepest thanks to Erik and Gayle on "Nautilus", who watched Cool Runnings for us while we were gone, and who kept us updated on the situation.  Erik got in his dinghy and together with the local VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) boat, re-anchored the dragging boat, and kept Cool Runnings out of harm's way.

Perusing the streets of Byron Bay

Can you tell this is a surf town?!  Christmas tree made of surf boards!
 
Coffee and Beer in Byron Bay!  Dave, Ben and Gaby with Dave, Ingrid and Paige

After that incident, I was not leaving our home at anchor again while we were gone for any period of time!!  So, we managed to get a berth in a marina for a week while we went to stay with Warren (Dave's other cousin, Ingrid's brother), and his lovely wife Camilla.  Once again, we have to thank friends for helping us out.  Thank you, William Voerman, for organizing the marina berth (literally impossible to get just days before Christmas).  In true William style, he did this all just days before heading out on his own overseas holiday to the USA!  Thanks also to you and Pascal for your hospitality and the lovely braai we had at your house!

So we packed our bags and left Cool Runnings (safe and sound in the marina) and moved in with Warren, Camilla, and their beautiful children, Tanner and Sage for a week!  Ben and Gaby got to meet more 2nd cousins and enjoyed playing with them and their dog, Trigger! Thanks for making us feel so welcome and at home!

Ben and Trigger!

Warren and Camilla have a beautiful home on a large property, with a trampoline, and just to prove they live in Australia, kangaroos that regularly hopped into the neighbour's garden!!  Once again we were spoilt by having a car of our own (thank you, Warren and Camilla!), and it was a whirlwind week of Christmas shopping and sight seeing. Warren really spoilt us by taking us to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, where Gaby's dream of holding a koala was fulfilled, and up to the top of the Q1 skyscraper, which provided us amazing views of the Gold Coast. THANK YOU!!!

And Gaby gets a turn!  Her dream comes true!

Ben holds the koala


Kangaroo up close!
Gaby feeding a kangaroo
This kangaroo has a joey in her pouch!  Do you see its little head sticking out?
 
How cute are these guys?  We just couldn't get enough of them!  See the baby koala holding onto it's Mum's back?

A view of the Gold Coast from the top of the Q1 building

On Christmas Eve we took a drive to Tamborine Mountain, a lovely little town in the "Hinterland", which was only about 45 minutes drive from Warren's house.  We walked up and down the street enjoying the quaint shops and restaurants, and then enjoyed exploring beautiful wooded areas and waterfalls.  It was a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve!

In Tamborine Mountain - there was a wonderful cuckoo clock shop that captivated our attention!

Amazing trees in the forest

On our drive back, we stopped and took in this view.
Beautiful green pastures with the Gold Coast skyline in the background

 Christmas Day was, of course, a family affair, with the Hibberds, the Taylors, the Smiths and Camilla's family bringing the total to 23!  What a privilege to spend this Christmas with so many family members, so far from home!  Again, our deepest thanks to all of you, for welcoming us into your homes, and making us feel so welcome!


The table set for 23!

Bring on the masses...we were ready!

Australian Family Portrait:
From left (back row):  Ingrid, Gudrun, Dave, Raine, Gaylor, Brian, Camilla, Warren, Faye (Camilla's sister-in-law with baby Billie-Grace), Cilla and Mike, Camilla's parents, Dave Taylor
From left (front):  Tanner (with guitar), Brad (Raine's boyfriend - behind Ben), Ben & Gaby (petting Cody, the Taylor family dog), Paige, Sage, Dusty, Rowan (Camilla's brother), Sam, Travis, Trigger

We often find ourselves saying how lucky and blessed we are for all we are experiencing, and for the kindness and generosity family and friends have shown us.  We will always remember with such fondness this wonderful Christmas of 2016!!!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Australia - Bundaberg to Brisbane and Beyond

After being officially checked into the country in Bundaberg, we were free to roam the great Land Down Under!  We spent one day catching a bus into the town of Bundaberg and it was a shock to the system!  While Bundaberg is not exactly a bustling metropolis, it was enough to remind us that we had hit civilization again!  We found a Target!  A TARGET!  Lets just say....we had a hard time getting Benjamin out of the Lego isle.  On the way back, we clung tightly onto the seats as our bus rocketed down the road!  We were not used to this kind of  speed after living at a "snails pace" for the past 8 months!

