Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lunar Ticks

Has it been a month already? Well actually it has. The Ups and Downs article was the 9th October and there have certainly been a lot of ups and downs in the life of Dreamagic since then.

We left our intrepid adventurers rather deflated with a damaged dinghy and a date at Airlie to recover same and at the same time deflate and recharge the phallic symbol that we call Danbouy.

We collected our latest crew, Jan and Michael from Hamilton Island where they had jetted in. 6 days of sailing, relaxing and gourmeting (is that a word? It is now.) The weather was perfect if a little light on breeze so after settling into life on board we set sail north for Airlie and a rendezvous with the rest of our fleet, namely Flipper the Dinghy.

We also had to collect our repaired frontsa’l (that is the one at the front. I know boats) so in a naval operation that would have made Lisa McClure proud we arranged the rendezvous with the sail loft, the dinghy repairer and the fuel wharf for 14.00. Make it so, Number One.

We arrived at Airlie early so picked up a mooring and had a lunch while waiting for our allotted space. The marina are very aware that boats use their wharf to collect things as they refuel and frown upon the process. After all there is a lucrative money extracting exercise in getting you to rent a different piece of floating concrete to do that. So at 13.45 we brought Dreamagic alongside handsomely and proceeded to refuel, albeit slowly as we furtively waited for our pickups.

By 14.05 the dinghy had arrived with our sail on board. However it was at the boat ramp not the fuel wharf. I walked over and started to row it around. As I neared Dreamagic, rowing with my back to the boat I could hear encouragement from the crew to make haste. “We have to get off this wharf, a boat is coming in!”. “And so?” I replied. “The marina want us gone now!’ came the frantic response. We had booked the wharf from 14.00 until 14.30 to refuel. It was now 14.10. Still concentrating on rowing, so looking at the stern of Flipper I replied in a technical term probably only familiar with yachties, “F#@k the marina! We have just spent $350 with them!” By now I was at Dreamagic’s transom and a very helpful woman from the Marina Office who I hadn’t noticed earlier caught my painter and helped put the dinghy on the davits. We set sail rather handsomely.

We spent the night in Nara, came past Whitehaven Beach, tried for Hazelwood which despite glowing references looked like a moonscape with bommies to match so diverted to Turtle Bay, then Thomas
Island, then Brampton Island. The weather was idyllic, the company was great and the days slipped by as we meandered south. At Brampton we initially parked in front of the resort, re opening early 2012 if the sign was to be believed. It was derelict as nature had decided to take back what man had built. Rusting cars and collapsed buildings made a mockery of the sign and the consensus among our crew was that this will never open again.

We took shelter that night to the outh of the island against a predicted northerly. It came with some force and the 5 yachts seeking shelter on this side had to anchor a long way off shore to counter the reef but in the morning we still had the same number of boats we started with which is always good. And they were more or less in the same place!

Our perfect weather window had departed and the northerly blew with increasing strength. The forecast was that it would get worse so we surfed with the wind behind us under frontsa’l only  to Mackay, a marina we have come to love having been trapped there for a week on the way up. We spent the evening on the boat and the next day long lunching before Jan and Michael departed for Brisbane by plane. Thanks guys, it was a pleasure having you on board!

The weather got filthy and we were trapped in Mackay for 10 days waiting for the strong southerlies to blow out. We spent the time reading, maintaining the boat and commuting between the Surf Club, the Yacht Club, the Tavern, and the fish and chip shop. We did hire a car for a day and found a fantastic bistro for lunch so caught a bus in a couple of days later for a return visit. Other than that, as in a line from Casablanca, we waited,…. and waited,…. and waited.

In my view there are three things you don’t need on a yacht. An umbrella, a time table and a naval officer. Of those, the timetable is the most dangerous. I have a good friend who plans his trips to the minute of departure. Each to their own, but to me that takes no consideration for eventualities. As Francis Chichester said when contacted by radio for an Estimated Time of Arrival by a cub reporter on nearing completion of his circumnavigation. “My Dear, I am a Yachtsman. We have destinations, not ETA’s”. A number of south bound yachts were trapped along the coast and all were eager to leave. We were keen to get away as another good friend had a 50th in Brisbane that we wanted to attend, however the safety of the boat is paramount and the weather is the mistress, and she said no.

