Thursday 30 June 2011

The Lines are cast off

23 June 2011
The journey proper has begun. We threw off the lines from Marlin Marina in Cairns at 8.30 yesterday morning and took Nae Hassle out through the leads of Trinity Inlet headed for Lizard Island. The wind was a very gentle 10 to 15 knots from the South South West for most of the morning however the forecast had things strengthening to 20 to 25 later in the day.
The first order of business was to rig and deploy the mackerel rig we bought in Cairns. One evening in the Marina well into sundowners, Karen had assured the rest of the crew they would be well provided for with plenty of fish on the voyage and it only took 20 minutes for them to start reminding us of our boast and ask for some results. The standing joke became “Any fish yet? Asked by one of the trio at least three or four times an hour.
We enjoyed a steady sail north as I took the first three hour watch overseen by Colin and Milin with Karen taking over for the Noon to 3pm shift. The strengthening wind pushed us nicely on towards Low Isle at around six and a half knots under reefed main and no headsail. Shortly after Karen was relieved at the helm by Marc I spotted a strike on our lure trolling behind the boat and pulled in a very nice spotted mackerel which Karen quickly converted into mackerel steaks all nicely bagged and away for tomorrow’s dinner. And so ended the ribbing from Colin, Milin and Marc about the fish supplies.
The passage from Cairns is about 145 nautical miles so our departure had been timed to provide an arrival shortly after sun up. Karen, Mark and I rotated through 3 hour watches through the night while Colin and Milin alternated being with us as we learned the ropes. There was plenty of large commercial shipping about along with trawlers working near the coast so we were kept on our toes. The wind began to pick up in earnest during my 6-9 stint and by the time I handed over to Karen it was blowing a steady 20 knot south easterly. Karen saw this strengthen to 25 to 30 knots during her watch where it has stayed ever since.
Nae Hassle is a sturdy 57 footer and with reefed main alone produced a very handy 7.5 to 8.5 knots through the night and handled the moderate seas very confidently. However being on the stern quarter made things very rollie and not the most comfortable. I had my first experience of sleeping in a bunk with a lee cloth rigged to stop you from falling out of bed onto the deck. Very different to our four poster at home I must say.
On cue we duely arrived at Lizard Island just after dawn and were anchored up by 8.20am giving us a passage time of just ten minutes over the 23 hour mark for the 144.6 nautical mile journey.
The rest of the day was spent catching up on sleep, tidying the boat up and, finally, devouring our mackerel steaks for dinner, beautifully done by Karen with a mint salsa.
 The theory was to head on to Flinders Island tomorrow but the wind has continued to blow with gusts over 30 and never dropping under 20knots. The forecast is also not that encouraging with these winds predicted to last for days. In Cairns we found a few strands of stainless wire unravelling in the forestay which is never a good thing. Unfortunately replacement stainless cable was not available locally so Colin elected to order a new forestay for delivery to Darwin and we have sailed with two spare halyards moved forward to help backup the weakened forestay. Seeing this is what keeps the mast up we're not too keen to head out in gusts of 30+ wind at the moment.
24 June 2011
I was lucky enough to visit Lizard Island over twenty years ago and have always told Karen I wanted to bring her here one day as I consider it one of the most amazing places in Australia. I often spoke of snorkelling in the crystal clear waters rich in brightly coloured soft and hard corals teeming with more fish life than I have seen anywhere on earth. The many bays feature golden sand beaches rather than crushed coral and the tallest point on the island is the very spot Captain James Cook climbed to survey a path out through the reefs that had so nearly claimed his Endeavour. The islands history also includes the tragic story of Mrs Watson who fled her stone cottage with her infant when attacked by aboriginals from the mainland while her husband was away collecting sea cucumbers. She successfully escaped to sea during the night using a large cooking vat as a boat only to perish from thirst on a nearby islet.
We are currently anchored in Watson’s Bay near the ruins of Mrs Watsons cottage and unfortunately the island is not living up to the glowing image I had conveyed to Karen as the wind has continued to blow 25 to 30 knots with grey skies and passing showers since we arrived. We are boat bound as in these winds we wouldn’t dare launch our Avon inflatable dingy of the stern deck. I’m sure if we tried it would be us that would be launched, parasail style.
So there’s been plenty of time to read, chat and just to prove our fishing was no fluke, Karen and I decided to try our luck with a bit of bottom fishing off the swim platform at the stern. Ten minutes later Karen had landed a beautiful big sweetlip for tonight’s dinner. The funny thing is that our fridge and freezer are full to the brim with provisions to last us to Darwin. As a result we can only catch what we can eat because there’s no room to put it anywhere. The skipper is now joking that if we keep this up the meat we bought will still be in the freezer when we get to Singapore. As he’s a Scotsman this is very appealing to his sense of thrift.

