May 22, 2005
Letter 1 from Voyage 5
Mackay Marina, Queensland, Australia
By Lois Joy
Our dearest friends,
We regret that we do not have the time right now to write to each of you individually, but once you respond, we will take the time to do so.
It is amazing to realize that it has been three weeks already since we left San Diego. We feel like we have been on a merry-go-round that is finally slowing to a stop. Tonight, as I unpack my laptop for the first time, Pacific Bliss is nestled into Dock X, #43; back in the Mackay Marina, safe and sound.
We arrived in Mackay two weeks ago last Friday afternoon, and only then realized that with the loss of a day due to crossing the international date line, and the following Monday being a holiday (ANZAC Day), and the next Monday also being a holiday (May Day) we might be in a heap of trouble making the deadline for getting Pacific Bliss launched into Vine Creek when high tide occurs during the daytime and we did not want to go back down the creek and into the marina at night! (See the UP THE CREEK story at www.pacificbliss.com for our experience putting PB on the hard at midnight).
So the date was set for today to have John Bates, owner of Mackay Boatyard, take PB down the creek. We had to schedule a new crane operator lift her up from the tires and back on the trailer (last year's crane had a bearing go out) that happened Friday. There is nothing so downright scary as seeing one s home for the next 7 months swinging in the breeze in a sling!
The plan was to back PB into the water right when the tide changes (and the water is still) about 0730, and then wait for the high tide four hours later, to float her off the trailer. Ideally, the wind would not be blowing so that as the CAT was floated off Gunter could quickly turn her around using both engines, since she would be backed down the gravel ramp and into the creek. (Our CAT has a lot of windage.) No such luck. The day started at 0630 overcast with a light rain. But not windy. John came with his tractor, hooked up the trailer, and by 0730 was ready to pull her to the ramp and into the creek at low tide. Then came a loud POP. The hydraulic hose broke. Gunter was thinking the worst. But within 15 minutes, John had a new hose installed and he was trying to make a tight turn in the shipyard, jockeying PB backwards and then forward again. My stomach was in my mouth. But finally he edged the rig to the center of the shipyard, turned it, and backed it into the water. But WAIT. Somewhere in that process, John was also thinking the worst (he told me later), because one tire looked as if it was flattening far too much with all the weight. (They claim she weighs 15 = tons now must be all those books! she s not even filled with water and fuel). John was thinking, One two what else can go wrong? And Gunter had already figured out the worst case, as usual. He was thinking what if the axle breaks right on that steep ramp, and even if the crane comes to lift up Pacific Bliss, no crane could fit sideways in that narrow ramp with the high banks. It would be a situation with NO WAY OUT. The stuff of nightmares. But as it actually happened, the process of backing into the water went just fine.
Gunter and I drove our rental car to the marina, and then another cruiser, Peter who has been a great help to us picked us up to go back. When we returned, the tide had come up the creek so fast that we had to wade out to the ladder John had propped up against the side of the boat in that croc-infested creek! But I did notice that Rusty, John s favorite dog, was still alive and swimming in that creek yet again, just like last year. No worries, John said. They did take out the croc further up the creek in Goose Bay that caused all the trouble.
By high tide time the wind came up gusting to 20 knots. Don t know how you re going to turn around this boat in this wind, worried John.
I ll wait for a lull, said Gunter, both engines revving. Here it is, down to 13. He immediately began backing and turning at the same time. The wind gusted again, but we were out of our predicament and on our way, with John at the helm, deftly skirting the sandbars in his head (since they are not visible at high tide.) I sat at the nav station and watched us repeated our Track from last year, saved on the computer's MaxSea system. Soon we turned out of mangrove-lined Vine Creek into the wider Pioneer River. At the entrance to the sea, the wind on the nose combined with the incoming tide had built up steep, rough chops. The discomfort was short-lived, however, and by the time we were changing directions and rounding Flat Rock, we were able to unfurl the jib and shut off the engines. We were sailing for the first time in 2005!! What a fantastic feeling! We headed for the marina as all the first-mate routines flooded back into my memory: retrieve the fenders and tie them to the lifelines, take out the dock lines, cleat, coil and prepare to throw.
