Sunday 17 May 2020

Everything changes when Covid-19 crunches our Cruising Plans

Yes, Our Dreamtime is on the move and yes we know there are now Covid 19 related restrictions on travel. Some people have been very quick to criticise, typically shooting their mouth, or keyboard, off without knowing the circumstances. So read on if you want to understand why we are slowly making our way north and find out the safeguards we are taking.

Anyone that has followed our blog would know that not everything has gone to plan with our sailing life. Even before we stepped off the dock, unforeseen occurrences scuttled our efforts to buy a boat at the time and forced a total change to how our new waterborne existence began. You can read about all that in the very first chapters of our blog HERE.

We became full time cruisers in 2011, initially crewing on other people’s boats in South East Asia and Europe. Then came SV Alcheringa with our great crew-mate & partner, Marc, sailing the Mediterranean for a couple of years. She was then sold and we returned to Australia and purchased SV Our Dreamtime, a Whitby 42 Ketch built to take us anywhere we wanted to go.

After refitting her to suit our needs we cruised the Great Barrier Reef for a couple of seasons and even headed across the Coral Sea towards the Louisades in Papua New Guinea before an engine issue saw us turn back to Cairns from Herald Cays. See that story HERE. We then found ourselves needing to bite the bullet and return to full time employment for a while to rebuild our depleted cruising fund after 7 years of financial one way traffic. Living in a marina is not cruising but at least we were able to sail Moreton Bay on weekends and make more improvements to the boat. We were also busy organising our next adventure and what an adventure it was to be.
Our son produced this awesome 2020 wall planner for us as a Christmas present showing our countdown to finishing work and sailing away. Sadly it all changed.

2020 was to be the start of a four to five year voyage. It was all planned. We both had exit work day booked for mid-July ahead of an August 1st or thereabouts departure. We would cruise up the coast to Townsville where we would join the re-born Louisades Rally to Papua New Guinea and complete unfinished business from 2016. But instead of returning to Australia with the rest of the Rally boats, we were continuing on to the Solomon Islands where to spend tropical storm season exploring around Gizo in the country’s north west province that is too close to the equator for cyclones. Early 2021 would see us cruising back to PNG and around its north via Milne Bay, the Tobriand Islands, New Britain and New Ireland. Then on to Indonesia and the amazing Raja Ampat area before working our way west through the thousands of islands that make up this amazing cruising area and on to Malaysia and Thailand. 


February 2020 and the tentacles of the pandemic sweeping the world reached Australia. Rob’s job in motorsport television and marketing evaporated within weeks and Karen’s long, awaited shoulder operation was now at risk as hospitals began cancelling “non-essential” surgeries. Fortunately, the procedure to repair her damaged AC Joint did go ahead in early March and we were able to self-isolate at our daughter, Yasmin’s, home for six weeks during her initial recovery. From the outset, we were all too aware that all our plans had been washed away once again. It was time to develop Plan B.

Karen pre-surgery in the hospital. The specialist has said she can expect recovery to take four months so she has been naturally taking things very easy.

Karen is a severe asthmatic and has experienced serious respiratory problems the last two winters triggered by the cold weather. As Covid-19 also poses a very real risk to the life of asthmatics we had been closely following developments overseas as the situation in Spain and Italy, where we’d spent so much time on Alcheringa, deteriorated rapidly with soaring death tolls. After consulting our Doctor, a return to her job as a receptionist was not an option as ongoing self-isolation, ideally away from the cold, was the ONLY logical health choice for us. 

We quickly agreed the very best course of action would be to head to sea and stay away from people as soon as Karen was fit enough to be on the boat. Our GP was very supportive and organised for us to be able to get six months supply of our prescription medication all in one go to minimise another reason for needing to come ashore.

As borders rapidly closed, all overseas destinations were now off the table, so the ideal place for us to go and hide from the world is north to the Great Barrier Reef area. There we could avoid people and the approaching winter cold while waiting for the world to sort out what it is going to look like when this new plague has abated. 

The moderately long to-do list of boat jobs that was planned to be completed by mid-July now became far more urgent as our departure from the marina was pushed forward to a target of the third week of April. Rob drove an hour from our daughter’s house in Ipswich to the marina at Manly almost every day ticking off jobs, upgrades and loading the boat with an ever increasing cargo of spare parts and all important provisions. 

We could normally fully provision the boat for extended cruising with two or three expensive trips to the supermarket but, during the early days of Covid inspired insane panic buying, getting what we needed for an extended time afloat was a big challenge. It involved almost daily shopping trips to amass what we needed, all the while practicing the highest degree of social distancing and personal hygiene possible.  Rob joked his hands were getting far more alcohol than his mouth for the first time in his life. When he returned to our safe haven at Yasmin’s house each night, he made a beeline from the front door to the shower to minimise the chances of introducing any bug into the household.