We finally got away and overnighted at Digby. Our sounder decided to sulk so we anchored out a fair way to be safe. Then the sounder decided to work and showed that our anchor was probably not actually touching the bottom, it was so far beneath us so we moved closer inshore. A rather exuberant guy on the next boat wandered naked around his and we were grateful when night finally fell.

Digby to Pearl Bay which is the prettiest anchorage in the East Coast in my estimation, then Pearl Bay to Yeppoon which is like our second home. One that needs some work! We came in on a low tide but according to the chart with clearance. We hit the ground in the centre of the channel and had to wait 2 hours to float off! That is a bloody disgrace for a marina which houses the Coast Guard and the Police.

One of the great things about cruising the coast is the people you meet. We caught up with Mitch and Meg, whom we had met last time we were here, and Richard rode over from Rockhampton and stayed on the boat. We stayed here for three nights as we wanted to be here for the last Friday yachtie drinks. We made new friends with Will and Lyn who are from Manly Queensland and are making their way home, and Brian and Karen from the centre cockpit  Bavaria ‘Tis Fate. They are Melbourne based and leave the boat in Rosslyn Bay, flying up to sail her in the Queensland Tropics. Well you would, wouldn’t you? Great to meet all you guys, and we are bound to catch up in a bay somewhere.

Yeppoon to Pancake Creek where we waited out Cyclone Anthony on our way down in February, and then just a 60 nm trip to Bundaberg. We wanted to leave at 5.30 am but the tide kept us until 07.30. I refuelled from our jerry cans in Pancake Creek and we motored out into a beautiful flat sea with a 10-15 knt breeze just off our starboard bow. We unfurled the frontsa’l, set the autopilot and read books as Dreamagic made her way towards Bundaberg . ETA, 10 hours.

We were catching up with some old friends of mine here. Actually, that didn’t come out right and Nerida would take offence at the statement. Friends of long standing, how is that? Anyway, I hadn’t seen them for over 7 years so it was to be a great reunion the following day, which happened to be Melbourne Cup day. We were booked into the Marina, our grog and prawns order were sms’d to Ned to collect and our meeting was scheduled for lunchtime.

About 10 miles from Bundaberg we received a phone call from Ned asking if we were OK. The reception was bad so I sms’d back that we were fine and would be berthed in 1 hour and 45 minutes to be exact. The wind had started to go forward and we couldn’t hold a sail anymore so we furled it and motored. This reduced our speed by about a knot but still good.
Rona then got a weather forecast that predicted a southerly change with wind speeds to 30 knts. (60KPH). I wasn’t unduly worried as I felt that with only 90 minutes to go the sea would not have time to pick up. I was wrong.

The water around the north side of Bundaberg approaches is very shallow. I suppose that would be the reason why the waves, with nowhere to go, bounce back up. The wind reached 42 knts on our meter, and although I know everyone overestimates wave heights, I would say these reached 4 metres. They were enough to put rollers down the hull and on occasion they broke into the cockpit, putting us up to our knees in water. We were lifejacketed and harnessed on but the boat was proving difficult to handle in this weather.

Bavarias, like most modern yachts have a flat bottom, a fin keel and a spade rudder. This makes them a great all round boat and quite quick. However everything is a compromise. The flat bottom means that when the waves are head on, like they were then, the boat climbs the wave but drops of the top of it with a force that could snap the boat. To combat that, I took turns in angling the boat to the wave so that we climbed it and then slid to left or right to keep the bow in the water rather then in the air. This tactic saved the boat from damage, but a journey that was going to take us 90 minutes was now looking at taking 5 hours. The wind was horrendous. 40 knts is about 80 kms per hour. To put it in context, it is like standing on the tray of a ute doing 80 kms an hour over the roughest ground without holding on, and then trying to do something like tie a knot. We were persevering though, until the engine spluttered and died.

Now at the mercy of the waves we quickly got a small amount or jib out to stabilise the boat and give us movement and steerage. We could now steer adjacent to the waves but we could make no headway towards Bundaberg. And of course it was getting dark.

Dark meant that I could not see the waves which would make steering the way we were impossible. At about 4.30 pm we called the Coast Guard.

