Monday, August 19, 2019

Hervey Bay, Fraser Island, Great Sandy Straits

We left Bundaberg for the world’s largest sand island and UNESCO World Heritage site, Fraser Island. We upped anchor at 6:30 am and had a lovely beam reach from 7 am until we anchored in Platypus Bay at 4 pm. The day was sunny but it started off cold so we wore hoodies and jackets and we searched the boat trying to find where we had stored the sailing gloves! Between August and November, the shallow waters (maximum depths of 36 metres) of Hervey Bay are home to migrating humpback whales and within an hour of setting sail, we came upon two breaching whales. Then we spotted two pink and grey birds hitching a ride on the backstay. One flew off and the other made itself comfortable on the wind generator (it was tied off) for the entire 6 hour sail to Fraser Island. A quick look in the, Birds of Australia, book identified the bird as a Galah. They aren’t sea birds, so we think they got blown offshore by the wind and were struggling to fly back to land.

As we dropped the sails to anchor, another whale and some dolphins passed close by, the temperature had warmed up and we were thrilled to be sailing after so long ashore! Fraser Island is a strange mix of sand dunes, sand cliffs, tropical forests and freshwater lakes that host some 230 species of birds. Platypus Bay is a 25 kilometre crescent of white sand beach on the western side of Fraser Island. We anchored off of Triangle Cliffs, an area where the sand reaches up to almost 13 metres from the beach. Some of the higher dunes on Fraser Island reach 260 metres.
Dina heading up the dune

Dina 'splashing' the sand as she hops down the dune.

After climbing the sand dune we walked along the beach for about an hour before returning to the boat. We could see one other boat anchored a few miles north of us, but we had this whole section of the beach to ourselves. We enjoyed the wildlife and the quiet.
Sand balls from a Bubbler crab
Empty Beach on Fraser Island

Beach flower

A few days later we motored further south along Platypus Bay to Arch Cliffs. We took our time and spent an hour watching a couple of whales, along with a large tour boat and 10 kayakers. A turtle kept its eye on us as well. Later that evening, as we enjoyed the sunset, two whales swam by. Then in the morning, we heard a very loud breath and rushed outside to see two more whales.
Whale in Hervey Bay

We moved further south along Fraser Island to Moon Point, the northern entrance to the Great Sandy Strait – about 40 miles of the shallow waterways separating Fraser Island from the rest of Australia. From here, until we sailed back into the open ocean at Wide Bay Bar, our boat speed was usually more than the depth underneath the boat. Initially, it felt unsafe motoring at 5 knots in 4 metres of water, but the depths are consistent and the bottom is all sand, so it soon felt normal.

At Moon Point, we anchored in about 4 metres of water and watched it drop to 2.4, 2.3 and then 2.2 metres at low tide. Our boat draws 1.85 metres, which means there was less than half a metre between our boat and the sandy bottom! Our initial anxiety over depth was rewarded with a lively dugong hanging out near the boat.

We continued south and anchored off cruiser-friendly Kingfisher Bay Resort. A dugong grazed near the boat, showing its tail regularly, for a couple of days. One evening we watched a dingo explore the beach. We stretched our legs on a forest path around the resort and had lovely views of Good as Gold at anchor and of the Great Sandy Strait.
Good as Gold anchored off Kingfisher resort

View of the Great Sandy Straits

We followed another boat south to Garry’s Anchorage and even radioed a sailboat we could see on AIS to ask for waypoints as we were questioning whether there was enough depth for us to enter the anchorage. There are a lot of powerboats and catamarans in this area of Australia and with the shallow waters, we can understand why! A local sailboat, Isabella, directed us to an anchoring “hole” of 5 metres and we settled in with several other boats. With the wind up, we decided not to go ashore, but we were kept entertained by several turtles and dugongs. We found out the next day that salties (Australian saltwater crocodiles) have been spotted in the anchorage and there was a sign on the beach suggesting people keep small dogs out of the water! Yikes!

