Not over till the fat lady sings!

Mon 30 Nov 2009 05:50
Monday 30th November
Garry's Anchorage, Great Sandy Strait   25:37.84S 152:58.17E
An interesting couple of days in some ways, but not others. The Great Sandy Strait is an enclosed waterway, but in places there are large expanses of water, particularly running north/south of up to fifteen miles without a break. With shallow water and strong tidal streams it can get very rough. Three days ago I set off north from the bottom of the Strait, motoring into a wind that quickly increased to 30kts, no big problem, but quickly the seas got up too, and it became a very uncomfortable struggle to keep moving forwards: every time a big sequence of waves came through the poor boat would slam to a halt. I was intent on following the beacons and leading marks, in order to stay in relatively deep water and avoid grounding. The boat was in demob mode with nothing tied down, and lots of bits and pieces came adrift, mostly bouncing and banging, rather than breaking. After five hours I covered the 17miles to Garry's anchorage: the most sheltered spot in the whole Strait. It lies in a gutter between sandbanks and small low lying Island, and looked attractive on the map. Unfortunately I was not alone in seeking out this refuge: the anchorage was chock a bloc with yachts, as everyone had heard the bad forecast, and no one wanted a new boy anchoring in their midst. So I had to anchor just out of the shelter, but maybe in not such a bad position, and at least if anyone dragged in the night I wasn't going to be in their way! If I dragged there were mostly sandbanks to fetch up on.
The first night the wind howled and howled, and 'Fleck' yawed about from side to side on her anchor chain. I began to wish that I had renewed the shackle that secures the chain to the anchor: Inspection three months ago showed some superficial rust, but I deemed it good enough for another season. You know what they say about the weakest link. But it held fast, and so did everyone else. Not so fortunate were the houseboats: This area is a bit like the Norfolk Broads, and folk can hire floating caravans with outboard motors, and explore the area, no maritime licence is required. It was fun to listen into the VHF frequencies that they use to keep in touch with their Hire Centres: also quite impressive but clearly necessary that they have to call in twice a day to confirm that they are all ok. Clearly everyone had been warned to seek safety two days ago, and all the houseboats were in fact secure in their home creeks and harbours. Many however had dragged their anchors, or were having problems setting them and staying in one place. Frantic calls from usually the female crew members (dad gets to steer, the women cook and do the VHF!!) to the effect that 'our caravan need wheels now' were met with phlegmatic responses from the hire Centres, who must be well insured, and always ended with the Aussie catch phraseof the moment 'So, no dramas!'  Well, you could have fooled me!
Yesterday it became clear that I would be staying put, and it was a hot sunny day, very hot in the boat, and quite uncomfortable with the buffeting wind and chop. Frustrating not to be moving, the boat quickly becomes a sort of prison. It was much too rough to try to launch the dinghy. Still I ahve lots of toys, and the day passed: checking the weather forecasts every few hours on the internet, which works here even though the mobile phone has no reception, reading, and playing the piano. I also started the mending jobs that have to be done before next year, but most of these will have to wait until 'Fleck is safley in Bundaberg. Last night we had an excellent thunderstorm, which was entertaining, and after heavy rain quite refreshing, Moreover it killed the wind for several hours, and I had a really good nights sleep. Early this morning I was tempted to move on, but those Caravan Hire Poeple seem to know more about the local weather than the professionals, and at 6am they were telling their fleets to stay put, there would be 30 kts again today, and by 09.00 they were proved quite right! Actually it hasn't been quite as rough today, and several more storms have broken up the heat. The boat has been quiet enough to do some painting, and I have discovered that the red tree blossom all over the place at the moment is on Flame Trees: Poinsiana. So the trees have been the botanical highlight: first the Jacarrandas, then a month later it all turns red. Flowers are the same all over the tropics, there seem to be many more species in temperate areas. Hibiscus is common, but I'm used to them now, and the wild ones are always a little dissapointing compared with the cultured domestic ones.
Hopefully the wind will shift tomorrow, so that I can get up to Bundaberg before the weekend, which will be my last down under!