Friday, 19 August 2016

Bad weather + bad bureaucracy = How to waste a week at Orpheus Island

12-19 August 2016

Dawn yet to break over the marina in Townsville as we prepare to get underway.
 
With our Customs Clearance from Border Control  safely tucked away in the Nav Station, we were up early and moved Our Dreamtime out of her berth and across to Breakwater Marina’s fuel dock where we topped our fuel tanks and jerry cans to the brim. We then threw off the lines slipped from the dock and packed away our fenders for what we planned to be quite a long while. Our passage to the Louisiade Islands of Papua New Guinea was now officially underway.

Group selfie to mark the start of our passage to PNG.
Unfortunately the weather forecast was far from favourable for venturing outside the reef so our first step was a forty-six mile downwind sail to Pioneer Bay at Orpheus Island. We would shelter there from some strong winds and big seas before making our way out through the reefs via the Palm Passage for our Coral Sea crossing.

Passing Townsville's Cape Pallaranda.

Palm Island.

We had a fairly uneventful but pleasant day in fairly mild conditions and arrived in Pioneer Bay at Orpheus Island well before sunset. There are four moorings installed there but all were occupied so we found ourselves anchoring in reasonably deep water but the holding was excellent so it wasn’t a concern.


Townsville to Orpheus Island – 46.3 Nautical Miles – 8 Hours 54 Minutes Average Speed 5.2 Knots – Max Speed 7.1 Knots
Our first night's anchorage at Orpheus Island

The wind began to build the next day as predicted but we were well sheltered by the high hills of the island. It was a brilliant sunny day so we took the opportunity to do some exploring over the nearby coral reefs in the dinghy after lunch. The coral looked very healthy and we spotted a number of very large, giant clams. The whole area is a conservation Green Zone with no fishing of any sort permitted so of course the marine life was abundant. At one stage we had two massive manta-rays with wing spans of around two and a half to three metres circling the dinghy. They were mesmerising.

Lynda and Karen enjoying our exploration of Pioneer Bay

We were able to drift over the reef at low tide with great views of the coral and giant clams

Two huge manta-rays circled our dinghy.

Humpback whales were regular visitors just outside the bay.

 
Roast duck cooked on the BBQ capped off a pretty good day.
As did the sunset over Lucinda and Hinchinbrook Island.
 
What we saw through the clear waters convinced us that we really did need to get in amongst things and made plans to do some snorkelling the following day. When we did our Customs Clearance the officers asked us to email them if our departure was delayed more than 48 hours and then email them again when we actually headed offshore. With the wind howling at 30 knots in the anchorage on Saturday we did the right thing and emailed as requested. The wind may have been pumping but thankfully the sun shone again and we had a couple of amazing hours swimming over the reef at low tide. We have never seen such a concentration of giant clams anywhere in our travels. The fish were prolific and the corals amazing.

Karen enjoying the underwater wonderland.
One of many colourful giant clams we snorkelled over.

The coral was fantastic.


Another giant clams

The smaller ones have more intense colours.
 
We would have preferred to be a couple of days on our way to the Louisiades but our couple of days at delay at Orpheus Island had been very nice. However the reply we received from Border Control was not what we expected. To quote “…because you won’t be departing within the 48 hours your clearance will be withdrawn and you will need to present again for clearance. This can be done at Breakwater Marina or alternatively you can contact Cairns office and clear out from there.” They have to be kidding right?
The wind kept blowing, the rain came and stayed and the seas outside the reef were reported at four metres plus. Not surprisingly we stayed right where we were, safe at anchor.

We kept communicating with Border Control to try to sort something out,  but guess what, we were still required to report back to Townsville. We don’t blame the officers. It appears because our email was on record showing we didn’t depart within 48 hours their hands were tied. It’s just an unsafe policy to impose on sail boats. Good seamanship is to shelter in dangerous conditions not put to sea because of a time on a piece of paper. We had been watching the weather very closely working different departure planning and weather routing models. It appeared a Friday departure to the Louisiades was on the cards but the wind was going to keep blowing until then preventing us getting back to Townsville. Moral of the story - if leaving Australia on your boat, once you obtain your clearance certificate from Border Control, shut up, say nothing and do not contact them. Then just sail away when it’s safe.
Knowing we now had to return to Townsville for a new Customs clearance we had no qualms going ashore on Wednesday and catching up with friends who were also sheltering in Pioneer Bay, Gary and Anne off Chances and Brian and Petra from Bella to enjoy a great walk up to the ridge line to enjoy the views.
Abandoned shepherds hut on Orpheus Island

View back over Little Pioneers bay

L-R: Petra, Lynda, Brian,Anthony, Karen, Anne and Gary on the ridge top at Orpheus Island.