We next moved on to anchor at Pelican Bay, just before the Wide Bay Bar at the south end of Fraser Island. Not only were there pelicans, but dolphins also came into the anchorage. In this part of Australia, there are a lot of bar crossings, where an outbound river meets up against the prevailing wind and the inbound tide to create some shallows that can be quite treacherous with crazy wave action in the wrong conditions. The Wide Bay Bar is supposed to be one of the worst. The next morning, armed with fresh waypoints from the local marine rescue organisation, and proper timing of the tidal flow, we motored across the bar without an issue. With light winds we sailed the short distance to Double Island Point and anchored for the night.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Returning to the boat in Australia

Everything went well in Canada, Malcolm even did a ski season again at Big White and Dina picked up a one-year contract. After 18 months, Malcolm flew to Australia to start getting Good as Gold ready for more cruising. When he arrived in Bundaberg, he quickly made plans to get a new coat of bottom paint and have the boat put back in the water. It has to be said that a lot of dust and dirt can accumulate over 18 months, so there was a lot of cleaning to do inside and out.
Getting ready for new paint
All ready for the water with NEW PAINT!

Good as Gold on the dock at Bundaberg Port Marina

After so many years of use, the anchor and chain needed to be re-galvanized. This provides a nice coating of zinc to help prevent corrosion. Malcolm sent the anchor off to a shop in town, but the chain was too corroded so we ended up purchasing a new one. The new chain needed to be marked at various lengths so we would know how much we are putting out while anchoring. Instead of the usual idea of using colour paint (which wears off) or cable ties (they break off), it was the perfect time to try tying on short pieces of coloured, really durable, line.
Corroded anchor chain, not worth saving

Coloured spectra lines on the new chain (4 yellow = 40m)

Wow, that anchor looks new!

By the time Dina arrived, 4 weeks after Malcolm, the boat was in reasonable living condition. It was now time to tackle lots of little jobs that needed to be done, just basic upkeep like any home. Some of these jobs were simple maintenance items and some were new improvements.
Malcolm made this for cleaning the track the headsail slides into.

Time for new fire extinguishers, new flares and a new liferaft (ours was 30 years old)

Malcolm up the mast running some lines.

Malcolm has ALWAYS BEEN ANNOYED with the storage space we call “The Pantry”. IT IS TOO TALL AND NOTHING SITS IN IT PROPERLY!!!!! SO he made some shelves and Dina painted them. Malcolm has also BEEN ANNOYED BY THE FREEZER COMPARTMENT for pretty much the same reason, so new shelves were made for it too. Along the way, Dina’s closet got some shelves.
New shelves! 
New faucet too

The only big issue we had was trying to get the generator started. After lots of investigation, it looked like we needed to spend a good bit of money to repair it. We have way more than enough power from our solar panels, and have almost never used the generator in the 9 years we’ve owned the boat. So instead of fixing it, we took it out. Now there is lots of room in the engine compartment to access the various parts of the engine. There was also room to get at the ceiling and add some LED lights. These two things pleased us more than getting the generator running ever would have!
So much space without the generator

After six weeks of all these little projects it was finally time to get going. We ordered a bunch of provisions from a large grocery chain and had them delivered right to the marina.

Good thing we have those shelves to hold all this food
All clean and ship-shape
The boat had been sitting at the dock this whole time, but that was okay because of the nice new bottom paint. The dinghy, however, needed to have all the growth cleaned off. We motored over to a nearby beach and spent an hour scraping everything off Tubby’s hull.
Pretty shaggy with all that growth
Nice and clean

After that we returned to the boat and finally left the dock . We anchored at the mouth of the river and were ready to go.
Sunset at the anchorage

Friday, November 17, 2017

New Caledonia and on to Australia

It was an easy 2 1/2 day sail to New Caledonia from Vanuatu, and it turns out that our charts are very accurate here (that’s often a question when arriving in a new country). Although New Caledonia has many beautiful islands and reefs, we were here for Malcolm to see the cardiologist so we anchored in the main harbour in the capital city of Noumea. We made an appointment and found the cardiologist to be a really nice guy from France who now lives here. He explained there is a new procedure that can be done which usually prevents atrial fibrillation, but we’d have to go to Australia or Canada to get it done.