We finally got towed into Gladstone just before midnight. Rona was fantastic throughout this ordeal. When I left her alone in the cockpit while I crawled onto the foredeck in the dark and attach the tow line she held the boat head to wind, getting the jib furled and liaising on the radio with the Coast Guard launch while I steered she kept her head even though every third wave or so crashed over the boat in pitch darkness. Eventually we were towed to a berth and tied off, We thanked everyone for their help and promised to sort everything in the morning. Once we were alone I turned to the heroine of the day. She just looked at me and said those immortal words, “If you ever f#@king do that again!.....” then turned on her heal before I could reply and went to bed.

Every bad experience has to end and the next morning we surveyed the damage. The loss of the engine was easily explained, fixing it more difficult. When I had refuelled from the jerry cans I had neglected to put the fuel cap on. Not really a problem but when the weather turned and waves came down the decks they concentrated on the open filler and filled the tank with salt water. Eventually the engine, starved of fuel, died. Being Melbourne Cup day getting help would be difficult but the yachtie fraternity gathered around and we were given the name of a diesel mechanic who we caught at 7.30 on his way to work. He came down, used a pump to draw the water out of the tank, replaced the filters and drained the system. The engine burst into life and we motored around to our allocated berth, which was in a different marina to the one we had been towed to.

Craig and Nerida joined us with another friend Therese and we swapped stories, caught up with our respective lives and Rona and I said a quiet word of thanks that the damage could have been a lot worse, starting with loss of life and the very real possibility of loss of the boat. The Coast Guard came with our bill which was actually quite reasonable given two fellows had spent 4 hours in filthy weather rescuing us, and our three guests finally cabbed back as the shadows were getting as long as the stories. We promised to bring their car over the following day and we enjoyed a great lunch at their home on delivery. Guys, what a fantastic couple of days! Thank you so much for your hospitality and we look forward to returning the compliment in February.

We had taken on about 50 litres of fresh fuel in Bundaberg and meant to top up before we left. However when we went to the fuel wharf it was really designed for trawlers and was too high sided for us. I felt that we had enough fuel for a trip to Hervey Bay so we motored out in weather so different from the squall that hit us. Flat seas and calm winds. The engine was blowing white smoke but the mechanic and I agreed that was probably dirty injectors and they would clear.

We made Hervey Bay still blowing smoke but the engine was running. We called for a berth allocation and could they recommend a mechanic to remove the injectors and get them cleaned? Graham who ran the fuel wharf got on the case. Not only did he get someone to help, he rang to find someone who could clean them. The Hervey Bay company were closed for holidays, but a company in Maryborough could do them and get them back next day! Brilliant, but how do we get them to Maryborough? Graham is on the case again. He lives near Maryborough and can deliver them when he finishes at 1.30. “But we won’t be in until 2.00” “I’ll wait”

We have been in this marina before, (read the blog An Ugly American) so we knew it was going to be a pain to get in. None the less we came down our finger and identified our allotted berth, unfortunately just after we had passed it. No problem, just select reverse and…. The bloody motor died! Remembering Rona’s threat, “don’t ever do that again” I was a little concerned given that we had been given a berth in the posh end of town. Also knowing Dreamagic’s fondness for touching bright shiny objects that I can’t afford it was more by arse than class that I managed to let the wind turn her around and slide into her berth as if the motor had been going. I’m not sure Rona even noticed until we ever so slightly nudged the end of the berth. No reverse!

David, the mechanic was on the dock and we pulled the injectors and sent them on their way. David was on standby for when they would return at about 3.00pm the following day, which was a Friday. We’ll be here two days and out of here! We dined at the boat Club Hervey Bay.

I have been in this club even before the encounter with the Ugly American. Some 15 years ago I was bringing Carpe Diem, my 30 footer up from Brisbane to my new home in Cairns. I built that boat and spent a fortune. The stern gland, which allows the propeller shaft to exit the boat but prevents the water coming in was the latest and greatest. As used on Collins Class submarines, the advert said. I really should have thought that statement though. Submarines sink don’t they? Well, once over Wide Bay Bar, Carpe Diem decided to do a submarine impression and water came in at an alarming rate. With bilge pumps working flat out we had called Hervey Bay and arranged for the slings to be in the water ready to lift us. They did and bits were dispatched from Brisbane. A three day turn around but when we tried to wait in the sanctity of the bar on that occasion we were refused entry because we were not wearing socks. “What yachtie wears socks?” I asked. “Ours do” was the reply.

