Life on Passage

    A passage is a difficult thing to try to explain to someone that has not done one, much less someone that hasnt sailed at all. Its a sort of suspended lifestyle where everything that is normally a day-to-day activity is put on the backburner while all hands work towards keeping the boat sailing comfortably to a far off destination. 


A bird that decided to hop on for a rest stop(upper right). We dubbed him ‘Little Buddy’

    Leaving at daybreak the first morning everyone is all smiles over morning coffee as weeks of planning and preparation begin to give fruit. A delicious and hearty ‘normal’ breakfast is made while we ride the outgoing tides out of a protected, comfortable anchorage, and we escape out into the open ocean. Afterwards we begin to settle into our ‘passage life’ for the next six days, which is our schedule that allows for at least one person to be awake and on watch at all hours of the day and night. With distances of hundreds of miles between course changes (while Huck averages about 150 miles a day) and a programmable autopilot to keep us on track, theoretically the boat requires very little assistance and mostly just a watchful eye for any unforseen events, other boats, and wind shifts.

     So life begins in a pattern of up on watch and down to sleep, mirroring the up and down motion of the boat in the swell as we sail steadily onward. Simple though this may seem, this is still a rather draining lifestyle over the long term. The constant 1-3 meter swell rocks the boat vigorously, pitching and rolling the floor underneath your feet, the bed while you sleep, the kitchen while you cook, your entire life constantly as much as 17 degrees from either side of center. Just laying down in a stable position on passage is an abdominal workout all its own to stay still, and everything you do entails a constant struggle to stay balanced or stabilized. As a result you burn alot of calories during passage with this constant motion, which would seem a good thing if cooking were not so difficult. Boiling water or hot oil present serious dangers like this, as you’d imagine, and stabilizing knives, chopped veggies, or anything you could cook with is a herculean task. Fortunately for Huck, Heidi is amazing at cooking on passage and determinedly cooked a fantastic and much appreciated hot meal once a day, but even so a large portion of our diet on passage consists of easy to eat/prepare and high calorie, carb-packed foods like ramen noodles, cereal, granola bars, boxed mac and cheese, and simple fruits like apples and oranges.

     Days on passage are typically pleasant and enjoyable as without the ability or energy to do much maintenance on the boat the entire crew is often in the cockpit together chatting and laughing as everyone pitches in small bits of effort to get things like snacks, keep watch, and adjust sails. Often you wake up to flying fish that have inadvertently flown onto the boat, or cuttlefish that have jumped onto deck and leave puddles of black ink everywhere. Birds, hundreds of miles from shore, often land exhausted on the boat to hang out with us for awhile.
 A flying fish that flew up onto deck the previous night

    Nights on passage are a mixed bag of stress and calm. Alot of times it can be difficult to sleep while you are off duty due to the noise of the boat, violent rocking, and the smash and shudder of waves crashing into the hull on occasion. No hatches or portlights are open due to the waves so the interior of the boat can be quite stuffy and hot. So after the sun sets and you tuck in for some sleep if you can catch it, its time to come up for your watch. Some watches are restful and easy, where the wind stays mild and steady, the swell stays calm, and every fifteen minutes your visual 360 degree sweep of the horizon yields nothing but empty, dark expanses of water. Some watches are stressful and work-filled, as many were this last passage when the night sky was lit up as though from a city by fleets of fishing boats numbering in the dozens, each dropping or trailing monstrous nets (that are miles long and irregularly marked if at all), and none with any radio contact nor AIS (a collision warning system) to track them with, leading to frequent and abrupt course changes to avoid them and their nets. The weather also plays a big factor. During our last night of passage a torrential rainstorm came upon us, dropping visibility to zero, pulling all hands on deck for lookout, and bringing us and all the nearby boats in our rally fleet to a standstill for fear of now-invisible fishing boats and nets. That night no one got much if any sleep at all, and all the rally boats clustered together to heave-to or drop sail and drift to wait out the rain until we could see again.
     Passages are not without their upsides though. Theres a sense of community that develops between boats travelling in a vicinity of each other and everyone shares useful information and checks up on each other throughout the journey via VHF and SSB radio. Though some boats had issues on the passage, the community of boats around and ahead of them rallying to assist in everything from anchoring assistance to crafting makeshift rudders and search and rescue is nothing short of inspirational. You get to watch the dawn every day knowing that you are hundreds of miles from any landfall, a self-sustaining, wind-powered island traversing the vast ocean, which is a thrill all its own. It’s exciting to watch the miles melt by day after day with the knowledge that you are getting closer and closer to a faraway exotic land, to places that few outside its native populace ever see. Some nights you wake for your watch and climb out into a night of crystalline clarity, where the innumerable and uncontested stars in the sky cast the sea in soft starlight. Phosphorescence in the undulating midnight waters causes waves and their whitecaps to glow and sparkle while the wake of the boat leaves an illuminated trail of glittering diamond stardust to rival the skies above. Those nights I particularly treasure, and are some of the most tranquil and beautiful that I have ever seen.

