Archive for June 2010
Welcome to the new blog!
The major difference between this blog and last year’s, is that photos pertaining to each post will have their own gallery on a separate online photo-sharing site. A link to each gallery is included within or after the text, as follow for this post:
To see all the galleries, including those of New Zealand and last year’s Pacific trip, go to:
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This next leg of the trip should probably be called ‘Over The Top’, because that’s where we’re going: up the east coast of Australia and over the top and back down the west coast to Perth, stopping at the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands, Darwin and the Kimberlies, and Shark Bay en route.
A short recap:
During the winter, The Boat had a face-lift and full body enhancement in Whangarei.
She got: new teak decking; a back-up Simrad chart-plotter and auto-pilot at the helm, with nice big displays; a new spade-type anchor weighing 33kg, as our CQR anchor was (add expletives of choice) unreliable; an overhauled and improved anchor windlass; a new mainsail; a new reversing propeller, which makes going backwards easy instead of a nightmare; and a 3G wireless network with a range of 50-80 nautical miles from the nearest mast, which means we should have affordable, fast internet around most of the Australian coast – hurrah!
The fuel tanks were cleaned out by a specialist firm. They had to cut holes into the tops of the tanks to get out ½ inch of sludge and rust. In fact, the insides of the tanks were so exceptionally grisly that they used photos of them as their ‘before’ and ‘after’ posters at the Auckland Boat Show, discreetly omitting the name of the offending vessel. The fridge and freezer were overhauled, so now they’re working properly, and a lot of other minor repairs and alterations were done so when the boat left Whangarei at the beginning of May, she was in excellent shape.
I chickened out of the New Zealand-to-Brisbane crossing. The Tasman Sea is notorious, and at least one big blow is guaranteed on that route. It would be fair to say I mutinied. The Captain agreed to fly us over and have the boat brought over by a crew of professionals. He could have picked up a crew and done the crossing with them instead, but didn’t fancy spending 12 days or more with complete strangers.
We left for Brisbane by plane on the 29th May and the crew left with the boat a few days later. Their passage was horrible – the worst the captain had ever experienced. They suffered 45+ knot winds and confused, high seas non-stop for 3 days. One of the young men (there were 4) was thrown across the cabin and knocked unconscious during the storm. He was pretty much out of commission for two days after that, and to add insult to injury he lost his only pair of shoes (how typically male to travel with only one pair!) and some trousers when a rogue wave swept through the cockpit, washing the drying clothing away and submerging him to the waist while he was relieving himself overboard. I had heard about men being lost overboard in such situations, but had always thought this was a maritime myth.
As a result of the rough treatment, various bits and bobs on the boat were damaged, so we spent longer in Brisbane than intended. Plus ça change…
Anyway, we finally left Brisbane at about 9:30am, June 26th, on the slack tide, right before it began to ebb towards the sea. We drifted past factories and refineries, coal depots and the Port of Brisbane, where colourful gantries loaded containers on ships bound for Singapore, the central sorting office for freight of all kinds in this part of the world. It was hazy and still, and sea and sky merged at the horizon. The shipping channel we followed was nothing more than a series of markers diminishing into the grey distance.
The new propeller and steering mechanism worked beautifully. Once we sail, the propeller should really come into its own; when not being used it folds like the petals of a steel flower into a streamlined shape that reduces drag. We didn’t motor far, and anchored off Moreton Island in Lucinda Bay: 27 degrees 13’ 19.4” S, 153 degrees 22’ 28.3” E.
During the next 4 months, the plan is to either anchor or tie up to a mooring most nights, so distances, time and tides will become important factors in deciding when to set sail and when to pull in for the night. Coming into any unfamiliar area after dark is complicated and hazardous at best, and the more so when shifting sandbars can make charts inaccurate. So we’re playing it very safe. Given the choice between a 10-hour sail that will get us to a mooring at dusk, and a 5-hour sail that will get us in at 2pm, we’ll be opting for the latter.
The new anchor bit and held the first time – a nice change, that! – and we spent a quiet night under the full moon after a spectacularly gaudy sunset.
We were glad to leave Rivergate Marina. It’s dreary and expensive, located in an industrial zone downriver from the centre of Brisbane. A sleek new concrete bridge spans the river high over the water on one side of the jetties and a paper factory squats on the far side of the commercial vessel loading area. The factory spews out steam sometimes, which can be interesting at sunset and sunrise as the plumes dissolve into a pale morning sky or are silhouetted white against a darkening horizon as the sunset makes the orange brick factory walls glow as if lit from within. Really, though, it’s a landscape only a J.M.W Turner could love.
