Saturday, April 18, 2020

Fitzroy Reef

[Kyle]We were pretty sure the snorkelling at Lady Musgrave was not going to get more interesting, and there was one more reef we wanted to see before returning on to Bundaberg - so we decided to carry on further to Fitroy Reef. Fitzroy is a lagoon with no island and a narrow entrance that looks impassable on our nautical charts. Commercial tour boats also don't go there. We were hoping for a little more solitude and possibly a more diverse ecosystem. The reef is one of the few open to fishing so a lot of locals come here to fish (fishing is still allowed per the current Covid19 pandemic regulations in Queensland) so we were not sure exactly how busy it might be.


An easy sail, and the pass into Fitzroy was straightforward and well marked
We were soon anchored in tempting waters and eager for a swim

We arrived to find just one other sailing catamaran there and picked up one of the two free public mooring balls behind them. They were a local couple from nearby on the mainland who come here all of the time. From what we could tell, they spent from sunup until sundown fishing in their dinghy while we loafed and snorkeled away our time.

Our first day, the snorkeling was pretty much the same as back at Lady Musgrave: Lots of coral, lots of little reef fish, a whole lot of water, not much else. Our big finds of the day were a little yellow box fish and a big, well camouflaged nudibranch.

{Maryanne: Generally we are finding the coral not in the best of ways, certainly not as good as we saw back in Lord Howe. There have been 5 major bleaching events in the last 3 years along the great barrier reef, and even at this southerly tip they have not escaped bleaching events. Things are seriously not looking great given that global warming is expected to continue, and temperatures on the rise for some time to come}

The moon was now in its third quarter, rising at midnight, which left the early evening skies dark and clear. It was perfect for tracing out the constellations of the southern sky while seeing how many satellites we can spot gliding through them.

Much more extensive swimming the following day finally revealed one nervous manta ray and one nervous turtle for me and one curious shark for Maryanne. {Maryanne: We had a beautiful calm day and decided to venture out and swim through the pass and a nice circuit along the outside wall, a false pass and inner reef wall}




Hanging out at Fitzroy Reef

A low pressure trough passed through, briefly reversing the trade winds. Since we were still awaiting mail and news on our visa status, we took the opportunity to race back to Bundaberg under spinnaker to check on things. Most of the day was pretty good, but we weren't quite fast enough and the trough beat us there. Ten miles from the anchorage, we got hit with strong winds, pelting rain and more thunder and lightning than we have seen in years. Apart from worries about frying all of our electronics, it was pretty cool. The moon wasn't up yet and, of course, we had 35,000 feet of cloud above us. That made it really dark between flashes and as bright as a sunny day during the flashes. They were maybe about a third of a second out of every two and from every direction, which made for some pretty jumpy shadows.

When it passed, we had a pretty gentle downwind sail to our old anchoring spot across from the marina. Time to hook back up to the ol' internet and see how the world is doing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Lady Musgrave Island

[Kyle]The wind was forecast to increase over the next few days, so we decided to carry on Lady Musgrave Island, which has a protected lagoon inside a fringing reef. We picked a nice sandy spot strategically located between three big bommies on the far side of the lagoon from the actual island. From there, it was easy to leave the dinghy up and do all of our snorkeling right off of Begonia.


More amazing sunsets to enjoy (bug free)

Usually, Lady Musgrave is a big tourist destination. Big high-speed catamarans out of Bundaberg and the town of 1770 take hundreds of people a day to snorkel its lagoon and picnic on its beaches. Since the tour operators were shut down (Covid19 pandemic regulations), it was just us and three other widely spaced private vessels, each enjoying our own square mile.



Enjoying getting our exercise on the reef

The snorkeling was good. There was good visibility and plenty of coral to explore. Even though we swam all day for two days straight, we struggled to find anything that made us wave the other one over and say, Hey, look at that!” There were no sharks, no rays, no turtles, no eels, nor any especially big or colorful versions of all of the usual fishes. Still, it was nice to be somewhere nice and flat while the wind howled through the lagoon.

