Life was so hectic in 2004 I didn't even keep a cruise log. We travelled. Too Much. Down to Sydney, up to Lizard Island, back to Cairns, around to Darwin (in another boat - 1300 nm in 10 days) and then from Cairns back to Brisbane (in 12 days). The Darwin trip gave us confidence that Lifeline and we would handle the journey to South East Asia and that we were ready. The trouble was we were so sick of travelling we vowed not to go anywhere in 2005.

After spending Christmas in Sydney on Botany Bay, we stayed 4-5 weeks on Port Hacking which is close to our family in Sydney.  It is a treat to be able to invite people home to our place for a visit. We were reminded of just how picturesque and fun the Sydney waterways are. Gunnamatta Bay was our home away from home.

Late January/February we based ourselves in Sydney Harbour: Blackwattle Bay, central to the delights of the Fishmarkets, Glebe Point Road, China Town, theatres and the light rail stop; and Sugarloaf Bay in Middle Harbour for quiet bush terrain and good TV reception when the buzz of the city became too much. (Philip managed to find the nice shallow anchor spot right in line with the ABC aerial at Willoughby. Bliss to be able to get the ABC - it nearly always seems to have the worst reception wherever we go.)

I'm sorry to say we gorged on Chinese food and buns whenever we could in Chinatown, including a memorable Sichuan Hotpot at a place Kit took us to when he was home for Christmas. (With the inevitable consequences - ie fat.)

Being on a boat has got to be the best way to be in Sydney. You can be right in the middle of things yet not have to drive in the traffic, enjoy all the facilities the city has to offer but not have to live there. Anyway we enjoyed it enough to be there a four months, during which I flew to China for 3 weeks to visit our son.

In April we moved on to Pittwater and the Hawkesbury for Easter where we got to attend a raftup of the Wooden Boat Division of the Royal Motor Yacht Club, Pittwater - we had a ball. What a fun group! It was very interesting for us to see another converted trawler, Hiawatha, whose owners told us to look out for another one on our travels up the New South Wales coast, Karanel, which had recently set off on its maiden voyage north. Quite a few real glamour boats there too of course.

We stayed less than two weeks on the Hawkesbury - I suppose were starting to get the bit between our teeth -  a good friend had invited us to his fiftieth birthday party at Sanctuary Cove in Queensland in less than a month and we wanted to be sure to be there. And then there was the lure of the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show.

This year we went into Lake Macquarie for the first time, crossing the bar at Swansea. This looks a pretty good cruising ground itself, though we stayed only a couple of days, pushing on for Forster Tuncurry.

Off Smoky Cape in the middle of the (very black) night and with 4 knots of East Australian current against us, we lost the GPS. Heavens, don't tell me we were going to have to navigate by hand. How long since I made a log entry? (And this from the girl who didn't want or need electronic nav systems). In the event, we shrank the chart image on the PC so it matched the image of the coast on radar and could perfectly make out which headland was which (Navigation for Dummies).

The trip north was uneventful except for a slight running aground in the entrance of the inner harbour at Coffs Harbour at 3am (plenty of engine grunt and Philip carved a channel which got us off smartly as the tide was falling). Karanel, who we had met at Forster Tuncurry caught us up there, and we were  also able to meet up with some very longstanding land based friends.

 We went into the Clarence River, anchoring at Iluka and hoping to catch up with the original owner of Lifeline, now in his eighties with son and grandsons still fishing. While there we took family down the river for a few days, meeting the old fisherman in his home town of Maclean, right on the river. (The town of Maclean has a floating pontoon with a tap, where you can tie up your boat and walk across the street to the shops - a nice touch.) We heard lots of stories about Lifeline, especially what a good boat she is in following seas and crossing bars. There's something special about cruising rivers. Not just the smooth water, but slipping along poking your nose up above the river bank, being so close to the land...there's something very satisfying about it. Something cosy about the mist in the morning too.

