The Joys of Cruising

“If you’re always excited to move forward, you won’t ever be sad looking back.”

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

“…small day sails and little jumps…”

    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

“Great things have never once been done with certainty.”

     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!