Our first sunset in Indonesia. 

     Then after all the days and nights sleepless or otherwise, after the drenching rain, after the horrendous and exhausting dance of dodging fishermen and their nets for days on end, after six days and seven hundred miles you finally see the dark silhouette of land on the horizon. The elation, relief, and excitement are immeasurable after having crossed safely, and the gray overcast morning that we dropped hook in front of the bright colored mosques and churches of Debut, Indonesia was a beautiful day indeed. Cruisers often say “passage is hard,” but everything worth doing or having always is.

1000 Nautical Miles

A little while back I passed a milestone on this journey. I’ve now traveled more than 1000 miles so far, and that might not sound like much except that they are nautical miles, which makes them special. Nautical is one of those magic words that does funny things to the stuff it describes, similar to marine. However, where ‘marine’ has an odd tendency to multiply the cost of what would otherwise be everyday items, ‘nautical’ has an ability to change the time and space involved with things. Nautical miles are longer, for starters, than standard American miles by about 15%. Not only that, but nautical miles take tremendously longer amounts of time to travel than normal ones due to the specialized craft needed to traverse them, called boats. In fact, since we average about 5 nautical miles per hour while most cars move along quite easily at 60, some basic maths will tell us that 1000 nautical miles are roughly equivalent to about 12,000 landlubber miles!


     So now that I’ve illustrated how much more impressive nautical miles are than normal ones, what all has happened along the way? My tan has progressed from white to a much darker off-white. We’ve swam with sharks and had staring matches with crocodiles. I’ve unironically used the phrase “off our port bow” and had quite serious discussions about pirates. I’ve learned that sailors will often spend a lot of time trying to make the slowest form of travel on earth go as fast as possible. ‘Mikado’ has shown me that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line, but sometimes a protracted series of zigs and zags. You can catch fish galore, but only if there are no bananas on board. A muppet is an insult and a barney is a fight, much to my childhood’s dismay. You can make instant friends over goat stew and have a lifetime of experiences in two months time. Altogether it’s been a magical thousand miles, cheers to a thousand more!

Adios Australia

We’ve rounded the famous Cape York, the northernmost tip of mainland Australia, and are now sitting comfortably at anchor off of Horn Island just across the channel from Thursday Island which is our checkout point from Oz. Two months and 1,200 miles of sailing have all led to this point, and there was definitely an air of accomplishment as we rounded the last channel markers into an anchorage filled with about 40 sailboats. Picking our way through the anchorage to find a spot we saw many boats and people that we have been sailing with for quite some time now even if we haven’t officially met, and friendly waves and smiles greet every new arrival to this tiny island in Far North Queensland.


A turtle sculpture on Thursday Island

Thursday Island

Thursday Island is part of a cluster of islands sitting just within the Torres Straights off the northern tip of Australia. It has been many things over the centuries from a base of operations for whalers and pearlers to its current status as an official Australian port of entry. The indigenous culture here is still very much alive; many local businesses are owned and operated by them. It seems that the town is not quite used to such an inundation of yachties, very rarely are there this many sailboats in the anchorage at one time. The locals seem happy and hospitable though, offering advice on where to eat and friendly attitudes abound even though yachties can be a fussy bunch. 


The meter long Walu we caught on the way here

     Eating lunch on Thursday Island before our meeting to check out of the country was exciting as of course we ran into old friends ‘Mikado’ at the pub as well as meeting a few less familiar faces like Norm on ‘Dreamcatcher’ and some new ones like Richard and Jennifer on ‘Our Rose’. It’s evident from all the easy smiles and demeanor that everyone is just as excited to be done with the long push up the Australian coast as they are to begin the 700 mile passage to our destination port of Debut in the Kai Islands of Indonesia. The anchorage and towns on both sides of the waterway here bustle with all the international boater traffic toting everything from jerrycans and grocery bags to entire Honda generators.


Harvesting fresh oysters and learning to tie a one-handed boline on Huck

Fair sails Mikado!

     Today we sadly say goodbye to some close friends. At the current tally we have known ‘Mikado‘ for only a month and a half having met them at Middle Percy Island sometime in the latter half of May, but somehow it seems like so much longer than that. Its like saying goodbye to family, and seeing that blue-hulled Beneteau in many anchorages up the coast of Queensland has helped Australia seem more homey and inviting. Many of our best memories from the last couple months are set with a backdrop of the kids’ smiling faces (Josh’s more shy and Sam’s totally exuberant) and good-natured sarcastic teasing from both Natalie and Chris. We gladly accept all blame for their new addiction to the card game Cabo (pronounced Kaboo), and the cultural blending we all have shared has led to the hilarious addition of such phrases as “y’all blokes” and others to all of our vocabularies. They are about to leave as I write this, heading off west towards Darwin while we strike once again northward to grand adventures in Indonesia. Bittersweet though our goodbyes were, we all know that our paths will cross again someday and more than anything we’re grateful to have met and spent the time with them that we have.