Our last leg, before being able to drop anchor in the protected waters of the Broadwater, was Clarence River to Gold Coast Seaway, 15 hours from anchor up at Iluka to anchor down in Bums' Bay. Our very first crossing here was in 1983, in our yacht, Patricia, which we had purchased in Darwin and sailed across the top and down the Queensland and New South Wales coasts to Coffs Harbour - against the prevailing winds. Then it was known as Southport Bar and when you crossed it, you had to put on your life jackets and the Air Sea Rescue boat would lead you across. In those days it was regarded as treacherous and given the same sort of respect that Wide Bay Bar is today. But it was "twinkling lights" and "ripples" as we entered at 8.55pm on 30 April 2004.

We spent a few days in early May living it up at Sanctuary Cove marina, enjoying our friends' party and company, not to mention the luxury of being on a marina with power and water and TV reception! . Queensland in May is pretty hard to beat.

This year we didn't start heading north until the end of July, with lots of dramas before we'd even left Moreton Bay. After leaving Manly about 2.45pm we were towards the top of the bay with a stabiliser in the water (it was rolly) and in the dark (it's always dark when dramas happen) we had water in the bilge and a faulty electric bilge pump. (We'd bought a new product at the boat show - spagnum moss which you put in your bilge to soak up any oil. The demo at the boat show with a glass of water and a teaspoon of stuff was really convincing. Unfortunately a bagful in our bilge didn't work so well and had the added effect of clagging up our pumps.)

Philip replaced the pump with a spare but used our engine driven pump, with much bigger capacity to clear the water. It was making no progress. We thought we had a big problem - water must have been coming in as fast as we were pumping it out. While I'm dodging ships in the channels in the dark, Philip is in the engine room trying to sort out the problem.

After what seemed like hours, but was in fact only about one, Philip realised the two way valve connected to the Johnson pump (which sucks in water for our gearbox cooling when it's not being used as a bilge pump) was still open. We were sucking in water as fast as we were pumping it out. As soon as he closed the valve, the pump did its job and the water disappeared. Whew. We weren't sinking after all.

But that wasn't our only drama with bilge water that day. Crossing Wide Bay Bar wasn't nearly as dramatic as getting ready to anchor. At 10 am, after an overnighter from Moreton Bay full of action, we were ready to drop anchor anywhere and flop into bed. Just as we were about to enter Garry's anchorage, Philip looked over the side and saw all three electric bilge pumps shooting out great jets of water. Down to the engine room again to find salt water up to the floor. This time we WERE sinking. The 2" hose had come off the other end of the engine driven pump where it sends water into the gearbox and was pumping salt water at 24 gallons a minute straight into our bilge and spraying all over adjacent equipment.

Our bilge pumps were coping, but, after running all night with nav lights, computer, GPS, radar, radios all consuming power it is possible that, if they had had to run long, they may have flattened their battery bank. As we didn't have a bilge alarm, we would not even know that water was in our bilge and that the pumps had been running, let alone that they had stopped running, and we would have filled up and gone down. Instead we damaged some equipment which could be replaced and learned a few good lessons:

1. We installed a bilge alarm, independent of the pumps, which will tell us if water reaches a certain level.

2. We don't get slack about doing engine room checks every hour.

3. Philip had a lip welded onto the pipe which takes the pump hose to make it more difficult for a well clamped hose to come off. (Despite having all hoses double clamped. this one had still managed to come off.) 

4. All hose clamps are checked regularly and nipped up when required.

The last couple of years we have fuelled up in Bundaberg rather than Brisbane before heading north. Diesel is up to 15 cents a litre cheaper there than anywhere else on the coast for some reason. As we take on 2000 or so litres, it is worth it for us to call in there, but we pay the price. By going in to Burnett Heads we forfeit the pleasure of sneaking along the edge of the channel near Mooan Point and following the 5 metre line up the inside of Fraser Island in clear water over white sand.