It was also the first sighting of the almighty Kangaroo!  Gaby and I had cycled to a shop with Bruce and Lyn Savage, and on the way back, there they were...3 big "Roos" on the side of the road! Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me to catch this moment, but we eyed each other for quite a while, and only when Gaby and Lyn (the adventurous ones) crossed the ditch and walked up to them, did they hop away.  It was then that we knew we were officially in Australia!


After spending a few days in the marina in Bundaberg, we decided to make use of the northerly winds to help us sail south.  We left on Sunday morning, December 4th and sailed 40 miles south over Hervey Bay, and anchored off Big Woody Island at the top of Fraser Island.  We spent the next day here too, doing schoolwork, climbing the mast, and meeting our neighbors, Rupert, Lynette and their sons Tom and Noah, who had sailed all the way from Tasmania on their aluminium catamaran, "Molly Leprano".  We were enjoying the new landscape of rocky shores and wooded islands.

The next day, after a quick stop at Kingfisher resort on Fraser Island, a wonderful swim in the resort pool, we had a lovely long sail down the Great Sandy Straits to Wide Bay Bar.  We had to negotiate some narrow channels with shallow water on either side, but enjoyed the calm water that was a result of being shielded by Fraser Island.

Ben up the mast!

Big Woody Island

Cool Runnings anchored off Fraser Island

Fraser Island
Enjoying a beautiful sail down the Great Sandy Straits

Australia had introduced us to new terminology, and a new task we had to master:  "crossing the bar". The east coast of Australia doesn't have many natural harbors or inlets where a boat can pull in for shelter, but it does have rivers that flow directly into the ocean.  However, these rivers usually have shallow entrances, and the combination of the tides rising and falling, and the volume of water rushing in and out, can cause big waves to break at the entrances, making crossing the bars almost a science.  You have to take a number of factors into account:  wind direction and strength, sea state, tide, and most importantly, swell and swell direction.  You have to time crossing the bar so that you enter or exit between 1 and 4 hours after a low tide to be certain of catching the in-going rising tide, and you have to avoid a swell from the east, as this pushes water directly into the river mouths.


This is what you have to avoid.  Image courtesy of www.cruiserswiki.org/

So it was with this knowledge that we had to cross our first bar!  We anchored in Pelican Bay, a shallow little cove just next to the entrance to Wide Bay Bar, which is the entrance (or in our case, exit) to the Great Sandy Straits, together with JoliFou.  While it was not a narrow entrance, Wide Bay Bar (hence the name!) had a bad reputation for a section called "the mad mile", because there was such a long stretch of shallow, rough water outside the entrance.  We knew we had to have an early start because of the tide calculation mentioned above.  When we woke up at about 4:30am, we saw a couple of other boats already heading out of the exit.  Dave upped anchor and radioed Bruce to let him know we were leaving a little earlier than planned.  By 5:00am, we were heading out the entrance.  The initial exit was not that bad, a little bumpy, but nothing that we hadn't experienced before.  But now comes the fun part:  Bruce and Dave had seen a section on the charts that they figured they could cross, which would be a short cut, and avoid the "mad mile".  Cool Runnings was to go ahead, and JoliFou would follow.   We edged along...carefully watching the depth sounder...5ft...4ft...3ft....the alarm was sounding:  beep!  beep!  beeep!!!!  This was a little too close for comfort, so Dave put the engines in reverse, and we backed off. We radioed Bruce and Lyn and told them it was too shallow to cross.  Lyn came back on the radio, thanked us, and said Bruce still wanted to "have a look", so they continued that way.  We decided to rather face the mad mile rather than try again!