But even he would not have been able to work his magic with the sour-sweet smell coming from the canned soup factory down the road, which wafts over the area when the wind comes from the west. The water is dirty too. At Opua, in New Zealand, jetties, shoreline, pilings and rocks, mooring berths and even buoys were fringed with many-layered ruffles of oysters in the inter-tidal zone. At Rivergate, though a beautiful white heron stalked the jetty in a hopeful way, there seemed to be no life at all at the edges of the river and the roiling, murky surface of the water throws up nothing except eddies of filthy plastic flotsam, waterlogged branches and bobbing mangrove seeds.
Brisbane itself, however, is a most agreeable city. The city centre is compact and the main shopping streets are pedestrianised and partly covered. Although the city is less than 200 years old, it’s generously endowed with historic architecture. The graceful old Treasury and Land Administration buildings – the former once described as ‘the most splendid public edifice in the Australian colonies’ – are now diminished and dwarfed by neighbouring tower blocks clad in tinted mirrored glass. But even these modern upstarts are less boxy than most of their kind and glitter beautifully behind the river in the setting sun. The South Bank, as in London, is a centre for the arts and is everything London’s Barbican and South Bank Centre should be, but aren’t. It’s alive with parks, museums, cultural centres, galleries, busy restaurants and shops, and crowded with people enjoying themselves late into the night. In fact, for its size, one gets the impression Brisbane is an extraordinarily lively city.
Like the Thames, Brisbane’s river bisects the city. In Brisbane, however, they make full use of theirs to ease traffic congestion from the suburbs. Large blue and white catamarans – CitiCats – pick up and drop off passengers at stations along the river from early morning until late at night. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes for the next one to come along, and were transported in comfort to the city centre with views of parks, expensive houses and pretty boats en route, for about £2.
However, the real beauty of the city lies in its suburbs. For 3 weeks, while waiting for enough work to be completed on the boat so we could live on it in comfort, we stayed at an apartment-hotel in New Farm – a newly-trendy suburb about 5 CitiCat stops from central Brisbane. New Farm is rich in Art Deco buildings. There are as many, and as beautiful, as those in Napier, New Zealand. However those in New Farm are for the most part neglected and so their architectural detail passes unnoticed.
Wandering along the side streets, though, I was enchanted by buildings of an unfamiliar charm and grace. Wide verandas extending from some or all sides of the square houses are covered by rather steeply pitched roofs of corrugated-iron painted red or green. Supporting pillars are decorated with wrought-iron fretwork and slatted or latticework screens shield all or part of the verandas from the sun and passers-by. The houses stand on pillars raising them off the ground by a good 8’ and these under-parts are also often screened. By coincidence – or perhaps it isn’t – many of the gardens surrounding the houses are lush with slender-trunked palms which grow in clumps, whose exceptionally stiff fronds are fringed with leaves almost exactly the width of the slats used in the latticework. This lends an almost subconscious visual congruence to the whole and the general impression is one of flickering insubstantiality – stripes of light and airy shadow disguising edges and solid mass.
The reality, alas, belies appearance. Waxing enthusiastic about these ‘Queenslander’ houses, I was smartly disillusioned by people who’ve lived in them; the airy structure that promotes cooling breezes in the summer does the same for cold drafts in the winter, and wooden pillars designed to protect against flooding and termites are themselves subject to decay; maintaining the ornamental ironwork alone costs a fortune. One woman described them as the terrestrial equivalent of a boat. Oh, dear!
I was able to escape boat-servitude a few times. Once I went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, where I succumbed to the irresistible temptation to hold a koala. I remember having had a stuffed toy koala as a child. It was made – I believe – of rabbit fur and had a long leathery nose. Real koalas have much coarser fur and don’t appreciate having their noses stroked, they smell faintly of eucalyptus, and are surprisingly heavy for their size. They also piddle.
We drove to the Glasshouse Mountains, which was interesting, but didn’t walk around, which would have been fun. They look somehow accidental – as if dropped and forgot about by some absent-minded Creator who’d originally intended them for some other landscape.
A day-trip I took to Brisbane Forest Park in the D’Aguilar Range was more of a hike. Of the many different trails available, I chose the 4 which provided the greatest range of landscapes and vegetation and was rewarded with wet and dry rainforests, dry and wet eucalyptus forests, and some magnificent vistas in return for aching legs. A fair trade!
We’re now in a marina in Mooloolaba (accent on the second syllable), at 26 degrees 41’ 12.01” S, 153 degrees 57’ 43.16” E. It’s a pretty, clean, cheerful and pleasant place. Pandanus trees line the sandy banks of the river and there are oysters on the rocks. We spotted a porpoise in the harbour this evening and shoals of fish swarm under the jetty lights at night. We’ll remain here another night, then set off north.
More to come soon!