We spent a bunch of our time in Noumea looking for where to put the boat for cyclone season, looking for flights to Vancouver, and so on. When we weren’t doing those things we did explore the town, which has several great places to get delicious food (French and tropical) and strong coffee!

Meeting the owner of a great cafe in Noumea

Our friends on Roxanne were also in Noumea, so we took a road trip with them up to the northern part of the island were there are some lovely bays and mountains.

At our final appointment with the cardiologist we told him that we’re taking the boat to Australia to store it for the cyclone season and then flying to Vancouver to see about getting the procedure done. He recommended that Malcolm NOT go on the 6 day sail because of the medication he was on. Upon hearing this, our friend Tom quickly volunteered to help Dina with the boat and let Malcolm fly to Vancouver from Noumea.

A few days later, that’s what we did. Malcolm flew to Vancouver while Dina and Tom sailed Good as Gold for 6 days and arrived safely in Bundaberg, Australia. There was no problem checking into the country, and Tom was a great help getting the boat ready for long term storage. 

Within a few days, Good as Gold was safely put away at the marina in Bundaberg, Dina was on a flight to Vancouver and Tom was on a flight back to his boat in Noumea.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Leaving Vanuatu

Our plan was to continue north to the Torres island group, an even more remote part of Vanuatu, and then sail on to the Solomon Islands. Sailing plans have to be flexible. Somewhere along the way, Malcolm got a bug bite on his leg that got infected and wasn’t really responding to the medication we had on board. Our friends, Chuck and Laurie on Free Spirit, had met up with us in Ureparapara and they both had cuts or bites that were not responding to medication. Perhaps the medication had expired, but we didn’t know. What we were sure of was that we were 2-3 days from medical assistance and going to an even more remote place was a bad idea. Free Spirit was already planning on heading south, and we decided that heading back to “civilization” was a good idea, so both boats left Ureparapara and sailed south.
Woman walking to her garden to collect food

Waterfall on Sola

The weather was a bit rough, but not unreasonable, so three days later we were anchored in the northern end of Espiritu Santo, at Port Orley. Chuck and Laurie both reported that their skin infections were healing nicely and Malcolm’s bug bite seemed to finally be responding to the medication. However, there was another problem. The apprehension Malcolm had been feeling about the passage south was not going away. He was experiencing a minor heart issue known as atrial fibrillation, were the heart doesn’t beat steadily. It’s not immediately life threatening, but needs to be addressed. We hitched a ride to a medical clinic at the south end of the island where an Australian doctor confirmed the diagnosis and said we should get to Port Vila soon because he couldn’t do much for us there. He confirmed that we didn’t need to fly there, but that we should get on our way.

Pretty flowers

So off we went, heading south to Port Vila, about a week away. Along the way, our main GPS antenna died. We switched from using our main chartplotter to using our backup system of an android tablet with a navigation app (Navionics). The backup system worked fine, except that the screen is impossible to see in the sunshine so we’d often have one person driving and the other one shielding the device from the sun.

We went to the New Zealand doctor in Port Vila we had met before, and she confirmed the diagnosis as well. She also said that Vanuatu doesn’t have the modern facilities that New Caledonia has, so we should head there soon. There wasn’t enough wind to sail there right away, and we barely had enough fuel to motor there, so we stayed put for a few days.