From Bundaberg we ran up the reefs from Lady Musgrave to Great Keppel Island and on to Mackay, from where I flew to Sydney to look after our son who had flown back from overseas for an operation. Meanwhile Philip took the boat up to the Whitsundays to wait for me.

With the main bilge pump going off two or three times a day, he finally discovered a leak from the transom - that seam I had raked out and Sikaflexed when we were last on the slip. With some waterproof kneadable epoxy putty he plugged the hole and we were a dry boat once more. (And that putty stayed in place -covered in barnacles - until we slipped again in 2005).

1 September 2004 Our son and I flew into Hamilton Island, he on crutches, and caught the ferry across to Airlie Beach where we joined Lifeline. Kit had never been anywhere on the boat and we loved having a few days to take him to some of our favourite Whitsundays haunts. Bait Reef was a must, even though the conditions weren't perfect. And a jaunt past Whitehaven Beach, nearly missing his plane from Hamilton  Island because we had the tide against us and were slower than expected. 

We spent a couple of weeks around the area, completing our Open Water Divers course in three days at Butterfly Bay, Luncheon Bay, Mantaray Bay on Hook Island and Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island. I can't say the diving was wondrous - it was hard work and our clumsiness doing our exercises on the bottom ensured we were swimming in murk the whole time. To cap it all, I had had difficulty equalising my ears and ended up with blockages inside my ear canals, leaving me deaf and eating Sudafeds for three weeks afterwards. I haven't dived since but would like to have another go in some quiet clear location, going down at my own pace.

18 September 2004. We caught a lot more fish on our trolling line in 2004 than in previous years and wondered if the new laws restricting size and numbers of various species of Mackerel was having an effect. As we ran north from Cape Bowling Green towards Cape Upstart I caught two Spotted Mackerel while Philip was having a nap. Also on the way up we plotted the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park green zones as an overlay on our PC nav system. That way we know when to pull in our trolling line, as there is no fishing allowed there, but no way to know when you are in a green zone. We had tried to get the GBRMPA CD to work but no luck, so we made our own.

We can't go up the coast without stopping at Magnetic Island. We love Horseshoe Bay and all the walks. With temperatures in the low to mid twenties it was perfect. Our trip north from Magnetic Island was in calm SE - NE conditions between 5 and 15 knots and this year we decided to stop at Zoe Bay on the eastern side of Hinchinbrook Island.

It can be a bit rolly there, but this time the conditions were just about perfect. Because the beach shallows out a long way it's important to estimate how long you'll be ashore, what the state of the tide is and park the dinghy at a depth where you'll be able to retrieve it. We enjoyed the shaded climb to the waterfall and large rockpool and a swim avoiding the little nibbler fish in case they gave us a nip. Retrieved our dinghy (perfectly placed I must say) and were on our way and anchored at Brook Islands by 4.00pm. 

We took a stroll on the beach when the sun was low in the sky but still high enough to see the bottom through the water. There we witnessed something we've never seen before. In crystal clear water over golden sand in a gutter about 2 metres from the beach where we stood was a fat grey school of small fish, about 300 metres long. Swimming lazily up the middle were half a dozen sharks, a couple of Bronze whalers 1.5 metres, some smaller white tips and a Wobbygong. As they'd reach the end, they'd circle back to the start and swim up the line again. Dine in or take out? Luckily we had the camera so were able to take pictures.

The scene was totally different the next day. No fish. No sharks. Different tide - no gutter. We had just been lucky to see it.

Another "must stop" for us is Dunk Island and stop we did - this time in Brammo Bay in front of the resort. We did all the usual Dunk Island things: the walks, the coffees, the swims, but not the coconuts. But after 4 days we thought we'd have a look at Beaver Reef, about 20 miles east of Dunk. Unfortunately, with a NE wind, there was no suitable place to anchor and we continued on to another reef where we lucked onto a fantastic 11 metre patch of clean white sand in crystal clear water. A fishing expedition in the dinghy (drifting over sand) produced lots of great fish: several 45cm Red Emperor (below legal size so we had to put them back but magnificent fish just the same), 4 beautiful Coral Trout which we kept and many others we let go because we didn't need or have room for them.