In an effort to increase our independence from land we added an additional solar panel on the davits to increase our total to 500 watts and fitted a wind generator on the mizzen mast. The house battery bank was updated with five new AGM batteries providing 800 Amp Hours. Hopefully this would take care of our energy needs. We also purchased a new Rainman Watermaker which is capable of producing up to 130 litres of fresh water an hour from the sea. To further stretch our endurance Rob created some new storage spaces under the settee and we decided to take our big 12v camping freezer on board with us. It takes up a bit of room in the salon but combined with the boat’s large freezer we are able to carry enough frozen meat and vegetables etc to last over three months. That's the goal we have in mind. We hope to stay at sea amongst the islands and reefs for months without needing to re-fuel, re- water or go to a supermarket. 

New storage under the settee created and filled

Every available space is used to the full to store essential provisions.

While there were many Covid-19 related restrictions on movement put in place, in Queensland live-aboard yachties had been largely left alone and were continuing to be permitted to live on their boats and move locations as long as they were responsibly social distancing as per regulation. This was the situation when we finally left the marina and headed to sea to begin our self isolation afloat. Our intention was to stay in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay for a while to give Karen’s shoulder some more recovery time and let her adapt to boat life with one and a half arms. We also wanted to make sure all the boat’s systems etc were performing as they should after being n the marina for so long. Once we were confident all was good, we would look for a placid weather window to begin heading north. We certainly didn’t want any spirited sailing until Karen had regained more use of her left arm.
We joined the National Dawn Service on the bow on our first morning at Peel Island. It was great to see other live aboards out on deck too. Thank you ABC Radio for the broadcast. The last post rolling across the water was very moving. Lest We Forget.
Not all the jobs on the “To Do List” got done before departure. Rob fitted some carpet to the aft deck and dinghy to provide an anti-slip surface to help make things easier for Karen while her shoulder continue to recover. There will also be many other bits and pieces to fit and do along theway.

During our initial sojourn in Moreton Bay we alternated between Horseshoe Bay at Peel Island and Raby Bay on the mainland depending on wind conditions. Raby Bay turned on some great sunsets and gave Rob the chance to get the fishing rod out.

If you would like to watch our Sailing Vlog of this part of our "Isolation Afloat" check it out on our Dreamtime Sail YouTube Channel HERE

The Dolphins provided a great show for us at Peel Island. See video of their antics here on our Facebook Page 

Unfortunately we quickly discovered our engine’s fuel system was suffering an air leak from an unknown source causing the motor to stop and need rebleeding at the most inopportune times. Despite Rob’s best efforts over 10 days around the bay we eventually conceded defeat and booked back into the marina to get a mechanic on board. After a faulty fuel valve was found to be the culprit we topped up our fuel and water tanks along with fresh fruit and veg and headed out of the harbour for a ‘sea trial’ with a slight difference.

We were very disappointed to reset our isolation count when we had to come back into the marina to cure our fuel system problem. When it comes to finding a problem two heads are better than one. Thanks Seadog Marine.

We had decided to head towards an anchorage in Pumicestone Passage at Bribie Island. If the engine as much as coughed, we would turn around and return to the dock. If all was fine, we’d continue on as step one of our trip North. The good news was that the motor never missed a beat over the 28 nautical mile trip and we enjoyed a very peaceful night at anchor in the passage.

We only had the lure in the water for five minutes when we got our first mackerel of the trip 
as we headed past St Helena Island.
Next morning we were away fairly early and motor sailed in very light winds 35 nautical miles around Point Arkwright and into the Mooloolalah River at Mooloolaba. Again the engine performed flawlessly all the way. We arrived on a very low .22m tide and despite our modest 1.5metre draft actually ploughed the mud bottom with our keel at one point while heading up river.  ‘The Duck Pond’ anchorage there is far from our favourite as it’s always crowded, shallow and the holding isn’t great. Fortunately we were able to find space further up near the head of the canals and spent the night anchored 40 metres or so from someone’s multi-million dollar home. 

Anchored up surrounded by waterfront mansions in Mooloolaba.
Next day it was a far longer hop 52 nautical miles north to Double Island Point to wait for the right tide before crossing the notorious Wide Bay Bar the following morning. We were now travelling in company with the boat ‘La Nina’ which had contacted us via social media while following us to Mooloolaba. Again there was almost zero wind resulting in a reasonably boring, but comfortable for Karen, trip droning along. The motor continued to do what it is supposed to do all day so we were now feeling confident we had cured our air leak issue. 

While we normally look for good wind to sail rather than motor, the calm conditions were perfect for Karen to get around the boat one armed.
We had two highlights along the way though. Firstly we spotted our first whale of the season which popped up in company with a pod of dolphins close enough to La Nina for them to get some great photos. 

We spotted our first whale of the season but La Nina was much closer than us and Michelle got this great shot of it surrounded by dolphins.

Then almost three miles out to sea off Noosa Heads, good friend, Mark Wacker turned up alongside with his brother Brad. They had been out fishing and raced over for chat when they saw us plodding along in the distance. Strangely enough Mark had appeared out of nowhere for a similar chat in almost the same spot when we sailed past five years ago.  It’s getting habit forming mate.

