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.

     

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!