 
Brian and Rob checking the conditions on the seaward side of Orpheus Island.

By Thursday the winds had eased to the mid – high teens so we motored bow on to them from Orpheus Island bouncing our way to anchor at Fantome Island to shorten the next day’s trip a little but weren’t looking forward to the big bash.


At anchor in the shelter of Fantome Island

Pina Coladas at sunset improve the worst of days.
We upped anchor at 6.00 o'clock for our run under motor back to Townsville and were greeted by rain, a fair sized swell and 20+ knots smack bang on the bow from the time we rounded the point of Fantome Island. That was our lot for the next seven and a half hours to Breakwater Marina where two Border Control Officers met us at the fuel dock, looked at our passports and handed over a new clearance certificate. The whole process took them 90 seconds.
22.4 knots of wind on the nose, waves and rain. Not fun.

Bouncing along.
We joked about Border Control sending FA-18s to make sure we came back probably being a bit of overkill.

It was almost dark by the time we reached Magnetic Island
 
We naturally took the opportunity to top up our fuel and water tanks plus Karen managed a dash to the supermarket for more fresh fruit and veg. Then we were off again. This time on our way to Horseshoe Bay at Magnetic Island where we anchored for the night just before after clocking up 54.4 miles


Fantome Island via Townsville to Magnetic Island - 54.4 Nautical Miles - 11 Hours 46 Minutes.
 
Now the time has finally come. We will set sail for PNG via magnetic passage early in the morning. It may be some time before our next blog update as it will have to wait until we find some internet service somewhere. We MAY be able to organise some Facebook updates via our Iridium Go Satellite Coms but that's yet to be tried. In the meantime we hope you follow our progress via the Predictwind Tracker linker on the right hand side of our blog's home page. It updates every hour. Cheers!
 
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Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Rock and Rolling our way to Townsville from Cape Upstart.

6 – 11 August 2016

The alarm tone of the I-Phone sounded shrilly at 5.00am but had serious competition from the wind howling through Our Dreamtime’s rigging in her anchorage at Cape Upstart. A quick online check of the weather forecasts said we should be having 16-18 knot south easterlies. They had the direction right but our wind gauge was reading 25 knots with frequent gusts over that. It was now time for another early morning debate in the master Cabin.  Karen snugly under the sheets trying not to open her eyelids while advocating staying put as the winds are too strong and Rob hovering above putting forward the case that the higher gusts are probably a local effect funnelling over the high hills of the Cape and it was likely to be lower as predicted once we were away from the .

The problem was that the forecasts indicated if we didn’t sail the 73 nautical miles to Townsville today we’d be stuck here in Upstart limbo for at least another three as a bigger blow was on the way.  Convinced  getting underway was the right strategy, Rob played dirty by brewing a pot of fresh coffee. As soon as the enticing aroma reached the stern, Karen’s caffeine addiction kicked in and she just had to arise.

We then did manage to get organised and weigh anchor in advance of the dawn. As we expected to be sailing deep downwind we opted to pole out the genoa,  run with the second reef in our mainsail and leave the mizzen in the sail bag. Much to Rob’s relief, the wind did ease into the high teens once we were away from the shoreline. He may have never heard the end of it otherwise.

The first leg of the passage took us past the Burdekin River delta well offshore. By mid-morning we were running before freshening winds parallel to the coast along the low and seemingly never ending Cape Bowling Green. How it ever got its title is a mystery because the seas all around it are rarely flat like its namesake. Cape Rolling Green would be much more appropriate. The wind was back around 25 knots and the swells rolling under us were now two to three metres. Our Dreamtime was handling the conditions like the solid lady she is while her crew literally went with the flow as she was rocked and rolled along.