{Maryanne}Unfortunately on this visit we didn't visit the island itself. The weather forecast was keeping our schedule tighter than we'd have liked and we had to sacrifice some of our opportunities. If we had have gone ashore, we may well have seen baby turtles hatching and making their first trip to the ocean (we are just at the tail end of hatching season). Something for next time!

Thinking of going yourself? We found the following useful to research and download beforehand (no internet/cell phone signal at the island)

  • Coordinates and details regarding the public mooring balls are available at GBRMPA - note - Note Lady Musgrave is part of the Capricorn/Bunker Group of islands)
  • Dive site maps and info available at LadyMusgraveExperience.com.au
  • Dive sites may also be listed at WannaDive.Net

Monday, April 13, 2020

Lady Elliot Island (Finally we sail to the Great Barrier Reef)

[Kyle]Our first attempt at escape to the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef was a big flop. We left with a forecast for moderate crosswinds, which left the Burnett River receding smartly over the horizon. After a few hours, our wind died and turned into direct headwinds. Our only choices were to either use a lot of fuel to motor the rest of the way, or give up and go back the way we came. Since we were trying to save our fuel for any contingencies, we decided to turn around and let the wind take us back to Bundaberg.

We started our second attempt fifteen hours later in the dark. This time, the headwinds were slightly to one side and strong enough to allow us to do the whole trip on one tack. When we arrived at Lady Elliot Island, the only other boat there was one used by the resort for taking out guests. The resort was closed, of course (due to the Covid 19 pandemic), but we had a nice chat on the radio with one of the caretakers. He apologized for not being able to welcome us ashore, but told us we were welcome to one of the available moorings. He then gave us lots of tips on where the best snorkeling was, etc.


Lady Elliot Island - Sunsets and Easter Chocolates helped keep us very happy

Our mooring was on what was usually the protected, leeward side of the island, but today was one of the one in ten where the wind blows the other way. Our evening was spent bracing ourselves and catching things before they fell off of the table.

Despite this, we tried snorkeling anyway. We were so happy to be out of the murk of the Burnett River. We did see a few nice things, but the aerated water and churned up silt made the visibility too poor to see what we were doing. Still, it felt nice to go for a swim.

The wind slowly backed through the night. It was still rough when we awoke, but it was just then going behind the island. By the time we got into the water, swimming conditions were much improved. There was lots of good, healthy coral and plenty of schools of different fishes. We also spotted three different types of rays, including big mantas who circled back around to see us as we went by. We also saw several very docile turtles, including one who was quite happy to let me brush the sand off of his shell.



Snorkelling the reef - LOVELY! - And with Manta Rays too!

Addition: It turned out that our sail to the Great Barrier Reef was also a milestone #500 trip in our log book. Not a bad place to be sailing to! I wonder where we'll be at #1,000?

Thinking of going yourself? We found the following useful to research and download beforehand (no internet/cell phone signal at the island)

  • Coordinates and details regarding the public mooring balls are available at GBRMPA - note - Note Lady Elliot is part of the Capricorn/Bunker Group of islands)
  • Dive site maps and info available at LadyElliot.com.au
  • Maps and information on the snorkel trails and best spots are available at LadyElliot.com.au
  • Maps and information on the island walking trails are available at LadyElliot.com.au

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Return to Bundaberg for Spa Treatment (for the boat)

[Kyle]It took us two long days to sail from Tin Can Bay north to Bundaberg. We arrived well after dark and anchored on the other side of the Burnett River from the marina. We were in the wrong state of the tide to make it much further up the shallow river, so we had a four hour nap before continuing into town.


Sailing North through the great Sandy strait area
Peace and tranquility as we nudge north



And eventually back to the Burnett River and the town of Bundaberg
where the local sugar cane is processed and shipped around the world

In the river by the town we found only one spot big enough to swing and plopped our anchor down right in the middle of it, before turning in for the rest of our night's sleep.

In the morning, we headed ashore for provisioning. As we did, no fewer than four people came by to tell us horror stories about the spot where we had anchored. Most told us we would either have to cut our anchor free to leave or else hire a commercial diver to unwind it from whatever is on the riverbed. The best we got was that the spot right next to us was great, but the spot where we were was terrible, or was it the other way around, the guy couldn't remember. Anyway, if we somehow did get our anchor up, we shouldn't be surprised to find it pulling up the whole Lost City of Atlantis with it. The good news is we won't drag. The bad news is that after a few cycles of the tide, the chain wrapping around all of the junk down there will slowly pull Begonia to the bottom like someone winding in a kite. That's apparently how all of the boats underneath us sank.

