Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Bundaberg - Yeppoon | Cyclone Ita | Rebel Heart | Sailing with babies

If I believed in such things I might have started thinking that the universe was trying to tell us something...

The same week that we set sail for the first time with almost-five-month old Jack the internet was losing its collective mind over just how irresponsible it is to travel and raise children on boats. And as if to drive home the point, Mother Nature decided to test our resolve by throwing a cyclone our way.

By now it's old news in the sailing community, but the week we left Bundaberg the crew of sailing vessel Rebel Heart made international news when they were rescued 900 miles off the coast of Mexico after their one year old daughter Lyra fell ill. After years of preparation and 2 weeks at sea they were left with no choice but to call for help and scuttle their boat. Rebel Heart was their home of 7 years and it's heartbreaking to think of her at the bottom of the ocean somewhere.

Almost as heartbreaking is the judgement, vitriol and ignorant responses leveled at Charlotte and Eric by the media and by armchair commentators who seem to think it is their right to judge and spit hate at people they don't even know.

I only know Charlotte a little bit, and we've never met in person. We're friends on Facebook and she's been a terrific support to me through my pregnancy and the early months of being a mum. I know with certainty that she and Eric have been unfairly branded in the most hurtful way a mom and dad could be – as BAD PARENTS!

I'm sure there are people that think we are crazy to be travelling with a baby on board. Apart from the occasional passive-agressive "wow, that's a VERY young baby to have on a boat!", we have had only positive responses to our little sailor and our choice of "alternate" lifestyle. Most people are either supportive or subscribe to the "if you dont have anything nice to say, dont say anything" school of thought.

It does start to weigh on you a bit though when (stupidly) reading about the public reaction to the Rebel Heart saga.

Are we crazy, irresponsible - even criminal! - to consider raising our son aboard? HAVE WE MADE THE RIGHT DECISION???

A few weeks ago I would have scoffed - YES... DUH! - but when Cyclone Ita began to make its way down the east coast towards our safe-but-fairly-isolated anchorage at Pancake Creek on the Queensland coast, the doubts started to set in for the first time.

Having a young baby on board changes your perspective on everything. Pancake Creek, while considered a good choice in extreme conditions, has no town, no roads, no immediate escape route. It's edged by swampy mangroves, so even getting off the boat would not have improved our situation much, should we have found ourselves in the middle of cyclonic conditions.

As Ita closed in on us Michael and I sat down and worked out a plan for the worse case scenario. If the morning's forecast had the cyclone warning extended to our position we would move the boat further up in to the creek on the high tide and "spiderweb" her to the dense mangroves. We would call the volunteer marine rescue to come and get me and Jack off the boat. Michael would stay with Minke and see out the storm.

We packed a ditch bag with nappies, baby formula, towels, changes of clothes, bug repellant, Jack's favourite toys, water, and flares for attracting attention. We talked over the details of how we would safely get off the boat and on to "dry" land if something catastrophic happened and it was no longer safe to be on board. It was all very sobering to go through the motions and plan for the "what ifs?".

I looked at my sweet, sleeping baby that night and thought ... wow, what the hell am I doing???

As Ita raced past us as a tropical low, just far enough offshore that we were in no danger, we cooked pancakes and sat on the floor of our saloon singing "raindrops keep falling on my head", playing with toys and having a pretty great day! We saw a maximum of just over 30 knots of wind - nothing compared to what we've sat through on anchor before - and within 24 hours the rain cleared, the sun came out and it was all over.

And to mark the occasion Jack cut his first tooth.

We're very comfortable with our decision to sail with Jack. We have no big ocean passages planned for the immediate future (although I have nothing but admiration for the fleet of cruising families crossing the Pacific this season.) We are well prepared with all the safety equipment we would need in an emergency. We log all our movements with the network of volunteer marine rescue stations along the coast, and we have enough seamanship between us to give ourselves the best change of keeping ourselves and the boat safe. There are risks of course, but wow - it's SO worth it!

And here are some photographs to demonstrate that. This is why we sail and why we want to share it with Jack - a summary of the last two weeks as we travelled from the Port of Bundaberg to the town of Yeppoon, near Great Keppel Island.