Thursday Island

 We’ve packed our dinghy and stowed the motor, provisioned and provisioned some more with supplies we fear we may not find again. We stashed our last carton of my favorite Australian beer One-Fifty Lashes for celebration on the other side. My parents, having been in this wonderful country for nearly 20 months, are much more ready to leave than I after such a short two. Australia is a magnificent place, her people friendly, her waters and vistas as beautiful and lively as they are dangerous. I’ve been so lucky to see just this picturesque little strip of it along the Great Barrier Reef, but like a sip of beer underneath the blazing Australian sun, one taste begs another and in that regard I will leave thirsty. Sad though our goodbyes may be to this place and its people, our friends, my only regret is that I could not see more of it. However one of the greatest joys of sailing is that no matter how nice the water is where you are new friends and adventures wait across every new horizon, and I cant wait to set sail tomorrow with the rising sun.

     

Lizard Island

As we reach our final 10-day countdown to exiting Australia the feeling in the air is getting more and more exciting. We have pulled in to Lizard Island, probably the last destination anchorage this far north, at the least the last one where you can swim, snorkel, and paddle board freely thanks to crocodiles on the mainland. We’ve only been here for a few days but a lot has happened. Dozens of boats have arrived here to wait out the wind and rain that drove everyone north from Cairns, and a large number of them are also participating in the rally to Indonesia with us. Still others, like ‘Exit Strategy‘, are old friends of my parents’ having crossed from Mexico together 4 years ago. So the atmosphere for us has been one of reunion and making new friends and acquaintances. The radio chatters daily with boats organizing friendly events from hikes to snorkeling and tours of the island’s research center, and it’s quite a fun and happy time as boats that will spend the next three months in close proximity start to get to know one another. 


The 4th of July party on the beach

     Happy 4th of July!

     There was even an impromptu 4th of July celebration on the beach ‘organized’, such as it was, by one of the four American boats in the anchorage. It was a hilarious and jolly evening with Canadians parading around in umbrella hats plastered in their red, white and maple leaf flag while children from at least three different nationalities raced up and down the beach, sparklers in hand. Someone gave the kids gummy bears to roast over the fire in the absence of marshmallows (to mixed results) and in true American fashion people from all over the world gathered to meet, drink, and laugh together. The night was by far the most multinational and in some ways the most American celebration of our independence that I’ve ever seen and on a tiny island half a world away. It was a fantastic time and speaks to many more happy memories in months yet to come.

The view of our anchorage from Cook’s Lookout

The precarious, rocky path up to the top of the mountain.

     Cook’s Lookout

     Almost two and a half centuries ago the famous Captain James Cook of the exploratory vessel ‘Endeavor’ landed on this island due to its high peak from which he would be able to see the surrounding reefs for miles in all directions. He named it Lizard Island due to a preponderance of lizards he found here, only a small amount of which I’ve seen here mostly in the form of little goanas scurrying about when the sun shines. Today there is a steep, rocky trail that one can take to the top of the mountain to the same vantage point Cook looked out from so many years ago, and my two young friends Josh and Sam (from ‘Mikado‘) and I decided we wanted to see the view. It took about an hour of scrambling up sheer rock faces and narrow gullies in slight misty rain, but about 359 vertical meters (~1100 feet for my American friends) in roughly 3 kilometers of track later we summited to stunning views of the island, surrounding lagoons and reefs, and every islet and weather system for many miles in all directions. At the top are several informational panels detailing not only Cook’s visit but the significance of the mountain to local Aboriginal cultures going back more than ten millennia. Next to one of these panels overlooking the expansive ocean is a gigantic, 2.5 meter (~7-8 foot) tall cairn to which it seemed traditional to add a stone when reaching the peak of the island. In a small wooden box next to the stone pile is a guest registry in a watertight box which people over the years have signed and left notes, flags, and mementos in on this historic mountain, and we happily added our names to the list of successful hikers. It is truly a great and one-of-a-kind hike.


