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!