The lighthouse on Cape Bowling Green.
Definitely more like Cape Rolling Green

It was good fun surfing down swells at up to 10 knots.

 
video

Keep an eye on the horizon in the video above to get an idea how we were rolling down the swells.

It was near lunchtime before we began rounding the low sand spit at the tip of the Cape and the wind was now gusting over thirty knots. Boat speed was regularly near ten knots as we surfed down swells. Fortunately within half an hour of altering course to aim for Cape Cleveland, the north western extreme of Bowling Green Bay the wind abated to low twenties and the sea state eased a little.

It was certainly the sort of day when our life vests stayed on just in case.
 
So far the trip had been bouncy and quite fast but nicely uneventful after our last attempt at this passage three days previous when our steering broke. We were enjoying some chicken wraps Karen pre=prepared for lunch when out of nowhere Rob spotted a mass of white water about eighty metres directly ahead of our bow. The charts showed no shoals or reefs in the area and we were both instantly on our feet peering ahead trying to identify what potential danger lay before us. Then who knows how many tons of humpback whale shot out of the water about fifty metres ahead exposing almost its whole length before crashing back in an explosion of white water. We had no time for photos this time as a quick and large turn to port was our immediate priority as the gentle giant breached one more time off our starboard bow before disappearing.

With that excitement over we were careful to give the dangers of Salamander Reef a reasonably wide berth as we approached Cape Cleveland. As we sailed by its picturesque lighthouse Townsville came into view. Unbelievably, as we turned our bows towards the fairway marker the wind swung North East and we still found ourselves sailing deep downwind in twenty knots.

Salamander Reef lies just under that white water off Cape Cleveland
The Cape Cleveland Lighthouse
We avoided a couple fast Magnetic Island Ferries as we approached the port and edged our way into the anchorage behind the breakwater and just outside the marina. It is very shallow and we found ourselves anchoring in just two metres of water at low tide.

So much for all the stuff stowed on the v-berth.
What a sleigh ride. At 72.6 nautical miles (135 kilometres) in just over ten hours it was our longest ever day hop and one of the fastest. We were certainly relieved to have arrived in daylight as we had suspected we may have had to anchor up in the darkness. We opened a bottle of red and enjoyed it with the lamb shanks that had been cooking away all day in our Thermos Shuttle Chef before collapsing into our bunk.

Townsville from our spot behind the breakwater
Cape Upstart to Townsville – 72.6 Nautical Miles  - 10 Hours 10 Minutes 
Average Speed 7.15 knots Max Speed 10.1 knots
 
The next few days were busy getting stuck into our final preparations and sourcing last minute things we needed. Our new friend, Rod, kindly chauffeured us all over town on Monday before hosting us for a magnificent dinner at his home with fantastic views over much of the city.
Rob, Karen, Rod and Anthony enjoying pre-dinner drinks on Rod's balcony.
 
Two and a half hours were lost on Tuesday morning in the offices of Australian Border Control filling in reams of superfluous paperwork we had no idea existed so we could clear customs and leave Australia. The levels of bureaucratic  bullshit in our country is ridiculous. There is miles of information online about what is required when arriving in Australia with a yacht but almost nothing about what you have to do to leave.

We moved into a berth at the Breakwater Marina on Wednesday to make it easier loading on provisions etc and that’s where we had to be for final clearance by customs. Long time friends Peter and Marianne lent us a car which was put to good use picking up supplies and getting last minute bits from chandleries. Anthony and Lynda also moved aboard and settled in. That night we were joined by Peter and Marianne along with Stephanie and Macca for drinks and plenty of laughs as always.

Anthony dividing 25 kilos of rice destined for Louisiade Islanders into zip lock bags
Three officers of Australian Border Control came to the boat in the afternoon and after half an hour of questions and a look around issued us with our clearance to leave. Yee-Ha!  Tomorrow morning would be it.
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Disabled and adrift in Upstart Bay

August 3-5, 2016.

Another early morning start saw us underway across Upstart Bay heading for Townsville well before the sun appeared above the horizon. With over 70 nautical miles to travel, we knew it was going to be a long day but had no idea just how challenging it would turn out to be. Again the wind was stronger than the high teens predicted for the morning. Our gauge seemed permanently stuck around 25 knots but ALL the forecasts we checked had agreed that the wind would ease right down through the day. In the meantime we had two reefs in the mainsail, left the mizzen in the bag and had the genoa pulling us downwind nicely.