Hanging out at the Port of Bundaberg Marina

Imortalising the moment before setting sail on our new boat Minke II for the first time.

Anchored at the lovely Town of 1770, named for the year that Cook anchored there. (Minke in the middle).

Junk rigged boat at 1770

Silvery sunset over 1770

Taking the helm for the first time

Sunset at Pancake Creek

Practicing our safety drills

Beetle Bum. Being away from land has led us to new adventures in cloth nappies - and its going well!

Jack absolutely loves being in his baby carrier. Its perfect for walks and getting to and from shore safely, and he often has naps in it.

The day after the storm at Pancake Creek. Perfect.

No risking sun exposure!

From Pancake Creek we headed towards Gladstone intending to head through "The Narrows"  - a very shallow inland waterway that cuts behind Curtis Island. We had heard about the coal port development in the area but were really shocked by just how huge the expansion project was.

Transiting the flooded Narrows at high tide. We would have struggled to do this in Bass Voyager with her 2 metre draft.

Multi-tasking through The Narrows - passage making and doing the washing.

Cattle crossing in the Narrows

Kitty loves the spacious (and stable!) decks on Minke.

On exiting the Narrows we had a spectacular sail across Keppel Bay to Great Keppel Island. There was literally no swell and very light winds, which allowed us to anchor on the southern side of the island which we've never done before. This is our anchorage at beautiful Long Beach, Minke furthest to the right.

We also spent a night at beautiful Fisherman's Beach, another first for us. It was incredibly crowded because of Easter and the weather which was so damn good! It was a lot of fun though, and we swam and spent $47 on a pizza and two beers (ouch!) from the island's pizza bar.

Beach day at Svendsen's Beach, GKI.

Just a final note about Rebel Heart. Thankfully the outpouring of support from the sailing community has gone someway to counter the ignorance and negativity surrounding Charlotte and Eric, and some of the responses and tributes to Rebel Heart are truly inspiring. Ive listed a couple below that I really like, but if you look at nothing else, check out this gorgeous tribute to the thousands of boat kids out there right now.

A fabulous article by a Women Who Sail friend of mine Diane on s/v Ceilydh:
The 'Rebel Heart' Parents Want To Show Their Daughters The World. The Risks Are Worth It.

And another by fellow Women Who Sail member Tamiko who has been living aboard with her teenaged son since he was born: Rebel Heart - A Reality Check.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Missing Bass Voyager, and introducing Minke II

It's funny how as humans we get so attached to inanimate objects. It seems especially true of boats which I swear develop a distinct personalities of their own and become a very real part of the family.

So much has happened since our last (ahem ... September 2013) post. Most importantly and wonderfully, we now have a son - Jack - who joined our crew on 21 November 2013. We spent 6 months in Adelaide catching up with family and friends and adjusting (somewhat) to being parents for the first time. We sweltered through the hottest Adelaide summer on record including 11 days above 42°C (108 °F). How funny that we chose to "escape" the Queensland summer by returning home.

In the meantime, Bass Voyager waited patiently for us up North.

And then a strange opportunity presented itself. Through family friends we learned about a small catamaran that may be coming up for sale. Curious, we followed it up and ... well, long story short, we went ahead and broke rule number one of boat ownership: never buy a second boat before selling the first.

Fast forward to one week ago and 15 week old Jack, Kitty, Michael and I moved on to our new catamaran Minke II, or just Minke as we've started calling her. She's perfect for us. Comfortable, not too big, plenty of potential to improve her and make her "ours". We're in love. For the boat nerds, Minke is a 11.5m Simpson Inspiration catamaran, built in Brisbane in 1995 by Bruce Roberts. Foam core construction, fractional rigged, blah, blah, blah...

Minke II is a family boat. She's bigger, more stable (she's a catamaran after all). She's pretty and has bouncy trampoline things at the front. She's fibreglass, which equals low maintenance - I never would have fathomed how important that would become to us with Jack in our lives. She's well travelled and has proven herself over many miles sailing around Australia and South East Asia. As a result she's well decked out for long term cruising. Her home port is Port Adelaide, so she was clearly meant to be ours!