Monday 20 June 2011

Slight delay but who cares

Lesson one in cruising is schedules are always flexible depending on weather and one thousand other variables. Well the weather has been perfect for sailing but before you sail you get the boat ready for sea. Unfortunately at times different parts of that process can be out of your control, and our departure from Cairns has been delayed by a couple of days while we wait for the rigger to finish up some maintenance on Nae Hassle.  All good. Lizard Island will still be there. We now plan to leave on Wednesday morning for a roughly 24 hour passage to our first anchorage.

I could get to like this cruising life.

Meanwhile we have managed numerous trips to the supermarket, stocking the larder with all sorts of delicacies we will consume on the way to Darwin. Of course we are planning on supplementing these with all the fish we are going to catch along the way. As you can see from the photo, we have also managed to ensure the boat has adequate “Sundowner” supplies for us to reach Malaysia without going thirsty. It might look like a ridiculous amount of booze but it actually equates to 2.5 glasses of wine per head per night excluding the estimated 14 nights we will be under way and not anchored up. The rule on board is “If the anchor is up the glass is down” and we’ll all be having AFD’s (alcohol free days)  when we’re doing overnight passages.

Despite not even leaving the marina yet we are quickly settling into life aboard and enjoying  getting to know our Scottish skipper Colin and his partner, Milin, along with our fellow crew member, Marc. Dinner ends up a three or four hour affair as we chat on. I didn’t think about it until just now but we haven’t seen a TV for almost a week and certainly haven’t missed it. Cairns is also not a bad place to be in June, particlularly compared to the weather we had been experiencing at home before we left.
Tomorrow we’ll rerig the genoa on the furler,  fuel the boat, stow all that wine away and make the final preparations for our adventure proper  to commence. Once we head off internet access will be patchy until we reach Darwin but we’ll update this blog each time we can get service.

Friday 17 June 2011

So it begins.

June 17 2011
Well my final event as head of the Willowbank Raceway commentary team became a slight anti-climax as rain halted proceedings after two of the four days but I am very appreciative of the presentation made to me by Willowbank President John Winterburn marking the end of my 21 years on the microphone at the Raceway and over 32 in all. It was much appreciated.
Then we finally hit the “no days to go” mark and flew from Brisbane on June 15 to join “Nae Hassle” in the Marlin Marina at Cairns where we are now making final preparations to sail north around Cape York and across to Darwin for the Sail Indonesia rally.  The last couple of weeks were a hectic schedule of last minute arrangements and farewell, dinners, drinks, lunches, more drinks and catch ups. We have been overwhelmed by the number of well wishes we have received and amused by the almost equal number of people who didn’t believe we were really going to go through with our cruising plan.  A huge thank you to all our family who have been so supportive and helped us get almost everything done before we left and are dealing with lose ends left behind.
Karen with Milin on board Nae Hassle in Cairns
Nae Hassle is a Benateau 57 footer and we have settled in nicely. Owners, Colin and Milin have been welcoming and we have now also been joined by Marc, the fifth member of our crew. Marc is from the UK and is also embarking on his first cruising  experience. Along with a German cruising couple tied up on one side of us, we all joined the Canadian couple on their yacht Gavia Artica for Sundowners yesterday afternoon. It was amazing listening to stories of different places all around the world  they have experienced in their travels.