We had been underway for about an hour when we found the auto-pilot having trouble holding course and the boat weaving considerably back and forward. We blamed the large swells pushing through on our stern quarter and tried resetting it a couple of times with no improvement.  Rob began hand steering and quickly discovered he was also having trouble keeping us headed in the right direction.

Then it happened. He was counter-steering  the boat as it surfed down a large swell when he felt something break and the wheel spun in his hands with no effect. It took a moment to get past the shock of what had just occurred and asses our situation. We had no steering in 25 knot winds and two metre seas on a lee shore. Not good.

With the rudder doing nothing, the boat turned itself pretty much into the wind so we were able to furl away the headsail and then reduce the main to a tiny handkerchief of canvas. Our Dreamtime then ‘lay a hull’ drifting pretty much sideways at about a knot and half towards the shore. Upstart Bay is quite shallow. We were only in 13 metres of water and considered dropping the anchor. In the conditions we expected the boat to be rocking and rolling madly but were actually surprised that she was sitting reasonably well.  Under no circumstances could you describe things as smooth but we did expect them to be far worse. We knew we had plenty of sea room to the shoreline so decided to leave things as they were while we looked for the problem with the steering.

Rob went below and cleared everything off our bunk in the stern to access the rudder area.  He soon discovered our tiller arm had broken disconnecting the rudder from the hydraulic steering ram. As a precaution we then contacted the local Volunteer Marine Rescue by radio and advised them of our situation. We let them know we planned to fit the emergency tiller but would appreciate them being on standby in case we needed assistance.

Rob reporting our situation to the awesome team at Burdekin VMR.
Our emergency tiller is stored in a locker at the stern behind our bunk. Of course it was buried under a hundred other things we’d loaded on top of it for the trip to PNG. It all had to come out and ended up spread all over the boat before we could extract the emergency tiller shaft and arm.

That achieved, Rob went out on the stern to fit it. The first job was to remove the cap on the tiller shaft deck fitting and here is where we learnt yet another lesson about boat preparation and maintenance. When we bought Our Dreamtime we thought we were very particular checking it had everything including the emergency tiller but we never actually test fitted. Now we found we couldn’t undo the cap on the deck fitting. It’s a simple job with the special tool made for the job but we didn’t have one. Rob tried with multi-grips but couldn’t budge it. Working on a heaving and rolling deck in howling wind certainly didn’t help either.

The cap wouldn't come off the emergency tiller deck fitting.
Now we really were in trouble. We then advised Burdekin VMR that we would need a tow. The only place they could take us was back to our previous night’s anchorage.  They let us know they would get a crew together and launch their boat but it would take some time. Meanwhile Rob put his thinking cap on and began working on jury rigging the broken tiller arm so we could try to get underway ourselves.

It seemed like a long shot but he decided to try to hold its broken jaws together with a couple of big hose clamps. Incredibly we found it held together just well enough for us to gently turn the rudder about half way in each direction. We contacted the VMR boys again and let them know we were going to try heading back into Upstart under our own power but would appreciate them still launching to standby as we were not sure our patch would last.

Two large hose clamps were enough to hold things together - just.
We then had a very slow motor straight into the wind and waves eight miles back to the spot we’d left a few hours earlier. Fortunately the deeper into the bay we got and the later in the morning it became the wind and sea state did progressively settle right down as forecast. We made it all the way back successfully and were very relieved to drop anchor in now calm waters.

Our Upstart Bay wanderings.
The bronze tiller arm cracked on one side and broke right through on the other.
Where we anchored again deep in Upstart Bay off Molongil Creek.

Rob just had time to remove the broken tiller arm before the VMR boat arrived from where they had launched in nearby Molongil Creek. We can’t say enough about the assistance the Burdekin VMR guys provided. On their way to launch they had even collected one of their members who worked as a maintenance engineer at the local sugar mill in case he could effect any sort of repair for us. He confirmed the rudder stock itself and keyway were fine then quickly phoned an engineering works in nearby Home Hill to discuss having a new tiller arm machined up for us. With that all organised, they said their goodbyes, took our broken bits with them as a sample and delivered them for us.

