Brisbane to the Gold Coast
22 - 26 October 2008: Queensland, Australia
Having officially entered the country we were allowed ashore, and our first destination was going to be the shower block to wash off the accumulated salt from the night before. Just as we were about to step ashore we spotted someone having a good look at Rahula. He walked towards us and holding out his hand said: "You must be James, and you must be Amelia." Stunned how this stranger knew our names, he introduced himself as Jeff, a local who has been following our travels via the website. We chatted for a while and invited him onboard to look around the boat. He was in the process of building a 35ft catamaran to go cruising and read various cruisers websites in order to get ideas and keep his dream alive. He seemed like a really nice guy and we were happy to share what we have learnt, remembering how much we relied on salty cruisers' advice when we first set sail (not that we consider ourselves 'Salty' just yet, we've got another ocean and a half to do yet…J). We saw Jeff again a few times over the short period we were in the Brisbane area, as he kept popping over to the boat and we visited his home town of Manly, where he kindly arranged us a free berth in a marina.
Finally we were on our own and able to appreciate the achievement of crossing the Pacific. We were too exhausted for a celebratory drink, so we collapsed into bed for a short afternoon nap. We awoke refreshed, and decided to go for a walk and explore the local area. We were moored at Rivergate Marina, which is the new Quarantine location for Brisbane. The staff at the marina were incredibly friendly and helpful, and went out of their way to help us on several occasions. The marina was brand new, and most of the buildings still at the planning stage. It was in an area of Brisbane that is now being modernised and converted to light industrial and office use, much like London's Docklands 15 years ago. As an industrial area there were no shops, banks or any public transport. We found a chandlers, and realised we were limited to paying for things on a credit card as we did not have any Australian Dollars. We got chatting to another customer, who told us there was a shopping centre nearby that had lots of ATMs. He kindly offered to drive us there, and we hopped into his large 4x4 truck expecting a short car journey. 45 minutes and one traffic jam later (Aussie sense of distance is obviously different to our own…) we finally arrived at the shopping centre. In that time we found out that our driver, Ben, used to be in the Royal Australian Navy, and now owns a yacht charter business. He gave us lots of good advice on sailing in the area, then waved goodbye and drove off.
We marched up to the first cash machine and tried my card. Within seconds it was spat back out. I tried again, with the same result. We moved on to the next machine, still no joy. We tried five other machines, trying different amounts, and none would give us any cash. The situation became critical. We were stuck in a shopping centre without a clue where we were in relation to the boat, with no cash to pay for a taxi or bus back. There was a supermarket nearby, so we thought we could buy some food, then get cash back at the till. We dreamily browsed the aisle piling junk food into our basket, and at the till I was told I would not get cash bask if paying by credit card. The card I was using was a Barclays debit card, but it would only work as a Visa card. So we were back to square one. The cashier called her boss, who was very friendly and apologetic about now being able to help. She offered to try to call Barcalys Australia to see if they could help and looked them up in the phone book. We stood there for 30 minutes while the supermarket manager did her best to help. In the end she offered to call us a taxi and explained that they can take card payments. If only we had known that earlier! Fifteen minutes later we were in a taxi and on our way back to the boat, still cashless.
I phoned Barclays as soon as we got back and was told my card had been stopped because they suspected fraud. The operator told me I was supposed to notify the bank when I was about to go abroad, and I explained that I had been travelling for 22 months and have used my card around the world. The block was lifted from my card, but as there were no ATMs nearby we still didn't have any cash.
The next day we wanted to go and explore the centre of Brisbane, but we could not catch public transport without money. David, the marina manager, offered to give us a lift to the train station and lend us the money for a train ticket. All through our time in Brisbane we were impressed by how friendly people were, and how complete strangers would go out of their way to help. We finally made it into the town centre on the clean, efficient train service, passing stations that looked just like their British equivalents. The town centre was busy and full of every kind of shop imaginable. As it was spring, many shops had sales on their winter clothes so we looked for suitable warm clothes to take back to the UK. This was the first big commercial city we had been to since Panama, and the urge to shop and replace our sun worn and tired clothes was strong (for once, I agree! J). We ended up spending all day shopping, glancing at the historical sights as we passed them (I thought I had got away with it until Amelia said, 'oh it's ok we'll do them on the way back up!' J). I cannot explain how normal it felt to wander through a western shopping area, full of Caucasians; It felt like we had returned home already (this was weird, I kept thinking I knew loads of people here, but it was because we were so used to Polynesians, Melanesians, South Americans, Kanaks etc, that all Caucasians looked familiar… J). We were going to visit Brisbane again on the way back up the Australian coast, so the tourism can wait until then (told you, there's no escaping A with a guide book. J).
Having spent too much money on frivolous material goods we decided it was time to head south and try to crack the trip to Sydney. We had been told about an inland waterway that leads down from Brisbane to the Gold Coast, avoiding the need for the long journey north out of the harbour and shortening the time spent in open ocean. After the pounding we had getting to Brisbane a pleasant sail though narrow sheltered channels appealed greatly. First we made a short hop out of the Brisbane River to Manly, which is home to the largest marina in the South Pacific, with 1700 berths. I have never seen so many boats in one place, and James could have spent hours nosing at all the catamarans (I nearly did, but the Fish'n'Chip shop beckoned… J).
We then had an early start to catch the tide down the inland waterways. There was little wind, so we motored south, past mangrove covered islands, dolphins and beautiful birds. It was nice to sail with a view, and though it was cold we sat outside and admired the scenery. The channel was well marked, and the only thing that marred the idyllic journey was the speedboats thundering past us, their wake making Rahula roll and bounce uncontrollably. The weather deteriorated in the afternoon, and a thunderstorm developed ahead of us. We could see the wind line approaching, and we quickly tried to furl the awning which we had left up to shield us from the sunshine earlier in the day. As the squall hit we struggled with the big canvas, but eventually got it under control and furled, and we could go below to get our rain jackets. Soon the squall passed, and we were back to sailing under blue skies, passing beautiful waterfront properties and lots more boats. The water was quite shallow for most of the way, and we stuck rigidly to the marked channel, following our chart. Unfortunately we arrived at the shallowest part just after low water, and inevitably ran aground… A few deft manoeuvres with the engine and the rudders got us off again, only to touch bottom again further on. We raised the daggerboards a bit more and steered our way cautiously over the shallow bar, finally exhaling in relief when we were back in deeper water (in my defence it was a lot shallower than the chart said it was…J).
We arrived at the southern end of the waterway by late afternoon and found a quite sheltered spot to anchor for the night. Pelicans swooped past us as the sun set, skimming the surface of the water in search of food. The skyscrapers of the city of Southport were visible on the other side of the harbour, and the twinkle of the red and green navigation marks made the place look like a high street at Christmas (or a city harbour at night maybe… or maybe I have no imagination. J).
We were up early again the next day, keen to get going on the final leg to Sydney. Having topped up with diesel in a nearby marina we headed through the throngs of weekend boaters out of the spit channel and into the Coral Sea.