The dress code has fortunately been relaxed but the clientele are the same. Self funded retirees who live locally and know every trick to extend their pensions. They catch the courtesy bus in at 8.00am and play Bridge or Whist or whatever in the morning.  Free tea and coffee and Amy Klumpp entertains with piano and vocal accompaniment. At 12.30 the resident musician Trevor Judge gets up and plays along with the Karaoke while the line dancers get up and strut their stuff. About 5.30 there is dinner. The rush would leave an All Black front rower dazed as the hoard grabs the best tables and settle down for a huge roast dinner ($12.80) washed down with a passable $14 bottle of Sav Blanc. Dinner done, back in the main room. Greg Doolan, ex Wickity Whack and now solo but for his young wife, wows the old dears with stories and songs until about 9.00 when the courtesy buses take them home ready for tomorrow.

Just watching these folk is exhausting. There is the slender 70 something who wears a flower in her hair and a dress to match. Bright red on Friday. Her husband, who dances like he is auditioning for Thunderbirds on speed is dressed by her to compliment her outfit. So he is wearing bright red pants and a dark blue shirt with a thin red stripe. However they never look at each other, or touch. She sways around the room like an extra from the film South Pacific, alternately looking at the band, other dancers or an appreciative audience while he hops up and down in her vicinity trying to be noticed.

The table front and centre nearest the band has been reserved for weeks and is taken up by the Hervey Bay Rockers. Dressed like extras from Happy Days with slicked hair, black trousers and those shirts with college numbers for the guys and dresses that show their knickers during the frequent twirls for the girls,not one is under 65. Regardless of what Trevor Judge is belting out, they jive!

And then there are the line dancers. They take up station and, looking incredibly bored, step backwards and forwards tapping their feet twice here and shuffling there. They stare straight ahead and go through the steps that they have obviously rehearsed a thousand times. Just going through the motions, as the man who worked in the sewage farm said.

All that said, we had a great meal, a great night and went to bed knowing that we would have a fully functioning boat on Friday.

Friday came but although the injectors had been finished as promised by lunchtime, they didn’t get back by courier until late. Damn! But David said not to worry, he will come over first thing Saturday and fit them. Fantastic!

8.00am and David is there. He is supposed to be fitting a kitchen for his wife but he knows we want to get away. Besides it’s only a 20 minute job. Nice Guy!

10.30am. The last injector leaks diesel like the Niagara Falls. Nothing wants to stop it. There are some funny little washers with holes in them under the injector and although these are brand new, one may have failed. He’ll take it away and fix it, but it will be Monday. OK, back to the Club.

It’s quite a novelty for me to be the youngest guy anywhere nowadays, and I am very aware that there isn’t much age difference between me and this rat pack. We spent the day thinking about retirement. looking at units for sale and actually got a Real Estate Agent to show us a couple. Easy walk to the club etc. (How can I retire from something I haven’t started yet?)

Monday 8.30. The injector has gone to an engineer who is going to resurface it. It comes back at 3.00 and David dutifully bolts it in. It still leaks! We are running out of options when he thinks more new washers may be the answer. We book in another night at the marina and sign up for Line Dancing Lessons. If we get up early we may be able to catch Amy Klumpp and her piano vocals in the morning.

Tuesday 8.00 am David is back. Amy will have to wait. He has new washers which are exactly 1mm wider in diameter than the ones we had. A poofteenth, but it’s enough. The leak has stopped! We thanked David, who by now I count as a personal friend, motor around to the fuel wharf with all cylinders firing, all gears and no smoke, and finally get out to the bay.

We are now anchored in the Great Sandy Straights with about 20 miles North of the Wide Bay bar. Anchoring was an issue because while the anchor control would allow it to be lifted, the button that lets it drop doesn’t want to work. No more Mr Nice Guy,  I just chucked it all over the side. Fixing it is a tomorrow job. The Oracle, while working perfectly, now does not want to talk to the rest of the instruments, (which are all behaving themselves for once). I don’t care,  they will get along nicely tomorrow, or I will keep them all in detention. The fuel gauge won’t work. Is that the best you’ve got? The TV is sulking. And the head will pump out but not draw water in. (Suck it up! As our American cousins would say).  I don’t care. We are in Manly by the weekend and obviously, like an old war horse Dreamagic can sense this and wants to stay out. She has been playing up since we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and doesn’t want to go home.  Bloody women!

So that is what we have been doing. Now, what have you been up to?