But now that I ve told you today s story, let me back up a little. To get to this point of launching Pacific Bliss we had to use all our old management skills: compile TO DO lists, find out who in Mackay could do what, (and who would work week-ends and holidays) get the tradesmen scheduled, all on a triage basis, deciding which tasks absolutely had to be done in order to launch on time. The rudders wouldn t budge, so Gunter had to arrange for a backhoe operator to make a casket-sized hole under each one so they could be dropped, and the bearings worked or replaced by an expert. (Keep in mind, at this point, the yacht is resting in the yard on piles of tractor tires see photos in UP THE CREEK story). Gunter quickly tested the engines without water they started. The Australian sun had done its damage to the trampoline and we decided to replace it. That began a frantic dealer-and-internet search for suitable material that was already in OZ, then talking the very-busy-and-solo sailmaker in Mackay into make us a new net in less than three weeks. But we found that CASH (not credit cards) talks here. Thank God for ATMs! One of the house bank batteries was so hot that it was almost ready to explode; that entailed replacing the entire set; we replaced the two engine starter batteries while we were at it. There were only four of the German Sonnenschein batteries in OZ, so we had to purchase a new unproven Chinese brand, called AGM. Each time the battery men came, we had to take off all the salon cushions, since they are located underneath the seats. The slight difference in size required revamping the under-the-seat storage area to fit. The final part of the triage was that the life raft was due for recertification (a must for participation in the Darwin-to-Indonesia Rally). Seeing our eight-person raft inflated for the first time, sitting in it on the cement floor of the shop, and going over all the survival gear was awesome! Chris, the dealer, reported that our survival set-up is top-of-the-line, the best he s seen in a non-commercial yacht. He replaced all of the expired items. He arrived to hoist the heavy box back into the compartment on the stern of Pacific Bliss just one hour before the crane arrived to hoist PB onto the trailer.
Since I m in charge of aesthetics, I hired two women to clean the rain streaks and to buff the sides of Pacific Bliss while she was out of the water. This week, they will clean the decks and sand and oil the outside teak. I m completing the inside. Our anti-fouling applied last year seems to be holding up OK. Charts needed to be ordered for our entire voyage 5 all the way to Thailand this year. It took me an entire day to do the rough navigation as far as Singapore, another to order them and those charts are now arriving and need to be sorted and stored. Now that we re in water, we can check out the watermaker system (now pickled ), the fridge and the freezer, and the heads. (One works, Joy!)
I'd bore you to death with the rest of our lists, but you get the idea. We haven t managed to read any books yet; we fall asleep each night exhausted; but we did go to one movie The Interpreter. Excellent! We also took one day off since we arrived, on May Day, and drove along the coast to Arlie Beach where the daytrippers and charter yachts leave for the Whitsundays. Out of curiosity, we checked into the cost of bareboat chartering; would you believe they charge A $960 per day for renting a Perry 43 (the closest to our Catana 431). We were amazed! But then we thought about it: after spending about A$20,000 in Bundaberg last year for four weeks work (including anti-fouling) and estimating this years three weeks of work in Mackay to be about A$10,000, we can understand why they need to charge so much for charter boats.
Our flight to Brisbane was the end of our one-year round-the-world ticket; we had one remaining stop: a Raffles Resort in Nadi, Fiji. It rained during our entire three-day layover. Streets in Nadi were flooded. Schools were closed. We used the Jacuzzi in the rain and never did get to just sit by the pool! But the good news was that we were invited to dinner at the home our Indo-Fijian friends, Sen and Shelley, whose wedding we had attended a few years ago (see webstory Sen s Wedding). They live with Sen s parents, as is the custom, and now they have a darling 11-month baby girl. I have permission from them to publish their story and wedding photos. (It was a Sunni Muslim wedding a two-day affair.) In fact, the couple seemed flattered that I asked.
We had one afternoon and evening in Brisbane. Our Aussie cruiser friends, Pat and Greg of S/V Rascal Too, met our flight and stayed in the hotel room next to ours. We had a wonderful piss-up (Queensland for party) in the hotel s restaurant that night. Pat and Greg easily agreed to be our crew for the Indian Ocean and Red Sea crossing in 2006. We are delighted with this turn of events! Greg is an ace mechanic can fix anything with nothing (after many stints working in PNG) and Pat is a good friend, a great cook, and loads of fun. Both are easy maintenance.
One more week of chores and then we begin Voyage 5, the fifth year of our circumnavigation. The excitement is building, now that we are Back on Bliss! This year s voyage will take us up the Queensland Coast through the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef to Cairns and the tip of York Peninsula, then Over the Top to Darwin, followed by Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.
Please DO email us. We love to hear from our friends and wonder what is happening with you. Keep us informed.
Lois and Gunter