So off we went and smashed and crashed along with the other boats, all the while watching JoliFou taking the short cut.  And blow us down...they made it!!  Later they told us that they too had some close calls, but they edged their way through and soon were in deeper water and were able to make their way out close to shore, but avoiding the mad mile!

The rest of the day was a race (of course) with JoliFou leading, but Cool Runnings asking for leniency due to the fact that we caught a yellow fin tuna and needed 2 hours to clean and fillet it, and thus were not able to raise our sails as soon as JoliFou!  Leniency was not granted and JoliFou was proclaimed the winner. :-(  We arrived at Mooloolaba at about 2:00pm and just managed to get a berth at the marina.  We spent the afternoon exploring this beautiful seaside town and had dinner with Bruce and Lyn at the Yacht Club.

Gutting the fish that made us loose the race

One of the many amazing, rocky headlands with beautiful, old lighthouses that we passed on our way

The fishing fleet at Mooloolaba

The start gun went off at 7:00am the next morning (Thursday, December 8th), and Cool Runnings and JoliFou sailed across Moreton Bay, ending the day at anchor off Peel Island.  Moreton Bay is the bay that the Brisbane River runs into, and the city of Brisbane itself is situated up the river, but we decided to visit Brisbane on our way back up again, as we wanted to get to the Gold Coast relatively soon.  We had a quick look ashore and were cognizant of the fact that just a week or so earlier, "Impi" had been anchored here and had experienced a terrible thunderstorm with lightning, and strong winds, with boats dragging and ending up on shore.  Luckily we were spared bad weather, although it looked like a storm brewing on the horizon.

Ben enjoying sundowners on Peel Island

 The storm is brewing in the background, so we have to head back to the boats.  

Gabs tries her hand at filling the freezer

Our challenge the following day, which we had discussed at length over the radio the day before, was getting from Peel Island to the Gold Coast through the waterway.  We had discovered that we had to cross under some power cables, and we were not sure if JoliFou would fit, as their mast was allegedly slightly higher than ours.  But after reaching out to many people that day including, "Impi", and our new friends from Tasmania on "Molly Leprano", who had both recently gone that way, we decided we would both fit.  So we had another early morning, pulling up the anchor at 6:00am and heading down the narrow waterway.  It was beautiful, and getting under the cables proved to be a non-issue!  Of course we were racing the whole way down, even when there was 3 knots of wind, and we were sailing at about 2 knots.  At one point, they seemed to be dredging the waterway, and were shown a detour, which led us right next to some houses, so close were we, we could have reached out and touched their docks!  All this was done under sail, may I add!!

JoliFou easily passes under the overhead cables
It never looks like you'll fit!!  Cool Runnings passing under the cables
I love the Pelicans here.  They are much larger than our brown Pelicans we have in Florida, and are white with black wings

Cool landscape on the waterway

The waterway eventually spilled out in the Broadwater, and just like that, the skyline of the Gold Coast appeared.  Another shock to the system!  We had not seen high rise buildings like this since leaving the US!

Our first glimpse of the Gold Coast skyline

It was also here that we saw "Impi" anchored, and we went and said hi, and made arrangements to do the Moose update movie mentioned in my previous post.

"Impi" with the Gold Coast skyline in the background

Both JoliFou and Cool Runnings dropped anchor in the crowded anchorage of the Marina Stadium, affectionately known as "Bum's Bay". This was to be our home for the next 10 days!