We caught a mackerel on our way to Fitzroy Island where we ended up staying 5 days waiting for Philip's Mum to arrive in Cairns, when we would go into a marina berth.

10 October 2004. Mum arrived and the weather turned to muck at almost the same time. OK for land based activities but not for boating with a not so stable 82 year old. We wanted no more than 10-15 knots. On her last day we got out to Upolo Cay for lunch - a sunny day but a bit too rocky for a mature aged non-boater.

20 October 2004 No sooner had Mum flown out than we welcomed our younger son and his girlfriend (and the fine calm weather.) The plan was to take them, via the Ribbon Reefs, to Lizard Island, from where they would fly back to Cairns and then home to Sydney. They had 10 days with us. We figured that if we had bad weather we could hurry up the ribbons in protected water and spend more time in Watsons Bay at Lizard; if we had good weather we would spend more time on the reefs and less at Lizard. Tim wanted to catch big fish and Ren wanted to swim and jump off the roof. We should be able to accommodate that.

We made some distance the first day and slept that night at the Disneyland island of Low Islets. From there we had a dream run of weather. I mean we could sit on the roof on our chairs without qualm, see into the water and recognise every bommie, swim and snorkel happily without wetsuits. We caught loads of Spangled Emperor - Ren took the prize for capturing a humungus specimen in her baby doll nightie - some Red Throat and Coral Trout. But we only kept as many as we could eat. It wasn't until the last day that we had any action trolling, catching a Shark Mackerel and a Spanish.

By the time we got as far north as Dynamite Pass and the Cod Hole the weather was not so perfect and threatening to blow up next day so we spent only a couple of hours in the water. Tim and Ren finally "got it" about why snorkelling is so good. When we got to Lizard Island, I think they were already satisfied they had had a great holiday but we walked them to Cook's Look and snorkelled in the bay anyway. We also had a fun night with some of the other cruisers in the bay and celebrated my birthday with a Lebanese feast. It had apparently been crowded with boats for most of the season before we got there, due, I think, to the publicity about the Lizard Island Olympics in Cruising Passage Magazine. By the time we got there we had about 35 boats, like the year before.

No sooner had we waved off the plane than we had to turn our attention to getting back to Cairns quickly so we could take off with Solita for Singapore via Darwin on a delivery trip accompanying the owner. We weren't overly fussed about rushing back down. We were tired. The weather was blowing twenties from the south and we were going to have to take the coastal route rather than the more protected reef route (because we would be travelling straight through overnight). Also, our skipper had ignored my advice back at Magnetic Island to allow 6 weeks to get his cruising permit for Indonesia and was now hassling us to get copies of our passports etc to him. We were going to allow three weeks to get to Darwin, but if we hadn't received the cruising permit by then we couldn't leave. So why should we rush?

On the other hand it was now the beginning of November. Another three weeks would put us almost into the cyclone season. We needed to leave Australia as soon as possible. Finally we decided that everything about preparing for this trip would be easier if we were in Cairns in person, so we took off. Incidentally, although, like a gentleman, we try never to sail to windward, we discovered that Lifeline was quite comfortable beating into twenty knots. And, of course, the weather became light northerlies almost as soon as we arrived.

We like Solita very much, spacious and comfortable and surely capable. It's just that she hadn't really been prepared for a long journey or overseas passage. In fact the trip had been "planned" because she couldn't be put on a ship at the right time for the right money. With all sorts of other priorities, the owner had done his best to equip the boat on his way north up the Queensland coast, but did not have a lot of boating experience and had little idea of what preparations might be required. (For instance, none of the galley cupboards had latches on them; china plates, cups etc were stacked inside with nothing to restrain them; Cooking equipment was all 240 volt, relying on a generator with not even a kettle to use on the gas stove; 240 volt power cords lay across the cockpit etc etc there were lots of other teensy problems, but you get the drift.) I provisioned and spent a lot of time in the saloon and galley stacking away, wedging and putting in non-slip stuff, while the men saw to the machinery and other preparations.

