Crossing and arrival
Our trip from Vanuatu to Australia takes twelve days, and as usual the weather changes all the time. The days with very little wind are especially unpleasant because the waves are still high. And of course things start to break down again. Our wind generator must be intriguing to ocean birds. They often fly around it in circles while keeping an eye on it. A big fat seagull thinks it can land on it and with one wing it breaks off one of the generator's vanes. And our oven's cardanic mount stops functioning. A screw has broken off and now the oven looks pathetically crooked. We only just manage to cook a pan of rice on it and the last two days we eat rice salad. And if that wasn't enough, the bilge pump gives up on us. We disassemble the pump and it turns out it is clogged up badly. We replace a couple of rubber parts and put it back so we can pump up the diesel in the bilge, which ended up there as a result of a leak in the diesel pipe.
We have less than two days to go and we calculate whether we will be able to arrive on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday morning. The wind direction and the current are very favourable and we employ full sail. We fly over the waves, with a speed of sometimes more than seven knots, and we even manage to arrive in Bundaberg on Thursday morning.
A bit nervous because of all the stories we heard about strict inspections we tie our ship to the quarantine pier. This is where Joel and Rebecca come on board. Joel is from Quarantine and he first inspects all our food. He confiscates the flour and the macaroni which are infested with weavels, along with our last onions and garlic. A bracelet and necklace made of seeds has to be destroyed as well. Then he inspects the whole boat, in search of woodworm, but fortunately he doesn't find anything. After we have paid 330 dollars he wishes us a pleasant stay and leaves us with our minds fairly at rest. Rebecca from Customs takes care of the paperwork, which doesn't cause any problems, and two hours later we are anchored in the estuary.
We spend a week on a mooring in the middle of Bundaberg. This way we can do some shopping every day, because we have a long wish list. Top of the list is "internet on board". In Vanuatu we were advised to go for Telstra, the national phone company. They offer the best coverage along the whole eastern coast of Australia. We buy a small device with five gigabyte of data which serves as a wireless network so we can now be online with two computers at the same time.
After two years of sailing around the Pacific our jaws drop a mile when we enter a huge shopping mall. So many gadgets, loud ads, people queueing at McDonald's - it takes a while to get used to this again.
Bundaberg is a small town surrounded by a lot of natural scenery and on our boat we enjoy the birdsong. We see spoonbills, pelicans and ibises and the smaller invisible birds sing cheerfully. When it gets dark, we see a couple of bats fly by. After a couple of minutes we see another small group and then they arrive in huge numbers, so many they almost obscure the twilight. And this lasts for at least half an hour. We try to estimate how many there are: hundreds? Thousands? Millions? Let's just say there were countless.
Slowly but surely we are finding our land legs again and we have completed the most important repairs on board. The oven is back in its bracket and the wind generator's vane has been replaced by an old one while we wait for the new one we ordered. We can take a warm shower every day and after a week we are rested and clean and sail along the river to Fraser Island.
Off the coast, to the south of Bundaberg, lies Fraser Island, which is supposed to be the largest sand island in the world. Between this island and the mainland there's an area which is comparable to the Dutch Wadden Sea: lots of shallow water with channels, marked by buoys. We have to keep an eye on our depth gauge at all times and take the current into account. Sometimes there's less than a metre of water under our keel and if you don't pay attention, the current moves you sideways and there's less than ten centimetres left.
We first anchor near the Kingfisher Resort, where we take a walk on this beautiful island. It's a beautiful wildlife area which reminds us a bit of the Dutch dunes. The weather forecast predicts bad weather, so we lift the anchor and move to a sheltered bay on the other side, near the village of River Heads.
The first day is calm and we go on shore to have a look around. Apart from enormous houses with huge gardens and a couple of views of the bay there isn't a lot of action. We do some shopping and then we are ready for the strong winds. Since the current of the water determines the direction of the boat, the wind ends up coming from behind. The rain is directly aimed at the cockpit, so we have to close the doors. The hatch above our coffee table is leaking as well. Despite this we survive the day, but the next morning the wind is still strong and is now blowing from a different direction, which means we end up dangerously close to the shore. The waves are becoming bigger as well, so we are rolling considerably. The only good news is that we can see turtles. But turtles or not, we have to leave here, so we lift the anchor again and seek shelter a little bit further on in the bay. It's a lot calmer here and the next day it's all over. We sail on to Gary's Anchorage. We don't know who Gary is, but it's a beautifully calm place and here we take a walk on the island as well, armed with a stick to keep any dingos at a distance. We see lots of signs warning against crocodiles, but we didn't see any, unfortunately.
We leave Fraser Island and sail to Brisbane during the night. It is not a pleasant trip. Despite the weather forecast the wind only gets stronger, which means we arrive far too early at the inland waterways of Brisbane. We call the harbour authorities, because we want to know whether our planned route is safe in the dark.It turns out this route hasn't been maintained for years and we change our plan to avoid ending up on a sandbank. We heave to until the first light of dawn replaces the darkness of the night, so we can safely continue our journey. We manoeuvre among buoys and giant cargo ships and oil tankers for another 33 miles and eventually moor in Manly Marina.
We spend two weeks in luxury, safely moored on a jetty, without having to worry about Happy. There's a marina with running water, electricity and washing machines, but more about that in our next story.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)