Sam, Josh, and myself after conquering the climb, 359m high

     Lizard Island Research Center

     The Lizard Island Research Center is one of four such facilities located along the length of the Great Barrier Reef. The narrowness here of the reef and the shelf on which it sits, as well as proximity to the mainland without many detracting factors such as river runoff and lack of detritus from any major urban centers make this site as ideal as it gets for studying coral reefs. As a result much leading edge research regarding reefs is done here, including the much publicized bleaching events, effects of climate change on the coral, and the entirety of coral reef ecosystems. Established in the early 1970s, the facility maintains an impressive 70% occupancy rate of its 37-person capacity year round, most of which consists of research teams doing field work from all over the world, while we were there a group was visiting from Switzerland. However, many filming groups (such as the BBC) also use the Research Center frequently for documentary-type work, and student groups from both high schools and universities also come to make use of the island’s ideal location along the Great Barrier Reef. This is all supported, amazingly, by a full time staff of only four people; two directors and two maintenance personnel. One of the directors, a very friendly man named Lyle, was kind enough to give a large group of us visiting yachties a tour of this great place as well as tell us a lot about the important research that takes place there. This amazing and educational experience would have made the windy anchorage worthwhile all by itself, and I’m grateful to have seen it.

The Director Lyle holding and explaining a Crown of Thorns starfish, one of the most deadly predators of coral reefs.


Lyle explaining coral reef bleaching to us.

     Up and out of the Land Down-Under

     So we’ve spent a few wonderful days learning about reefs, snorkeling, hiking, and meeting friends both old and new. We have seen turtles, giant clams, a view that has been sacred for thousands of years, some of the prettiest, most inviting beaches thus far on the Queensland coast, and we drank and laughed in celebration of a holiday a world away. Tonight we leave with familiar friends for another overnight passage up the coast, pushing once more upwards towards Cape York and Thursday Island. If Cairns was a staging area, then Lizard Island has been a send-off, a glorious celebration and bookend for our time here so far that is drawing so rapidly to a close. In only a little more than a week’s time, I’ll be writing you all from the northernmost point of Australia before we leave for Indonesia, but for now just know that if you ever get a chance, Lizard Island is worth a visit. Cheers!

A thunderhead moving across the ocean.

Another view from Cook’s Lookout


The aptly named Blue Lagoon

Stocking up for the Winter

A rainbow Lorikeet 

What a strange and wonderful world it is that I live in now, one where winter means shorts, sandals, and tans. It’s been an interesting time here in Cairns, Australia this last little while as we get all our ducks in a row for Indonesia. We are now just about two weeks from leaving Australia, and while I don’t feel for an instant that I’ve seen enough of it it’s hard to explain how excited I am to see the world’s largest archipelago.

The Cairns bus station

A trawler named ‘Prawn Star’ in Cairns, serving beer and fresh seafood.

Everything is about to change. Australia is a new and different place for an American, but even so there are a lot of cultural similarities and a common language. Locals still root for their sports teams, bars and clubs still fill up on weekend nights, and friends still tease each other relentlessly. It’s quite easy to become comfortable, and knowing that it was just a first stepping stone I hadn’t done incredibly extensive research on the place before coming here. 
Indonesia is an entirely different sail pattern. The country covers a huge geographical area, encompassing about 18,000 different islands, more than 100 active volcanoes, and quite literally hundreds of unique cultures and languages. It’s been a Dutch colony, the source of now-everyday spices such as nutmeg and cloves, and a major base for allied operations in the Pacific during World War II. It’s a country that holds within it major populations of three of the worlds largest religions (Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism) as well as significant amounts of native animistic religions and traditions. World class surf breaks and diving locations are peppered throughout the islands at all times of the year, and some of the rarest animals on earth call Indonesia home such as the Sumatran Tiger, Orangutan, Komodo Dragons, and the nearly extinct Javan Rhinoceros. There is so much to see that one could easily spend a lifetime exploring there and never see all of it, and we have only 3 months. 

The night markets in Cairns, with our friends from ‘Mikado’ in the foreground.



So how do you prepare to enter and live in a place so foreign and vast? Contact with the government of the country you’re traveling to is always wise, and in this case necessary in order to enter. Doing this as part of a group also alleviates a large stress point of traveling somewhere new, as you have at least a number of people that will be going through the same processes as you are. As I’ve mentioned before, we are going as part of the Sail 2 Indonesia rally for this exact reason, and there is an added major benefit of having a familiar group to travel with in such a different place. In the case of sailors, rallies provide a schedule and a point of familiarity and stability around which to plan your trip. That being said, there are many places off the beaten path that we on Huck wish to see and while we will undoubtedly be linking up with rally locations throughout our time in Indonesia our goal is to see what we want to see. After all, what’s the point of going to a fascinating, foreign place if you don’t step outside your comfort zone every now and then?