Which brings me back to Bass Voyager and my statement about getting attached to boats. Bass Voyager will always be our first love. She's a truly great boat. She's strong and built to handle any conditions. She sails brilliantly for a heavy steel boat. She could take us anywhere, and did - through the Southern Ocean, into the most remote parts of Tasmania, and twice across Bass Strait. She was so forgiving to a couple of sailing noobs with more bravado than sense. She is the symbol of our new-found freedom and represents the best three-and-a-bit years of our lives (so far!). And so it hurts my heart to admit that we've got a new boat in our lives.

People can and do raise families on much smaller boats, but we're soft. We can see ourselves comfortably living on Minke well in to the foreseeable future. Bass Voyager would be harder with a young child, let alone an energetic toddler or a 6ft-plus teenager! At least that's what we're telling ourselves.

So what's next? We are currently in Bundaberg, getting used to living aboard with a baby, and slowly unpacking our lives into the new space. We are in no rush to put Bass Voyager on the market and want to spend some time showing her some love before we do. So the plan is to sail up to the Whitsundays on Minke, leaving Bundy in a few weeks from now (or whenever we feel like it and the weather cooperates) and then move Bass Voyager the few hundred miles back down from Magnetic Island. We can anchor our two girls together and commence getting BV ready for sale. I hope they get along.

So with a new boat comes a new blog name and address: All of Bass Voyager's adventures will stay here, because they are all part of our ongoing story. I cant promise I'll keep the blog as up to date as I used to - its totally Jack-dependent - but I'll do my best because I love having this little journal to look back on and enjoy and remember.

Jack Friedrich Harris and Mum. Man do I look tired in this photo...


Minke II

A few of our favourite memories on Bass Voyager...
 At Rapid Head in South Australia

View from the homestead on Three Hummock Island in Bass Strait, Bass Voyager in the distance

Arriving at Port Davey, Tasmania

BV in Sydney Harbour

Anchored in Cowan Creek, Hawkesbury River, NSW

BV at Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

Bass Voyager under sail in the Whitsundays


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Whitsundays to Townsville

As we close in on the end of this particular segment of our adventure it seems appropriate that Mother Nature would give us a last-minute reminder of who's in charge.

After a couple more weeks exploring and relaxing around the Whitsunday Islands, including a really fun visit from my Mum and step dad, we once again headed north, spending a few days around the Woodwark Bay and Double Bay areas, and at the beautiful Gloucester Passage.

Our passage from Queens Bay (near Bowen) to Cape Upstart was frustratingly windless with only 5 or 6 knots on the stern, forcing us to motor-sail in order to make the 40+ nautical mile trip before dark. So when, just an hour or so after we dropped anchor, the wind finally piped up to a steady 15 - 18 knots from the east, Michael and I looked at each other with the exact same thought on our minds... "should we just go for it??"

"Going for it" didn't seem like that big a deal - an overnight sail of about 70 miles would get us all the way to Magnetic Island, only a stones throw from where we were hauling Bass Voyager out for maintenance in Townsville in a week's time. While we don't make a habit of changing plans at the last minute OR heading to sea just before dark, the seas had been so benign for the rest of the day, it seemed like a pretty safe bet.

And it was fine, really. Just uncomfortable. Monohulls, especially heavy, full-keel designs like Bass Voyager, are comfortable on most points of sail (i.e. most directions of wind) but when the swell is coming from off the aft quarter (i.e. hitting the boat on the side towards the back) they get this rolling motion going which makes things pretty yucky. I guess Ive become pretty soft since we got to Queensland. We tackled much more challenging seas in the southern ocean and around Tasmania, but (and being nearly 7 months pregnant is surely a big part of this) I really struggled on this trip. It was the first time in a really long time that Ive not just felt seasick, but was actually sick. This coupled with the tiredness from having already sailed 40 miles earlier that day, meant I was totally miserable.