The fantastic Burdekin VMR boys arrive. We wish the sea had been like this in the morning.
By now it was almost midday on Thursday with the weekend fast approaching. Knowing the total lack of urgency we’ve found when dealing with most marine works we now feared we could be marooned in Upstart Bay for days if not weeks. You can imagine how amazed we were when Brendan, the engineer, rang us a couple of hours later and said he would have a new one made for us by lunchtime the next day. Wow!
The original tiller arm had served perfectly for over thirty years so the question we were asking ourselves was why did it break now? When the boat was out of the water in the shipyard at Bundaberg we wanted to repack the rudder stock stuffing box which was weeping a little water into the boat. It hadn’t been done for years and everything was quite seized up. Rob found his old arthritic elbows weren’t up to the job of freeing it all up so we paid a shipwright to do the job. Much banging and belting had been his technique and it appears he overworked the metal when forcing open the jaws of the bronze tiller arm to get it off and then over tightened them when refitting. This caused small cracks in each arm which then progressively opened up more and more in the two months of sailing up the coast before eventually breaking under load. If we’d put up with the slight weep and left it all alone it may have lasted another thirty years but who knows. On the other hand it could have broken in the middle of the Coral Sea which would have been much more dangerous.
 
In the calm of the anchorage, Rob was able to think about the recalcitrant deck cap on the emergency tiller and suddenly had a blinding flash of the obvious realising the tool we had for changing discs on our angle grinder would probably fit it. Sure enough thirty seconds later it was off and ready for service. Hopefully now we have it sorted we’ll never need to use it.
Meanwhile Karen was engaged in the not inconsiderable job of re-stowing everything and putting the boat back together below. After our early start, hectic activity and high stresses, we were now exhausted and spent the rest of the afternoon flat on our backs recovering.
Anthony and Lynda, who are joining us for the trip were staying with friends in Townsville awaiting our arrival. Their host, Rod, kindly offered to drive them down to Home Hill where they picked up our shiny new, very heavy duty stainless steel tiller arm and delivered it down to the boat ramp at Molongil Creek where Rob met them on a four mile round trip in our dinghy mid afternoon.
By now the wind was back and strengthening but coming from the southeast. We were very keen to move across the bay to the Cape shore for improved protection so it was a real relief when the new arm was a perfect fit and tapped straight on with no play in it at all. It may not have been cheap but it is awesome. Thank you Brendan at Burdekin Engineering Works in Home Hill. You are a superstar.

Brendan at Burdekin Engineering Works did a great job making our new stainless steel tiller arm as a rush order.

It's much stronger than the original bronze one and fitted perfectly.
We wasted no time getting the anchor up and relocating just before sunset. We still had a rocky night but it was far better than what we would have experienced if we’d still been stuck in the open water on the western side of the bay.

With big South Easters overnight we got re-anchored as close to the shore of Cape Upstart as we could.
With the wind still blowing like stink on Saturday morning we made the most of another enforced lay day in Upstart Bay to complete the last pieces of our watermaker overhaul jigsaw fitting the new high pressure vessel and membrane. Then it was a case of turning it all on. We ran it for thirty minutes on bypass twice to flush any chemical coatings out of the system then switched the pressure valve to start producing drinking water from the sea and held our breath. Seeing clean, clear water start flowing from the test spigot was such a relief after all our work and investment to bring the system back to life. We should now be relatively water self-sufficient when we reach the Louisiade Islands.

Rob fitting our new high pressure vessel for the watermaker deep in the bowels of the boat.


Pure, clear water from the sea via our reverse osmosis watermaker.
The forecasts indicated we would need to make for Townsville the next day in winds a bit under twenty knots or wait until Wednesday as Monday and Tuesday were predicted to be stronger with big seas. We'd now spent two unplanned days in Upstart Bay and can't say the conditions were conducive to evoking fond memories of the place but we'd certainly learnt from our experiences there.  Best of all, we had a seaworthy boat again. We’d overcome our biggest challenge since moving aboard Our Dreamtime and were now ready to resume our trip.

Goodnight from Upstart Bay - again.



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If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.
 
We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.