L O G B O O K - by John Philp

BRISBANE - TOWNSVILLE 11-16th August, 1999.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step... so they say, although easier said than done if you’re stuck in mud. We’d gotten up at 3am on a cold Brisbane morning hoping to get a head start; to make the long journey to Moreton Bay (at the head of the Brisbane River) before day break. But now the tide was so low that our keel had sunk into the mud of the river a couple of miles downstream from the city and would not let go no matter how much we tried.

We eventually dislodged ourselves and three hours later we were leaving Moreton Bay on a sunny morning and heading North for Lady Musgrave Island 280 miles away. Someone had given us a bottle of champagne the night before so we had a champagne breakfast with scrambled eggs and toast to celebrate the fact that we were finally under way.

On the way up we passed the famous Hervey Bay - whale watching centre of Australia. As if to remind us of this two very large Humpbacks appeared near us and one of them leapt into the air as if showing off for the crowd from Fiji. The next afternoon we reached Lady Musgrave Island : she reminded us of Nukulau Island off Suva. We were keen to get to Townsville so we left late the same afternoon, and pointed ourselves North against the back drop of a perfect Queensland sunset. It was getting warmer already.

We motored and sailed on through the night and most of the next day arriving at South Percy Island forty minutes before sunset. There were six yachts anchored off a beautiful beach and we enjoyed a glorious sunset drinking the last of the Fiji beer. Coffee afterwards on deck under the stars was a treat. We’d never seen so many shooting stars before. Later Michelle told me she saw maybe twenty of them during her three hours on watch the previous night.

At midnite we hauled up the anchor and set sail for the Whitsundays. Our Rotuman mate - Sefo and myself took the watch from 5.30am. We heard the Taupo radio operator in NZ passing on a Mayday message. A Korean fishing boat had lost a man overboard about 350 miles East of Auckland at 2.30am. I wondered how he was doing. Was he still alive? How long would a man last in cold water and a stiff breeze? We had agreed that should this happen on the Tau we’d toss overboard a life ring with an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) attached then run back to the GPS (global satellite positioning equipment) and hit the SAVE button - this would keep in memory the exact coordinates of the yacht at that time. It’s not difficult to get pitched off a yacht in a heavy sea.

The sail the next day was wonderful although Hamilton though turned out to be a disappointment. The beaches were mediocre, the water hazy, and a ten story hotel sticking out of the ground looking like some grand monument to poor taste. The entire development was hewn out of the hillside as if someone went nuts with a bulldozer. We went close enough by the airstrip to read the sign warning yachts to keep clear of the approach and caught a peek at a couple of Boeing 737 jets - Qantas and Ansett, sitting there glimmering in the sun. We decided to continue on to Airlie Beach.

On the way we had to get a sail down that was stuck in it’s track. I was hauled up the mast in a sling armed with a plastic hammer to hit the little cars down the track - a tedious job and not entirely comfortable being a hundred foot off the deck holding onto a pitching mast with one hand and a hammer in the other. it afforded a great view of the Whitsundays but was a less than comfortable ride. I thought of my friends at their offices back in Fiji and decided things weren’t so bad.

Airlie Beach (named after a Scottish Castle) was a busy little tourist town - population 4,500 and the mainland supply centre for the Whitsunday island resorts. It was crammed with backpacker hotels, and an internet cafe every hundred yards. We’d timed our arrival with perfection - the Wallaby vs Springboks game was on that nite and there was a sports bar on the main street.

The disappointment of Hamilton Island wasn’t an isolated occasion. So far none of the islands we had seen could compare to anything back in Fiji. The water was never clear, it was cold (average year round 22 degrees Celcius, and the beaches and islands not much to look at. At Airlie between October and May large signs warned you not to swim in the sea because of the poisonous Box Jellyfish. To say nothing of the saltwater crocodile’s further North. I asked how far we had to go before I should stop windsurfing off the boat. I was told, “ Oh as long as you don’t sail near a river mouth or mangroves you should be ok. Any croc’s you see elsewhere are just lost”. Hmnn... I wasn’t too impressed with that assurance. What was I to tell a crocodile chomping on my leg? “Hey you can’t do that mate you’re supposed to be lost!”. We were also amazed at how shallow and murky the waters were here. At one point the nearest island was eight miles away and we were in 100 feet of water. In Fiji you’d expect it to be a clear blue colour and a thousand feet deep.

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