Our Indonesia map in early planning stages, with rally destinations marked with pink post-its.
So after you have a rough outline of your trip, in our case already provided by the wonderful folks organizing the rally, the next step is research, research, and more research. What’s your ‘can’t miss’ list? What cell provider should you use? Where can you get fuel, money, or food and water? How safe is it in those places? What things can you take in or out of the country? Will English suffice, or do I need to know some other language to get by? I could make an entire blog post just asking all the questions that need to be explored, you really can’t know too much when you’re going somewhere new. In addition to the resources provided by the rally, we’ve picked up a language app, an Indonesian language book, a physical map of the region, and have been referencing a copy of Andy Scott’s “Cruising Guide to Indonesia” to help plan our trip. 

‘Huck’ organizing 3+ months worth of provisions, even before we picked up meat and produce.

The last real step is to take care of anything that you can’t once you’ve left. ‘Western’ quality yacht supplies and marinas are few and far between in Indonesia so we’ve taken care to replace or back up important things like engine start batteries, marine varnish, and others. Red meat, wine, and cheese are all either rare, nonexistent, or of poor quality so we’ve stacked our freezer and fridge high with as much as we could, and stashed away wine in every available corner of the boat in the hopes that it will last for a whole season. 

These trees seem common in Australian cities and though I dont know what they are they are pretty magnificent. 

I sit now writing this post in the deep hum of our engine warming up to leave Cairns and the ‘western’ world behind, and I am equal parts apprehension and excitement. Australia is a beautiful place that I will miss and was in many ways an adventure all it’s own, but I can’t help but feel that it was preparation, a staging ground for the exotic world and voyages we are about to embark on. This is the step from the familiar into the unknown, and no amount of research or preparation will make it any less exciting or thrilling, and I can’t wait to begin to see this new strange world.

The Joys of Cruising


The only thing of note at Cape Bowling Green, the sunrise.

Getting a taste of a new lifestyle is quite an intoxicating experience. Cruising is a world far removed from mountains and snow, and even what I know as work in restaurants is not the same in other parts of the world. Every day is a new adventure in a very literal sense as more often than not we wake up in a different place than we were before, and I’m finding that there is a lot of truth in the cliche, “the more I see, the less I know”. 


Our new friends ‘Mikado’ against a sunrise cloud bank

A sailboat is a lot of work to live on in the sense that there is always something that needs doing. Our grill is stowed away and requires some fair effort to deploy whenever we want to grill steaks, veggies, or burgers. Getting to shore after a passage is preceded by 10 minutes of wrestling the dinghy off the foredeck and then wrestling an outboard motor into place on the dinghy.  The small space is not much effort to keep clean, but it is a persistent effort on all three of our parts to keep it tidy. Stainless steel always needs polishing (my restaurant friends are familiar with this) and woodwork always needs sanding and varnishing. Even just general organization of things in and on the boat is always an ongoing process of tweaking and refining baskets and storage spaces, and there is an entire wall space devoted to post-it notes with various larger scale tasks that need doing that I have not even mentioned. 


Paddle boarding in the rain with myself (front), Nat (right), and Heidi (left)

The work pays off tenfold though. There’s a pride in living on something you actively work to keep beautiful, and when someone compliments how good your boat looks it’s hard not to beam knowing you had a hand in it. All the maintenance and projects keep us moving to and from dozens of tropical paradises each more beautiful than the next, and I’ll be damned if the work of putting the grill in place doesn’t make the food taste that much better. Reeling in and cleaning fish in the middle of a sail is quite a messy task, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re eating piles of bluefin tuna sashimi two hours later. True to all walks of life, you truly get back all the effort you put into this lifestyle.


Me trying desperately to not dunk Josh and myself into the water, 2 people on a board is hard!

The best part of it all though is the people. Even though I’ve only had a combined total of about 3 and a half months of “cruising experience” over the last three years, the people you meet and the stories you hear are the richest reward. The cruising community is small and everyone is bound by the same weather constraints, so you end up seeing the same boats repeatedly even if you don’t ever meet the sailors that belong to them. Inevitably though you end up at a nothing bar on a nothing island with some of the neighbors you’ve shared anchorages and marinas with for days and weeks on end, and sailors being a generally agreeable lot with all the same problems and similar dreams friends are made quickly and happily. 


Natalie handled her passenger much more gracefully than I did

This was the exact case with our new friends Chris, Nat, and their two boys Josh and Sam on Mikado. A quick meeting on Middle Percy Island a couple weeks back has led to smiling friendly faces at several anchorages since, and it’s wonderful to have curry nights and paddle boarding expeditions with new friends. They also are excellent at translating and teaching all of the Aussie slang that sounds so bizarre to my American ears (a barney is not a children’s TV character, but rather an argument, for example). Of course, eventually our paths will split as we continue north towards Indonesia and they round west from Cape York towards Darwin. But that’s the nature of Cruising as well, you meet fantastic people along the way and you share different pieces of your journey with different people. Everyone is a beautiful chapter in someone else’s story, but the length of that chapter in no way impacts its value or the stories and memories made therein.