Our second floating rendezvous in five years with Noosa based friend, Mark Wacker

Since our last stop at Double Island Point in 2016 a high sand bar has formed reaching westward from the point and formed a very sheltered lagoon like anchorage. We had been told it was pretty shallow and weren’t sure if we would be able to get into its protection from a predicted northerly breeze overnight. We arrived mid afternoon and again, right on low tide of this time just .32m. We found the lagoon populated by a number of catamarans and a couple of motor boats but no monohull yachts, not a good sign. 

The lagoon at Double Island Point provides great protection and a good night’s sleep but it is very shallow. 
(Photo from internet)

We decided to edge in very slowly and see how we went. The good news was that if we did nudge aground it was a clean sand bottom and the tide was on its way back in to lift us off. With Rob as lookout on the bow and Karen on the helm we crossed the entrance with our depth gauge showing literally nothing under the keel. Karen was very relieved to see the depth increase slightly once we were behind the sandbar. We didn’t push our luck by going too far into the lagoon and quickly anchored in 1.7 metres of water knowing that, with the incoming tide, that was a shallow as it would get. La Nina was standing off outside watching how we went so we radioed them the bad news of the depths we’d found. With a 1.9m draft they were not going to get inside and would have to anchor out and experience the sort of horrorably rolly night Double Island Point is famous for.

It was at this stage that our plans were again potentially scuttled. As previously stated, there was no restriction of movement on live aboard yachties when we had begun our journey. Our lifestyle didn't fit most boxes and had pretty much flown under the radar and been left alone. That had just changed. For whatever macabre reason, a cruiser who was sitting in Far North Queensland with no need to move anywhere, took it on themselves to bombard harbour masters up and down the coast, Marine Safety Queensland and anyone else they could think off with emails asking what the ‘official’ rules were for live aboard yachtsmen. So persistent was their effort that eventually MSQ was forced to respond and put out a directive that now stated “ .. that people who live onboard their boat as their home may continue to do so but should stay within a primary place. The Chief Health Officer provides guidance on the definition of primary residence and recreation in the latest home confinement direction. ………, you are not currently able to cruise along the coast to relocate to another location, unless you need to for a permitted purpose.” 

So here we were in an extremely shallow anchorage at remote Double Island Point trying to figure out what it all meant for our plans. Obviously Double Island Point was not a ‘primary place’ we should stay.

We were up early to catch the incoming tide over the Wide Bay Bar and Double Island Point treated us to this amazing sunrise.
La Nina following us out of Double Island point with Rainbow Beach's coloured sands as a backdrop.

Next morning we crossed the Wide Bay Bar as planned and continued up into the Great Sandy Straits  to Gary’s Anchorage and here we have stayed. 

We surfed over the bar with a 1.5metre swell pushing us along but never saw less than 6 metres of water on the gauge.
Our Dreamtime in Gary's Anchorage at Fraser Island
We've been here 9 days so far and have caught crab every single day.
In between baking cakes Karen has been getting inventive with our supply of crab meat. Crab cakes, crab crepe, crab omelette, crab ravioli, crab sushi, crab linguini and there’s more to come.
Karen's  crab ravioli in hand made pasta with white wine and garlic sauce was a smash hit. 
Check out her 'Our Galley' blog HERE
The Fraser Island sunsets at Gary's Anchorage have been spectacular

If you would like to watch our Sailing Vlog of the from Bribie Island and over the Wide Bay Bar to Gary's Anchorage part of our "Isolation Afloat" check it out on our Dreamtime Sail YouTube Channel HERE

Before making any decisions regarding what next, we studied all the relevant Queensland Government directives including “Home Confinement, Movement and Gathering Direction (No. 5)” which lists the “Permitted Purposes” for travel.

Our original decision to move north was made in consultation with our Doctor to safeguard our health by self-isolating amongst the Great Barrier Reef Islands far from Covid-19 and away from the approaching cold weather that poses a serious health risk to Karen. This is in line with Directive 6-n which states “avoiding injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm;” is a permitted purpose for travel. We have now contacted our Doctor and obtained a letter supporting the health reasons for moving north and intend to continue our journey in a slow, safe manner soon.

Facetime Fun - In today's virtual world this is how we've had sundowners with friends in the cockpit.

As of today, we have now been totally self-isolated for 12 days since leaving Manly Boat Harbour and of no risk to anyone. We are not hopping from boat to boat socialising and will not be while there is any risk to us or others. We are certainly far less likely to spread (or catch) the virus than the hundreds of thousands of people in supermarkets, cafes, on public transport and crowding into Bunnings every day. Being alone we shouldn’t even be able to catch a cold.

If you don’t agree with our choices you are certainly entitled to your opinion but, please, keep them to yourself. We are doing what is safest for us without putting anyone else at risk. If you don’t like it – please scroll on by.

Everyone - please stay safe. 

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