Fisherman's Beach, Great Keppel Island, Australia

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Thu 20 Jan 2011 04:19

Position Report –   23⁰10’.96S  150⁰55’.90E

Having said goodbye to Mackay, we started heading south on November 1st.  Our insurance coverage requires us to be out of the “Cyclone Box” (roughly the upper northeast coast of Australia from Dec. 1st to March 30th so we are making a beeline towards Brisbane which will get us below 26⁰30 South Latitude and in compliance with our policy.  The only problem with this tactic is that the winds right now are directly from the southeast and right on our nose!  What’s more, the currents here are incredibly strong and the tides can change up to 18 feet from low to high.  Altogether, that spells miserable conditions for our journey south.  In the past two weeks, we have used our engine over 100 hours in order to motor just 300 miles through strong headwinds, rough seas and powerful currents.  In comparison, our entire 8 ½ month/12,000 mile voyage from Miami to Panama and across the Pacific required just 600 hours of motoring.  As you can imagine, we have not been happy campers!

As it turns out, this is a very unusual “La Nina” year here in Australia - probably the strongest since the 1970s.  So, what exactly does that mean???

Scientists are still not exactly sure what triggers La Nina, but, every three to seven years or so, the difference in barometric pressure between the eastern and western sides of the Pacific increases. Westerly flowing trade winds intensify and, combined with ocean currents, push more and more, warm surface water up against the landmasses in the western Pacific – i.e. Australia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, China and Japan.  As the swollen pool of warm ocean water evaporates, the resulting heavy winds and rain are blown across the region – especially eastern Australia.  Well…that’s a BUMMER!!!

The Aussie cruisers that we have met along the way (friendliest “Mates” you could ever encounter) all say that this weather is really unusual and everyone is waiting for the “northerlies” to kick in….which should have happened over a month ago and would have made our trip south much easier.  Cruisers here just “hole up” in an anchorage for days, even weeks, waiting for the right conditions to head south.  However, we don’t have that luxury since we won’t be covered if a cyclone (hurricane) strikes before we reach 26⁰30S and are “out of the box.”

So, we’re sloughing our way southward and taking as many shortcuts as possible….this means missing some of the islands we had hoped to visit on our way to Brisbane/Sydney but we can do that on our return trip in April when we head back up north towards Darwin and on to Indonesia.
One other little “shortcut” that we took might not have been quite so harmless…and I wouldn’t recommend that you try this on your own passage.  Along the Central Queensland coast, there is a little something called the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.   Maneuvers of a war-like nature are frequently conducted here and currently the area is closed off to the cruising public, including a perimeter 7 miles offshore.  Needless to say, we cut that outer 7 mile limit quite a bit last Sunday as we passed through the area.  Our thought process – flawed though it was – led us to believe that Sunday was a “day of rest” and the usual bombing, shelling and strafing exercises that are conducted within the so-called “marine danger area,” would be “on hold” so all the soldiers could attend services at their particular house of worship.  Not a likely scenario, we’ll admit... but it did shave off several hours of motoring.  Only later did we learn about the “underwater unexploded ordinances” in the area so I guess we’re lucky we didn’t shave ourselves off the face of the earth!  Dumb, dumb, dumb…..

Anyway, it’s Nov. 14th and we are now at anchor on Great Keppel Island and, AT LAST, the sun is out and the wind is clocking a bit towards the northeast so things are looking up!  We’ll stay here for another day or two as it is a beautiful, well protected little island with white sand beaches, crystal clear water.