Well, we'll have to keep an eye on it and eventually I may have to go for an unwanted swim. Pay a diver, puh-leeze! In the meantime, we needed a lot of food.

What unfortunate timing. We had been deliberately eating down our stores so that we could leave the boat hauled out at the boatyard at the marina and spend a couple of months visiting family and friends. Now, nobody was going anywhere and we needed a lot of supplies, just in case we were told to get out and sail back to America.

We generally only go to the store a few times a year. In the last twelve months, apart from shopping for small amounts of perishables like produce and bread, we have been to the grocery, store four times. (Whangarei, Noumea, Sydney and Hobart) Typically, we fill three or four cartloads and spend a couple thousand dollars. For some reason, I don't think that's going to fly anymore.

Indeed, it did not. The shelves were bare of virtually everything on our list and most of the few things that did remain were strictly rationed. (no pasta, toilet rolls, rice, flour, etc). In one store, we were told we could have two cans of vegetables. Not two of each kind, two total. Okay, so all we have to do is make fifty trips to the store today and we'll be ready to set sail.

Maybe we're going about this all wrong. We've been lots of remote places that don't have anything and made it work. Yeah, except that we stocked up beforehand at the last Carrefour five thousand miles back. Now we need that stuff, too. What we need to do is buy stuff that isn't rationed and that nobody else is buying either. The store has plenty of dried okra and jars of anchovy sauce. That'll kick start your diet.

It took us several days and several trips each to every store in the downtown area to finally get most of the stuff on our list so we'd be able to cook during our haul out. We gave up on the rest. In the process, we were forced to have many many more interactions with people than if we had been able to do our usual one big shop. After a while, we realized we were mingling among the same people who were also going from store to store in the same big cloud of germs. Let's hope none of us has it yet.

Maryanne's big win was when she found shelf-stable tofu over a week later. After going to several stores that said they don't carry it because nobody buys it, she found a message online from some people complaining that their source had dried up because it was bought out by a bunch vegetarians. "They aren't even real vegans, like us". Maryanne got there the next morning when they opened and found a stash. She brought it home in the cool bag atop a frozen chicken, which might possibly have been a pigeon.

Downtown was strange. The Bundaberg area seems to be populated by two different types of people. The first is the kind that followed the recommendations of the health authorities and stayed at home. The other thinks there is nothing to worry about and is going about their lives like they always do. This left the downtown area mostly deserted of the former, leaving the latter shaking each others hands and racing up way too close to each other to say hello. The ironic thing is that most of them were in the age category that meant they were supposed to be extra careful.

Most businesses were closed (the pubs!), of course, but the few that were allowed to be open were trying very hard to keep in the black. I walked by one empty Asian restaurant (only serving takeout) where the proprietors managed the difficult trick of pleading with their eyes that I would come in and buy something while simultaneously looking terrified that I actually would.

Once we were satisfied that our food stores were somewhat sufficient again, we headed back downriver to the marina for our originally scheduled haulout. Our plan had changed from leaving Begonia unattended for a couple of months to getting hauled-out, painted and back in as quickly as possible. The rules were changing daily and we were very worried about getting hauled out and then not being able to get put back into the water for an indefinite period. We even considered not hauling out at all and I was gradually resigning myself to the fate of swimming twice a week to scrape the growth off our long-expired antifouling. When the day arrived, we conferred with the yard and decided we could probably risk being pulled out if we were quick about it. Apparently because they sell fuel they are considered an 'essential business' and that suited us just fine.




Boat yard blues
spa treatment for Begonia, but definitely NOT for us

Being hauled out is never fun, but being hauled out and in a real damn hurry is even worse. Every day started well into darkness and finished when the evening's cloud of horrible biting insects drove us slapping ourselves into our sweltering, unventilated cabin. Every morning, my first tentative steps revealed that I was indeed even more sore than I was the day before. By the end of the week, we were both hobbling around like a couple of ninety year olds.