5 November 2004. After fueling up we set off in Solita for Hope Islets where we would give the waterline a bit of a scrub (the boat hadn't been antifouled recently). On jumping over the side Philip discovered a chunk the size of a twenty cent piece missing from the prop. But no vibration so the skipper decided we would press on. And press on we did. The weather was perfect motorboat conditions so we kept going up to Cape York and around the corner. The engine was performing well at 7-8 knots with only slight problems with a depth sounder, the secondhand HF radio which had been installed in Cairns, which could not be heard above the interference while underway and the generator, which refused to operate almost as soon as we left port. I was very glad I had bought a kettle and thrown in my pressure cooker.

We had just set off across the Gulf in pitch darkness. I was off watch. (With so many ships about we used a two on, one off watch system up there). Suddenly I woke up. Something had changed. The engine had stopped. Not a good sign in a powerboat, but better here than halfway across the Gulf. The owner got it going and we turned back against the current covering in four hours what we had covered in one in the other direction and finally dropped anchor off Possession Island around midnight.

The next morning, after a thorough examination, it was determined that the stoppage had been caused by air in the fuel filter. After installing a new filter and bleeding the system we got underway again across the Gulf, arriving in Gove, 350nm away, in exactly 48 hours.

In Gove the resident local generator fixit man was able to jury rig a solution for the generator after parts flown in from Cairns failed to fix the problem.  Gove sailing club is as far as we strayed during two nights at anchor and we set off again for Darwin, via "The Hole in the Wall" between the Wessel Islands.

I think the generator lasted until we wanted to cook before it conked out again. Fortunately, a battery charger from the inverter (in place of the generator) topped up the batteries which ran the freezer, fridge and water pumps. Otherwise, no food and no water.

But we hadn't gone too far before there was a strong smell of diesel down below. On investigation, we found that the fuel filter was leaking, a constant drip, but manageable. Rather than risk stopping the engine in this isolated spot we continued on to near Cape Don where we anchored for half an hour to fix it. This time the problem was an extra O-ring which had been left in place the last time the filter had been changed.

15 November 2004. We arrived and anchored in Fannie Bay in Darwin about 10pm. The weather was still northerly and we were exposed, but it was very light and we were very weary. Besides, to enter any of the marinas required transiting a lock and could only be done in daylight. I'm not sure where people anchor in those circumstances if the weather is wild.

The next day we went into Tipperary marina to wait for the cruising permit, and to arrange to slip the boat, have the prop fixed (plus the shaft if it had been worn), the generator fixed, the HF radio fixed plus some machinery servicing. We were feeling distinctly unsure about the trip to Singapore, but would have continued. After all we had been to Darwin before and were most interested in learning about the Indonesia part of the journey. We had also already covered half the distance between Cairns and Singapore and had been in the most isolated parts of the trip.

With the cyclone season deadline hanging over us, we could only spare a maximum of two weeks to get the work done. In the event, the owner realised that the work needed could easily take much longer than that and decided to fly home to Thailand leaving the boat in Darwin until the following year.

So that was our adventure. We flew back to Cairns, got ourselves organised and motored 850 nm back to Brisbane over twelve days. We'd learned a lot from the Darwin trip. Collected lots of guides, information, learnt the lie of the land. Especially, we appreciated that Indonesia is in Darwin's backyard. The people up there hop across all the time. Somehow it didn't seem nearly so far away. Not one person talked about pirates - problems were much more manageable - tests of seamanship, like fierce currents and deep anchorages; or interpersonal, like warding off curious villagers.

We also realised how capable and well prepared Lifeline is and confirmed confidence in our own abilities. OK so now we reckoned we were ready to take off for South East Asia. The only problem was, we were absolutely wrecked. I didn't want to do anything in 2005 except cruise  Moreton Bay.......

Back to Cruise Log