The next day, Free Spirit arrived into Port Vila, and the weather was looking better for a departure in a couple of days. Since neither doctor was too concerned about Malcolm’s condition, he and Laurie went on a mission. We’d been told there is no limit to the amount of alcohol and wine you could bring into New Caledonia, as long as it’s for personal use and stays on your boat. Malcolm and Laurie went to each of the duty free shops that service the cruise ships, checked out the prices for various items and made a list. The next day, we got ready to leave by visiting the authorities and checking out of the country. This meant that we had 24 hours to depart for New Caledonia and that Malcolm and Laurie had the paperwork that lets them purchase duty free liquor! The prices were a lot better than those duty free shops in most airports. Most of the one-litre bottles, for name brand gin, tequila, rum, and so on, were around $20. Our next port of call was Noumea, in New Caledonia, where they have some good French wine, so they just bought liquor. Malcolm and Laurie felt a little guilty when the delivery truck showed up with 18-20 bottles for each of them, but another cruiser had done the same thing and had 4 cases (12 bottles per case) delivered.

Our bottles got stowed on Good as Gold and we got ready to set sail for New Caledonia. The weather was cooperating, the doctor had recommended a cardiologist for us, the backup navigation system was working fine and our friends on Roxanne were already in New Caledonia. Vanuatu has certainly been our favourite place so far. The people, the geography and the coffee were all awesome.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Torba province is pretty remote and does not get many visitors. Of the few yachts that do come this far north, very few go past Sola, that motivated us to go further north. The next stop after Sola is the island of Ureparapara. The island was formed by an ancient volcano, and the north east portion is “missing” so the crater is actually a large bay.

Satellite image of Ureparapara

It took most of the day to sail from the northern edge of Vanua Lava to Ureparapara. It was somewhat surreal pulling into the bay, surrounded on three sides by steep jungle-covered walls rising out of what used to be the volcano crater. The only spot to anchor is just off the village at the end of the bay. The village is typical, perhaps a bit prettier than most. Everyone we met was very friendly and curious about us. The village chief told us that about 5 yachts visit every year. There are probably about 150 people living on the island, and nobody has any electricity other than an old car/boat battery and some donated LED lights.

The market

The main path includes a bridge

We found the school and were welcomed by the teachers. We met some of the students and showed them our route on the world map hanging in the classroom. The “Sports” list showed that tomorrow’s activity was frisbee so we made a plan to return the next day to play “Ultimate”. Malcolm had an idea, so we stopped by the chief’s hut on the way back and confirmed that none of the children have ever been off the island. 

Largest hut in the village (not the chief)

Pretty sitting area

The next morning Malcolm grabbed the camera, then put all of our ice cubes into a large thermos and we headed to the school for a bit of science before frisbee. At the school, we told the teacher what was in the thermos and he was excited. He confirmed that none of the kids, ages 10-15, had ever seen ice. With about 30 kids and two teachers around us Malcolm started to explain that we brought something they’d not seen, that we have a machine on the boat that makes things very very cold. So cold that water changes to a solid, just like you’ve heard about in science class. Malcolm pulled out an ice cube and showed them it was hard. It was melting fast, so Malcolm let the drops of water fall into his mouth. The kids were amazed, and Malcolm handed out ice cubes while Dina operated the camera. Some kids were afraid to touch the ice. It was so strange for them to handle anything that cold. A lot of them were very reluctant to drink any of the water that ended up in there hands.

Malcolm handing out ice cubes

Excited students

In the tropical heat, the ice cube adventure was over quickly. We asked about the frisbee and were told they don’t really follow the posted sports schedule and they don’t know what to do with the frisbee. However, a student ran and got it so it was time to play.

Before we knew it, the kids were splitting themselves into two teams, not caring about gender or age, and Malcolm was looked to for guidance. We played a modified soccer/ultimate game with all of the kids at once. Only Malcolm ended up playing because Dina is smarter(?) and took photos. 

Frisbee game

It's good to be tall
After running around for 30 minutes, the teacher asked about drills, so Malcolm made up a few for them to use for practice. By this point, Malcolm needed to get back to the boat and rest with a nice cold drink. But he had given out all our ice!