The crowded anchorage in "Bum's Bay"
This view was better!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Exploring the West Coast of New Caledonia

On a windy New Caledonia day we left Baie de Prony and headed up the Wooden Channel back towards Noumea to prepare for our final journey up the west coast of New Caledonia.  We met up with Lyn and Bruce on "JoliFou" in the marina, and we all began final preparations for our journey up the coast, and ultimately to Australia.  It was pouring with rain when Lyn and I walked to the nearest supermarket (the "Casino"), to do some final provisioning.  The one thing we have come to love about the cruising life is that we learn to make do with what we have...in this case...our feet! We have to walk everywhere;  it is a great way to stay fit, and we enjoy it, because there are also lots of stretches when we are confined to the boat, so getting out and moving our legs always feels great.

It was still rainy and windy when we left and headed towards Isle Puen.  We had strong winds, up to 30 knots, but all from behind, making the sail fast and relatively comfortable.  I mention the sail was fast....this was important...why?  Well, what happens when you have 2 Olympic sailors at the helm of each vessel?  EVERY sail is a race!!  I will refrain from keeping score, but I believe that JoliFou won the first race.  Just for the record though, and in our defense, JoliFou is a beautiful, 44ft aluminium monohull with a carbon fiber mast, and Cool Runnings, in comparison, is a tank....just sayin'!

JoliFou...

vs.  Cool Runnings...
who would be the ultimate winner of the Japie Olympian Cruising Rally?!

We left Puen early the next morning, still in overcast, rainy weather and made our first stop at Ouana.  We anchored off the reef so that Bruce and Dave could have a surf!  Dave had not surfed for many, many years, and this surf break is a left break, which Bruce prefers, being a "goofy foot" and Dave preferring a right break, being a "natural foot".  But it was a surf break, none-the-less, and Dave was dying to get on his board again!  Lyn took the boys out in the dinghy and dropped them at the break, and then came and joined the kids and I on Cool Runnings while we watched Bruce catch wave after wave, and Dave catch just a few!  But hey...he was surfing in New Caledonia!  Nothing to complain about!  

Lyn takes Bruce and Dave out to the break

Beautiful waves to surf

Bruce catches a beauty

Dave is up and surfing!

A look back at New Cal from where we were anchored at the surf break

After a couple of hours, we upped anchor again, and continued racing towards our anchorage for the night, a place called Bourail.  We anchored in a river mouth, in very brown water.  We had had a lot of rain in New Caledonia over the last week or so, and the rivers were spilling lots of brown water into their river mouths.  We highly believe that Bruce and Lyn were nudged by a shark when they left Cool Runnings that evening to go back to JoliFou.  It was funny at the time to hear Lyn shriek "Did you feel that?!"  but would not have been so funny if the shark had taken a bite instead of just a nudge!!

Entering the anchorage at Bourail...it appears that Cool Runnings is AHEAD of JoliFou! ;-)

The weather may have been miserable, but the sunset was still spectacular
The next morning, knowing we had a long sail ahead of us, we upped anchor at about 5:30am.  This was also partly due to wanting to beat JoliFou!!  Bruce was desperate to surf the excellent break at Bourail, and even stopped to check it out, but thankfully, he decided not to risk playing with the sharks for the sake of a good surf, and soon we were racing again up the west coast of New Caledonia.  While we had had 20+ knots the day before, this day the wind was up and down, so it was a day of sailing and then motoring, and sailing and motoring.  We had to exit the reef at Bourail, and we sailed on the "outside" until we were able to enter the reef again at Baie Chasseloup, which is the start of the northern lagoon.  We found a lovely anchorage next to a beach and park with picnic tables.

Our thanks to JoliFou for the pics of Cool Runnings under sail

And one more...

Dave checking the sails so that we could win the race!

The anchorage at Baie Chasseloup - at last we see start seeing blue skies again!
Sunrise for a change
Having left at 7:30am the following morning, and after a beautiful sail in the flat water of the northern lagoon, we decided to stop at Koumac, probably the biggest town in the northern part of New Caledonia.  We arrived around 3pm, so this still gave us some time to explore.  There is a small marina here, but the town was a fair distance away.  Dave went off in search of some diesel, as we had motored a bit the day before, and we wanted to be sure that we had enough for the crossing to Australia.  The fuel dock in the marina was closed, and while Dave was looking around, looking helpless I suppose, a local offered to drive him to town to the gas station there!  So friendly were the people here.  He drove Dave to fill up our jerry cans, waited for him to finish and then took him back to the marina.  The crews of JoliFou and Cool Runnings decided to stretch their legs and did a bit of exploring.  