Nae Hassle flanked by Symi and Gavia Artica
We have spent the last couple of days settling in on the boat. For a yacht our cabin is huge as evidenced by the fact that we have even managed to fit all our belongings away.  Despite our best efforts to pack as light as possible when you are going away indefinitely you do tend to end up with a lot of STUFF. Karen did incredibly well to get her clothes and gear (including 12 pairs of bikinis I’m told is the absolute minimum required number for the trip) into one duffle bag. By the time I included equally essential computer, camera and video gear, my duffle bag certainly ended up a bit lighter on in the clothing department so don’t be surprised to see the same t-shirts etc popping up in a lot of the photos we plan to post here.
Our GPS Spot tracker is doing its job perfectly and if you click on the link to the right and go to the satellite version you’ll see exactly where in the marina we are currently moored. We intend to update our fix each day that we are on the move so it will be possible to follow us through the whole route.  Speaking of which, the current plan is to head off on Monday or Tuesday with our first stop being Lizard Island.
As much as we have been enjoying the start to our adventure today is a particularly sad day for us. Our wonderful daughter Yasmin has been so kind to allow us to store our personal goods in her garage while we satisfy our wanderlust. As a precaution against rodent damage we scattered a number of rat baits around the place before locking it all up so Yaz’s precious pups couldn’t get anywhere near them. Unfortunately it appears that little Baxter dog has got a mouse or rat that had ingested the poison and despite the vets best efforts passed away this morning. After living with Yaz and baby Lyla for the last month and spending so much time with Taco and Baxter we are devastated and know how much Yasmin is feeling his loss.  Baxter took a particular shine to Karen while we were there, never being more than a foot or two from her wherever she moved. Despite her repeated threats to “unfriend” him facebook style when he was flatulent while sitting on her lap, Karen actually enjoyed his attention and has been particularly upset by this unexpected turn of events. Sometimes life is very unfair.

Thursday 2 June 2011

Where and When

As we get closer and closer to “D” for Departure Day we are constantly being asked  where we will be sailing and how long we will be gone so here goes.

While our original plan had been to buy our own yacht in the Mediterranean and spend the next few northern summers exploring the ancient and modern wonders of this area, the depressed state of the real estate market has seen us move to Plan B until things pickup and we can sell a couple of houses. We will now be sailing as crew on other peoples boats who enjoy having another couple on board for company and to help sail the boat.

Thanks to, the first stage of our trip begins in Cairns on June 16 when we join owners Colin and Milin on board the Beneteau 57 “Nae Hassle” and head north up the east coast of Cape York, hopefully making a stop at Lizard Island on our way to the Torres Straight. We then head across the Gulf of Carpentaria towards Gove then on to Darwin.  Here we will provision the boat for the trip and join the Sail Indonesia Rally fleet of over 100 yachts and multihulls. On July 16 we all gather for a farewell Barbeque at the Darwin Sailing Club for all crew members followed by the Rally Briefing and Information Day on the 19th. July 23 is the big day as Sail Indonesia begins at 11 am in Darwin Harbor with a mass start as yachts destined for Saumlaki and Kupang all start together.

Along with most of the fleet, we will take the western route clearing customs into Indonesia in Kupang in western Timor. During the following three months we will be taking in some of the series of Events and Cultural Festivals at the different stopovers across Indonesia on the islands of Timor, Buton, Lembata, Flores, Sulawesi, Bali, Java, Borneo, Belitung and finally on to Batam just south of Singapore.

The Local Administration at each of these Indonesian islands has planned events to coincide with the visit by Sail Indonesia Rally yachts. These include ceremonial welcomes and dinners as well as cultural and arts displays and often dance performances. We will be able to see some of the more remote and less developed parts of the country as we cruise from island to island mostly away from the well worn tourist areas. We sailed part of the coast of Flores and the Komodo National Park in 2010 and loved getting away from the Kuta Beach - Bali vision of Indonesia. We are very much looking forward to immersing ourselves in the food and culture of this amazing area.

We should reach Malaysia in early to mid October but there’s no such thing as a set itinerary when your cruising. It all comes down to prevailing weather, where and when Colin and Milin want to head and, of course, we will be working on Indonesian time which is very flexible to say the least.

Hopefully Malaysia is far from the end of the story as we are looking to fly directly from there to Europe and join another couple in Gibraltar to cruise the Canary Islands and across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. But that’s another chapter.