At least being in the yard kept us relatively safe from the virus, compared to being in town. Most people there, including myself, spend the whole day wearing masks, gloves and goggles anyway, and getting too close to someone else's boat is a sure way to get roped into helping out, so everyone stays well apart.

Since we were pressed for time, we stuck to sanding, painting and other essential jobs and hired a guy for the tedious cosmetic job of waxing the hulls between the waterline and the deck. He spent way more time on it than we usually do and it really showed. Begonia has never looked better the whole time we have had her, even including after the previous owners spiffed her up for the sale.

The three of us all worked very hard, which got us back into the water four days earlier than we had planned at the haul-out. We were both super-sore, but also very pleased to be back in the water where we could be more in control of our own fate. We did the rest of the 'yard' work at the dock, which involved three trips up the mast for me. The third was to fix something I had screwed up on the first. We bent the sails back on and then finally got to stow our tools away. We filled the water tanks and washed the boatyard grit off of the decks. Then we were finally done. If the Australian Border Force ordered us out of the country, we could be gone in half an hour.

So far, they haven't, which is good, because we were a little sleep deprived. The next morning, we slept in until dawn, which felt like a decadent noon. That might have had something to do with turning in at six p.m. and being asleep five minutes later.

The COVID situation at the dock was not as good as it was in the yard. We seemed to be on the party dock, where all of the boaties (as they are called here) spent all of their self-isolation time boozing it up on each other's boats. Our nearest neighbors liked to move their party onto the dock itself, so there was no way to pass without walking through the crowd. The consensus opinion was that we were all way out in the sticks, so no one was going to get it. Okay, but the grapevine also said that there were two people from the marina who had been kicked off of their boats and were being quarantined in the Lighthouse Motel in Burnett Heads because they got it.

It is a shame to not be able to socialize with all of these people. They do all seem genuinely nice, but I'm pretty sure the PM didn't put “Unless they seem really nice” in the list of allowable exceptions to the stay at home rules. People ashore can't visit their friends. Why should we be any different? We decided we would be better off at anchor.



Eventually we are back in the water (but the work doesn't end yet)

The spot we picked adjacent the marina was actually closer to our former slip than most of the docks, but at least we had less chance of getting a pop-in visit. We stayed in the area because we were still waiting on a few important deliveries that were on their way to the marina. We got most of what we needed, but when it became clear that the rest of it was going to be a while, we decided to head for somewhere more remote, where we could spend our days swimming and our nights watching the stars free of bugs.

{Maryanne} Here is a list of some of the jobs we did manage to get done:

  • Sails & rigging
    • Rigging survey (all is well)
    • General standing and running rigging inspection by Kyle
    • Mainsail & Jib to sail guys for some spa treatment (new bolt rope, restitching and a few patches)
    • New/replacement main halyard installed
    • New/replacement jib sheets installed
    • Restitch and repair chafe on Sail pack (and zipper)
    • New blocks for furler lines
    • New elastic retainers for spinnaker blocks
    • Varnish sail battens (to prevent fiberglass splinters)
    • Replace boot on Gull Striker (to help prevent lines catching and the sail chafing against this hardware)
  • Propulsion & Engine stuff
    • Service (fix) alternator
    • Change oil in engines and drive legs
    • Grease props
    • Swap out anodes above and below the water line
    • Check on rudder bearings, posts, etc. Clean up as necessary
  • Hulls
    • Wax hulls
    • Fix some hull damage (local guys) - grind, fill, etc
    • Sand, prep, and apply appropriate anti-foul paint on hulls, rudders, propellers, and drive-legs.
  • Fix a few blisters on keels
  • Dingy Cover - new (local canvass/sail shop)
  • Bedding / Upholstery
    • Newly made fitted bed sheets from sheets I’d purchased months ago
    • New bed mattress (old one was getting a little hollow in the middle we rolled into)
    • Replace sofa cushion foam (in just the one seat that was suffering and uncomfortable)
  • Fix zippers in bimini
  • Fix swim ladder (local welder)
  • Service all the winches and windlass
  • And a host of other jobs I’ve forgotten about…