Michael was amazing, taking on the lion's share of the night watch (guzzling energy drinks to stay awake), keeping me hydrated and comfortable as possible with pillows and blankets, and giving me lots of hugs and encouragement. I love my husband so much!

Anyway, we made it perfectly safely to Magnetic Island at around 10am the next morning, dropped the anchor and promptly crashed into bed for a long sleep. Funnily enough it was one of the best sails we've had in a long time - over 70 miles of consistent winds propelling us along nicely at around 5 knots, even under shortened sail (we always reef our sails at night, just in case the wind decides to get suddenly stronger.)

Now, a few days later, we are comfortably tucked into a berth at the very nice Breakwater Marina in Townsville. We're getting the boat all packed up and ready for her haul-out next Monday. I fly back to Adelaide on Friday (where we'll get sidetracked for a while by a - literally - little thing called having a baby). Michael, the trooper, is staying on to do the hot, hard and dirty work to antifoul and repaint Bass Voyager ready for her stay at Magnetic Island over the summer. Kitty has agreed to keep him company providing she doesn't have to lift a paw to help!

Its been an amazing 4 months since we left Hervey Bay and its hard to come to terms with the fact that we're stopping for a while, especially as it feels like the sailing season is only half over. But on the other hand there are exciting developments in our near future, not least of which is greeting our newest little crew member in just 8 or 10 weeks time! 
Airlie Beach ... beach

Stunt plane over the anchorage at Airlie Beach. It was fun being at Airlie during their annual race week - lots going on with markets, live music and the chance to watch fireworks from the deck of our boat - very memorable.

Tourists spill on to Whitehaven Beach. Mum and I caught this boat out to this beautiful and justifiably famous beach and spent a few hours lazing in the sunshine with 100 or so of our closest friends. It was a great day!


Us three at Shute Harbour (thanks for the photo John)

A few days after Mum and John's visit we took Bass Voyager back around to Whitehaven Beach, this time exploring the Hill Inlet (northern) end. We took our tender around from the adjacent bay and landed at this tiny cove - like a private mini version of the main beach. Spectacular.

Goanna in the bush at Whitehaven

Bass Voyager anchored at Whitehaven

Caitlin at Whitehaven

The Whitsundays are the most popular cruising destination in the country, and it is "crowded" (although its nothing compared to the Mediterranean, I'm told) but it 100% lives up to its reputation - it's completely beautiful and you are spoiled for choice when it comes to comfortable, picturesque anchorages and places to explore on water and land. And, if you look, you can always find a peaceful, quiet anchorage to hide away from the crowds in relative seclusion.

Michael exploring in the tender

Kitty was impressed.

After stocking up for a final time in Airlie Beach we explored the bays north of the town which were very beautiful and comfortable. This photo is of Double Bay East.

We then moved to beautiful Gloucester Passage and enjoyed drinks and lunch at the low key Monte's Resort.

Its very rare to get a photo of yourselves under sail (for obvious reasons) but now we have we have one, thanks to our friends and fellow South Australians Cheryl and John on Gypsy Lover. Thanks guys! Bass Voyager leaving Gloucester Passage for Queens Bay.
View from the top of Castle Hill in Townsville. Magnetic Island, which will be Bass Voyager's home while we're in Adelaide, is in the distance - about 4.5 nautical miles from the city.

View to Townsville CBD. Townsville is very dry by QLD standards, and the landscape is totally different to adjoining regions to both the north and south.

We love exploring inland and getting away from the (yaaaawnnn!) seascapes, pristine beaches and sunsets for a while, so this week we hired a car and drove north of Townsville to Wallaman Falls - the highest single drop waterfall in Australia apparently, although Im sure I heard that about another one we've visited along the way..... (just checked back in our blog and that was Ellenborough Falls in NSW - "one of the highest single drop falls in the southern hemisphere." So not "the" highest.) It was beautiful, and so cool and peaceful up in the rainforest, such a contrast to the dusty heat of Townsville.

I don't know what it is about Townsvillians and gelati but there are three artisan gelati shops within walking distance - one a very dangerous 5 minute walk from the marina.