The rainbow lorikeets are extremely friendly

This life is perhaps more centered around enjoying the present moment than any other lifestyle I’ve experienced or encountered. Yes, there is a tremendous amount of planning and forecasting involved, but the purpose of it all is to make now as beautiful and enjoyable a moment as possible. So it teaches you not to be sad about leaving a gorgeous postcard landscape or close friends behind, but rather to look forward to the next vista, the next ocean, the next beer and the next step with as much excitement as possible. If you’re always excited to move forward, you won’t ever be sad looking back.


Currently we’re anchored for our third day at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island (which confusingly is in no way Magnetic beyond its jaw dropping landscapes) off the coast of Queensland, preparing to move north once again. This time we are moving towards the Hinchenbrook Channel and Island, by some accounts one of the most beautiful places in Australia. The coastlines have grown less mountainous and more tropical by the day, and the weather and water gets warmer even though we can’t swim much after this stop due to Crocodiles, but who can complain from paradise? Cheers everyone, I’ll talk to you again from Cairns!


Closer shot of ‘Mikado’ under sail.

Welcome to the Whitsundays

Our push northward along the coast of Queensland has yielded our first significant destination thus far; the magnificent chain of the Whitsunday Islands. Leaving Greater Keppel Island, which was beautiful but quiet and uneventful, we decided to make a change to our overall plans and push a bit harder for northern waters where we could slow down and enjoy ourselves in the world famous Whitsundays. Thus we began the first of what will eventually be many overnight legs of the journey towards Thailand, making a continuous sail of roughly 24 hours to cover the ~100 miles to Middle Percy Island.

Sunset from the beach at Middle Percy

   Night sailing is a very interesting beast and one that I don’t think is easy to understand for many who have not done it themselves. Sailboats don’t have the capacity to anchor wherever they choose, and a lot of times it is a more efficient use of time to keep moving during the night instead of stopping every evening. To make sure that they can safely keep moving even in the dark, the vast majority of marine vessels have navigation lights installed for high visibility in low light.  These navigation lights make it easy for nearby boats to see you, as well as have an immediate idea of your orientation to them, and make sailing at night much more manageable and safe. 

A pair of Loggerhead turtles in Tongue Bay of Whitsunday Island. There are 7 species of sea turtle, 6 of which occur in Australia.

  Before dark, it is important to know your projected arrival time, the planned route, and the weather report for the night in order to make the best possible decision on where to go and how to go there. More complicated sail patterns (like ones involving the mainsail) are usually less preferred than simpler ones that can function in a wider variety of scenarios and with less manpower to manage them, as working up on deck in the dark is highly dangerous. After you have a good idea of all of these things, it’s as simple as setting a course. The crew then takes watch shifts throughout the night, the watchman making sure that the boat is sailing on its intended path, the sails are appropriate to the weather, and checking every fifteen minutes in a 360 degree radius to make sure that no boats are near. Most steering these days is done via autopilot, but barring the availability of one it is also the watchman’s job to steer the vessel to the proper course. The watchman (unless it is the captain of the vessel on that particular shift) should never alter the boats course, sail pattern, or make any major decisions at night without first waking and consulting with the captain. 

  Even seeming like a lot, it really is a very straightforward process with the hardest part being simply staying awake through the dark hours of the night. My watch was helped by staying up with my father and stepmother for parts of their shifts just so that I could become familiar with the process, and coffee and easy hot ramen meals are a staple in the middle of the night. After our first true night sail, we were all awake to watch the sun come up and a short few hours later saw all of us napping contentedly at anchor in front of Middle Percy Island.

The “Percy Hilton”, as denoted by one of its many signs.


Our contribution to Percy Island

     Middle Percy Island is, in a word, quaint. The anchorage sits on the western side of the island, and a white sand beach bordered by a tidal inlet provides a homey, welcoming sight. Overlooking the beach and anchorage is a ramshackle A-frame hut that looks as though it was there long before anyone and will continue to be long after we have all gone. It is covered every square inch in mementos and trinkets left by the many travelers the island has seen over the years. Beneath its curio covered rafters lies a fire pit where the island’s workers and visitors gather during the evenings to share food and stories by firelight as large bats wing overhead. It has the feeling of a crossroads tavern where everyone feels at home and it’s hard not to smile at all the varied souls that find their way to this remote, tiny little island off the coast of Australia. 

The sky on fire at one of our Anchorages.