Entering Koumac...yes, JoliFou appears to be in front!

I loved the explosion of color of all the bougainvillea!

The competition doesn't end off the water...we found an exercise park in Koumac.
Dave and Bruce attempt to co-ordinate this machine

Bruce and Lyn have a go (and seem to be in sync!)

Ben and Gabs attempt to lift weights!

Calm waters in Koumac

 Sometime during the day we realized it was Thanksgiving, so we invited Bruce and Lyn over to Cool Runnings for their first Thanksgiving dinner!  We had a lovely evening.  It was by no means a traditional Thanksgiving meal, (I had a ham in the freezer that I had defrosted, mashed potatoes and some veggies), but the spirit of Thanksgiving was enjoyed by all, as we spent a lovely evening with good friends and all of us said what we were thankful for!

Getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner

Good Times with Good Friends!  Happy Thanksgiving!
The next day was our final stretch from Koumac to Tanle.  It was another great sail, and we followed JoliFou into a beautiful, secluded anchorage.  That evening, over drinks on JoliFou, we discussed weather.  Our original plan had been to stop at Chesterfield Reef on the way to Australia.  Chesterfield Reef belongs to New Caledonia, and we had secured permission to stop there.  Pictures we had seen of the reef looked gorgeous, and it is also a breeding ground for many sea birds.  But Mother Nature had other plans as a low pressure system was developing off the north of Australia, and two of the five weather models showed it moving right across our path in the Coral Sea, with winds of up to 35-40 knots.  There was no way we wanted to be anywhere near such a system, so we decided to wait another day to see what the models showed the next day.  

The beautiful mountains of New Caledonia.  Waiting at Tanle

More mountains taken from the Tanle anchorage

Our one choice was to  stay in New Caledonia, and wait it out, but we had already checked out of the country, and needed to leave.  Staying in New Cal would also potentially put us into the path of the system, but we would be at anchor.  If we left, we had to time our departure so that we would not cross paths with it at any point...a difficult thing to predict or plan.  We stayed the following day, and it poured with rain.  It was a day of watching the weather, watching movies and just waiting.  The following morning, thinking we were not going anywhere, we heard Bruce calling Dave across the water.  He had just downloaded updated grib files (weather forecast), and it looked like all the models were agreeing more on the path of the system, and if we left that day, didn't stop at Chesterfield, and just headed straight for Australia, we would be OK.

So our final departure from New Caledonia was quite sudden, and in no time we found ourselves on our journey to Australia!  By coming so far north on New Caledonia's coast, our passage to Australia was only about 600 miles (about 4 nights/5 days).  The first 2 days were a bit rough with strong winds and big seas, but by day 3 the winds became lighter and day 4 actually saw us motoring late at night.  It was a pleasure to do the crossing with JoliFou, and we stayed in visual contact almost the entire passage, as well as in radio contact.  We had never done a passage with another boat before, and it was so nice to know that there was someone else out there with you, just a stone's throw away!  (of course we also had to monitor our positions to see who was winning the race!).

Sunset on passage

Passing the time on passage and getting excited about getting to Australia!

Playing "silly buggers"

We crossed Hervey Bay and entered the river at Bunderberg in the afternoon of December 1st, 2016.  We were "leading the race" when Bruce came shooting past us and shouted "Welcome to Australia!"!  It was an awesome welcome, and we couldn't believe we had finally made it! We had crossed the entire Pacific Ocean...some 11,000 miles!  We were ready for our next adventure in the Land Down Under!

Australia, here we come!!

As the sun sets on one adventure, we are ready for the next one!