So, there I was, looking slightly disreputable in my informal shorts, camisole, flip-flops, and teal backpack, the new member of a delightful and sophisticated group of interesting people from Melbourne and vicinity. There was John, the captain, his sister Lynn, her husband Rob, first mate Dayle, Scotsman Ian, and our departing psychiatrist, Tony. After a leisurely lunch with lots of fun and frivolity guided by a mutually irreverent sense of humor, we sent Tony back home in good style, then spent the afternoon provisioning for the next week and getting to know one another.
Much to my delight, I found that my new friends had excellent taste in both food and wine, and more importantly, we shared similar basic values. I was instructed that I was to be their guest, but I did manage to add to the provisions some OP Bundy, fruits, and other makings for my infamous rum punches.
We went swimming and body surfing in the ocean, puttered around Rocky (Rockhampton in Queensland for those of you who have just arrived), then gathered at a local pub for a late-afternoon toast while we were waiting for a boat part to be ready.
It was a delightful place run by aboriginal people. We were the only white people in there and got talking to the publican behind the bar. At first, the other patrons eyed us with guarded suspicion, but bit by bit, they realized that we were not there to give them a hard time or cause trouble. We ended up spending a couple of hours there, talking about our different cultures, the forms of bigotry they often encountered, as well as fun things such as family and friends, and when we left, the publican thanked us for coming in.
I responded by saying, “No, it is we who should thank you for being such gracious hosts.” Alas, we learned from our conversations with our hosts and fellow patrons, not all people were as ecumenical in their outlook on life as we were.
The six of us headed for “Cornelius,” the beamy, 53-foot-long pearling lugger referred to in the last installment to stow our provisions. My new friends quickly learned that I was an old tar who instinctively knew where things went. I thanked them for their hospitality by making up the first batch of rum punch, teasingly chastising them for ruining good rum with Coke, and we sat in the cockpit, on the hatches, and along the decks in the late-afternoon sun, watching dugongs play around the boat, and enjoying the wonderful feel of being around friends.
Lynn made a delicious Paella, and John and I ended up serenading everyone to sleep to my inept accompaniment on his guitar. It was a gorgeous night, and I took out my sleeping bag and slept comfortably topside under the sparkling sky, thinking how lucky I was that I happened to notice the description of the historic inn in Rocky, and that I happened to be there at lunchtime, and that I happened to go in for lunch instead of my customary picnic of kiwi, bread, and beer that I generally picked up at outdoor markets. Perhaps it was not serendipity in the strictest dictionary sense, but it certainly was in spirit. And for me, it harkened back to the days sailing with my dad on another classic wooden boat.
I learned that there are three parts to the Great Barrier Reef, the popular coral section furthest north, the middle mountainous section, and the southern sandy section. We were headed back south to Brissie (Brisbane), home port of Cornelius, and we would have to navigate through the treacherous shoals off Fraser Island.
Because of the tides and our schedule, we did a night sail. The captain and I took the first watch, and he let me take the helm most of the way. It was beautiful with a sky full of shooting stars. What a magnificent way to wind down my two-month trip! Again, it reminded me of sailing through the Cape Cod Canal at night, or off the coast of Nova Scotia after dark.
When we returned for the 2-4 o’clock watch, the captain discovered that his first mate had made a grave navigational error that could have landed us on the sands of Fraser Island for a long time. We had to head back the way we had come so that we could identify the Bundy Light, a critical landmark for our next course. The rolling seas and plethora of fishing boats made it near impossible to pick up the light. Someone would think he or she had found it, only to realize it was a fishing boat bobbing in and out of the troughs.
I finally found it, but the first mate wasn’t so sure. I told John, the captain, that I was headed up to the bow to make sure. He already had confidence in my instincts, having watched me at the helm earlier. Sure enough, I was able to consistently pick out Bundaberg’s unique pattern, so we found our mark and set a new course back down toward Fraser Island. The mistake cost us close to eight hours, but we had allowed some extra time, so we were alright, and I appeared to become unofficial first mate.
We passed by such places as Garry’s Anchorage, Tin Can Bay (where we spent the next night), Wide Bay Bar (worst sand bar on the east coast), Rainbow Beach, and Noosa Head, before heading for our next anchorage in Mooloolaba.
As an old fan of the Tiki of the TV show Adventures in Paradise with Wardner MacKay, I was surprised to see her in the harbor. Alas, she was in sad shape, but John, Dayle, and I agreed she could be restored to her former splendor.
The next morning, I got up before the others to photograph the marina in the gorgeous, early-morning light (see below). After repairing a stay that had lost a bolt, we got a decent start. It was one of the best days for me, as I got to clamber out into the netting below the bowsprit and do some photography from there. I have always loved being up on the bow when someone else’s has the helm, the wind in my hair, the sound of the boat cutting through the water. It is a glorious place to be.
That evening, we had planned on a Bar-B with the fish we had caught, but the mozzies were beastly, so we retreated down below where we had a fun and funny evening playing cards, complete with irreverent comments and good-natured attempts at cheating that were instantly discovered by the others.
The last leg to Surfers was uneventful, and we got to spend a couple of days there enjoying swimming and body surfing, before each of us wended out way homeward.
For me, I had an extra week in Oz, something that hadn’t been planned. I made some wonderful friends whom I saw in a subsequent trip back to Oz, and I got to go sailing, something I love.