   After a few days at Middle Percy spent paddle boarding through the tidal inlet, only accessible during high tide due to the nearly 20 foot tidal difference, and admiring the many White Bellied Sea Eagles that soar over the island tops, it was time to continue north. A couple small jumps to uninhabited and picturesque islands over the next few days saw us dropping anchor at Thomas Island in the southern Whitsundays. The vista north of our anchorage the next morning revealed pristine blue water reflecting great towers of volcanic stone rising out of the ocean blanketed by tropical foliage and pine trees. The Whitsundays are home to some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world, and its popularity is bespoken by the dozens of charter and tour boats we suddenly found sharing the water with us. Helicopters and sea planes buzz and whir through the skies, dropping visitors on remote beaches and bays to enjoy some of Australia’s most beautiful national parks.

The Whitsundays

  Roughly a month or two before our arrival here though, these islands took the brunt of Cyclone Debbie, and the destruction is evident particularly on the seaward side of the islands. While the majority of the foliage remains intact, the beaches are bordered by trees snapped and broken like kindling, with true greenery only appearing a few hundred yards back into the woods. Hiking in the area was a surreal experience, as even in the middle of the forests the trees are scarred and many have had their leaves stripped and some were outright broken by the cyclone winds and rain. Yet even amidst all the evident damage and destruction there is life. New green plants grow and worm their way towards the light over the broken sticks of their predecessors. Beautiful varicolor birds flit from tree to tree, and goanas (large lizards) slink slowly through the mulch and underbrush. The juxtaposition of destruction and rebirth was amazing to see even if the islands were not at their most textbook beauty, and I’m grateful, to have seen it when I did. However, our time was shortened there by a weather system bearing heavy winds and higher seas than are comfortable, so we have retreated to Airlie Beach on the mainland nearby to wait out the weather, recoup, restock, and enjoy some modern amenities for a few days. 

Overlooking White Haven Beach on Whitsunday Island.

Sunset at Scawfell Island

A juvenile Goana.

Our hiking trail.

     We will continue northward next week, as our lovely time here is a prelude to a bit more of a focused punch up towards Cairnes, where we will do the majority of our preparation for our jump to Indonesia next month. Cheers everyone!

Sea Legs

    The first few weeks in Australia were spent laughing, drinking, catching up with family, and becoming sunburnt at a truly alarming speed. Evidently the hole in the O-zone layer is over Australia, who knew? Now though my cousin has left back for the States, and we have begun moving along the coastline of Queensland. 

     The coming weeks will be filled with small day-sails and little jumps with a couple overnight or multi-day passages as we gradually move north toward Cairnes and eventually Thursday Island, which will be our final stop before the sail to Indonesia. This period of time is my chance to familiarize myself with the workings and machinations of a sailboat, and I’m glad my father and stepmother are such capable and patient teachers! Thus far I’m finding new things to bang my head on every day, and seem to have an amazing capacity for sitting right on top of something vital to the current task on the boat. I am however learning, slowly, how to move about while the boat is moving, as well as the differences in true and apparent wind and their bearings on which sail pattern to use. 

     As a former ski bum I am no stranger to checking the weather every day, though the difference now is that the sheer volume of weather information is an order of magnitude more. Additionally, the decisions you make with that large volume of weather information have a very real effect on your comfort for the next 24 hours and sometimes further! Certain anchorages (places where boats can drop anchor to rest or take shelter from inclement weather, typically places where a landmass blocks a portion of wind or current) are quite calm when the wind is from the north, but might offer no protection at all from a southern wind, for example. Swell, windspeed, current, tides, water depth, and of course storms all interact with each other in myriad ways that change entirely based on nearby land masses. This is even before you factor in the many varieties of boats and their different capabilities for handling these conditions. It is from this chaotic, ever-changing and sometimes unpredictable mass of information that sailors must make educated decisions on where and when to put themselves to minimize possible risk and (as in our case) maximize time spent in comfortable, beautiful places. 

Sunrise just outside of Bundaberg Port Marina

     We are only at our second stop of the journey north, but both places have been magnificent. After leaving Bundaberg Port Marina shortly before sunrise Tuesday morning, we struck out towards a small place called Lady Musgrave Island. Roughly 50 miles from Bundaberg, Lady Musgrave is a Maritime National Park of Australia in the Bunker Group of Islands, a wilderness reserve where the only ‘amenities’ are a few picnic tables and a small wooden lighthouse. It is also a coral cay (a small lagoon protected from the outlying swell by a ring of coral), making it a beautiful, calm anchorage under light conditions. While these coral cays are evidently quite common along the entirety of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave is one of extremely few that are navigable by boat, making it quite a unique experience. However, the lack of significant protection beyond the coral means that in larger swells and winds the anchorage becomes quite uncomfortable, and the passage out is narrow and can seem treacherous in these conditions. With the weather report calling for a few days of thunderstorms, we decided to be thankful for our one perfect sunset at Lady Musgrave and make for Pancake Creek, an inlet along the mainland where we would settle for a few days to wait out the wet weather.

The water at Lady Musgrave island is a marvelous shade of blue.

Sunset at Lady Musgrave Island

      A short 36 mile jaunt from Lady Musgrave saw us pulling into Pancake Creek, a large picturesque river with a narrow passage upstream that offers excellent protection from the swell and winds of the open water. Dropping anchor behind the point, we were greeted by a tremendous amount of birds that call this area home, including one of Australia’s massive pelicans which dwarf any I have seen in the U.S. by a large margin, and a majestic White-Bellied Sea Eagle. Fortunately there are no saltwater crocodiles here, though that will become a concern soon further north. Heidi sliced up a bluefin tuna that we caught on the short trip here, and we spent our first evening eating a mound of fresh sashimi and drinking wine under a staggering amount of stars. 

The view that greeted us at Pancake Creek

Sunset at Pancake Creek

     These last two days here have been somewhat dreary with the predicted storms rolling through, bringing the rain but not the thunder that the forecasts called for. Altogether it has been nice to simply rest and relax out of the sun for me, as my tan is not ready for days upon days of Australian sun out on the water, though hopefully it soon will be. We leave tomorrow morning for Great Keppel Island, our longest jump thus far. While I am by no means in a hurry to leave any place as beautiful as Pancake Creek, I am excited to see more of this wonderful coastline and keep attempting to be slightly less than dead weight on a sailboat. Cheers everyone!

The Journey West

     Shrinking an entire life to fit into one backpack provides some unique perspective on what is important. Oddly enough, it was easy to dispose of all the toys and things that one becomes accustomed to in the modern world; computers, phones, snowboards, skateboards, clothes for all occasions, all went into the trash or to charity. The harder thing is leaving behind the people that have carved places for themselves in your life and the places that fill memories with familiarity and comfort. 

     I’ve always been restless and have wanted to undertake a trip like this for a long time, so I was surprised at how sad I was to leave. My last few weeks in Colorado were filled with equal parts excitement, joy, nostalgia, and trepidation. Seeing old friends and new ones to celebrate a next great step makes you realize how much value is in the place you call home, and reminds you how much of yourself was built by things, people, and places that were entirely out of your control. 

     Shortly before I left a dear friend said something that really resonated though. She said: “That feeling of uncertainty and fear you have right now is a feeling we should always chase.” She’s right. That feeling of building trepidation is the same one I’ve felt before. It’s the fear before the plunge into a ski jump for the first time. It’s the nervousness of showing a chef a dish I had made for a nightly special. It’s the tongue-freezing anxiety of presenting a company to would-be customers and investors, a project that mentors had said was doomed to failure.

     I know what comes next.

     Adrenaline. Joy. Victory. An irresistible smile of rare confidence, and an insatiable desire for more. My finest moments, the ones that define me and that represent significant crossroads in my life have all been preceded by this exact same feeling. We as people are at our best and strongest not when we know the way forward, but when we forge our own way into the unknown. Great things have never once been done with certainty.

    So it was with new calm and resolution and a total of about 27 hours of planes, airports, shuttles, and one international date line that I arrived at the other side of the world in Australia. It took all of 30 minutes to see Kangaroos, they seem to have the same frequency of appearance of deer back in the states. Awesome, inquisitive, interesting creatures. Of more concern than giant hopping mammals though is the insane price of beer on this side of the Pacific, it’s nearly twice what it is in the states. Oh well, I suppose there must be some downside to long beautiful coastlines and fantastic, friendly people.

     It’s amazing after leaving one family back in Colorado that I am greeted here by another. We’ve got a condo by the beach for the next week or so as my cousin who is also visiting isn’t quite as keen on sailing as I am, but I don’t mind. I think that the best way to celebrate arriving at my new home after all these months of preparation will be to relax, catch up, and soak up sunlight as only a late-winter Coloradoan can. Cheers!

Setting Sail

Where to begin? This blog is going to be a story, a documentation of a young man’s travels beginning in Australia. The goal is nothing more than seeing the beautiful people and places of this small world, and to learn as much as possible along the way. My name is Mark Rademacher, and I am a wanderer, wonderer, and now it would seem an adventurer. Thankfully, the first stages of this journey will be with my father and wonderful stepmother on their beautiful boat Huck. I’ve been saving for this trip for the better part of a year, and preparing as best one can for something they have never done before. I’ve read textbooks and magazines, biographies and stories about the water and sailing. I’ve learned and forgotten at least 5 different kinds of knots and become more familiar with what actual piracy is than I maybe should have. I’ve sold all of my ski and skate equipment, and given away most everything else. I suppose I am as ready as I could ever be to find out just how small a part of this wide world I am. With any luck, the world won’t mind!