Cape Townsend - Queensland 22 12.7S 150 28.3E

3 May 2009

Dear friends,

This is a "Half-Harmonica" newsletter since Janet is still in Calgary moving our remaining, but growing number, of land-possessions from the condo into a house. David returned to Harmonica 27th March (well left 25th but having spent uncounted hours in the air and crossed the Date Line it became 27th). All was well, cyclone Haymish had stayed offshore in early March, and the Mid-Town Marina's moorings in the Burnett River were as tranquil as when we left in December. Harmonica was as clean & dry inside as she has ever been after a prolonged lay-up. The flood gauges rising to 10 metres had obviously been designed by some over-zealous civil servant, however two weeks later it rained and the neighbouring Mary River did actually peak at 10 metres!

The mast had been held up by a temporary set of wires & halyards since new chain plates that I had planned to install had not been delivered before I left last December. However, the stainless steel stock arrived a day or two after I flew out, and Adrian had cut drilled and polished them while I was away. They fit perfectly, but each of the 9 plates is attached to the hull by five ½ inch bolts which are all behind internal (infernal) cabinetry so it was more than 2 days before they were installed. Then Harmonica was provisioned, and the search started for somewhere to haul out, clean, and paint the bottom.

None of the 3 yards on the Burnett River could lift me in less than 3 weeks, so I started phoning places north along the coast and found that Gladstone could get me out before Easter provided that I could arrive in 2 days, so off I went. With weed & barnacles stirring the waters, we still made just over 70 miles northward the first day, and arrived in Gladstone under jib & storm trisale one hour before the appointed time. Not a sole answered my radio calls until the local Volunteer Marine Rescue Service got sufficiently bored listening and telephoned the yard and confirmed that they were at lunch. Once out of the water, the experience went well.

We often plan one or two major inspection/repair projects each season, and this year I addressed the hollow-sounding areas in the keel which appeared to be voids left since Harmonica was built over 30 years ago. Sure enough, some 5mm drill holes produced little streams of water, and I syringed acetone into these each morning for a week to wash them as clean as I possible. Then I injected epoxy resin through the same holes, and more and more resin until 15 litres had gone in and none of the holes were taking more resin. Time to cover the holes, sand the bottom and paint new antifouling.

During this stay, I learned a new unit. The end of 2008 took me, after millions of dollars, to billions, and finally I learnt that a trillion is the basic unit of currency needed to lend to a failing bank or car company. Alarming that we seem to expand by a factor of 1,000 each decade. (UK readers please excuse the use of US definitions of billion & trillion). For weight, my large unit was a Harmonica (about 15 tonnes). I took a visit to one of the two the Alumina refineries near Gladstone where they can refine 8 million tonnes per year - that is about 15,000 Harmonicas per day! Then I was told that the main export is coal. No wonder the long estuary looks like a continuous stream of docks and loading conveyors, and in its 1,000 pages the Australia Lonely Planet tour guide gives Gladstone less than 1 column ending with "Gladstone's waterfront industries are a prime example of why the Gt Barrier Reef is dying". However that may have been a trifle overstated. Easter was festival season, so I watched the finish of the Brisbane to Gladstone yacht race, and enjoyed listening to imitators of the Bee-Gees and ABBA in two public pop concerts in the park.

I met several friends from previous years sailing, mostly passing up north as the summer cyclone season ends in the tropical waters. Some, like us, plan to sail from Darwin in July through Indonesia to Singapore & Malaysia with the "sailindoensia rally".

Jan and I are meeting in Cairns at the end of May. So after 3 weeks devoted to work on Harmonica, it was time to move on north again. 3 channels out of Gladstone are The South, taking major tankers, The North taking smaller commercial traffic, and The Narrows" which dries out for a few miles at low tide. I was persuaded to take The Narrows, and after a night fighting mosquitos anchored in the mangrove, we started off at dawn for the predicted high tide. 3 hours later we were safely through, cheerful but tired after following many leading lines, and rounding close to buoys. I turned into Pacific Creek to rest for the day. There I found that the leads were off the channel and harmonica settled gently into extremely soft mud as the tide ebbed the remainder of its 4 metre drop. Having established which side the deep water was, I set an anchor in the mud to starboard on the opposite side, attached it to a halyard from the top of the mast, induced a 5 degree heel to the safe side, and waited - thank you for the suggestion Brian. The mud was that squelchy type that allows you to sink up to the knee where it is firm, or the thigh where it is soft. But Harmonia was settling and tipping alarmingly towards the creek so I set out with another anchor to tie to another halyard having decided that I would swim back on my chest if I started sinking too far. I tried to ignore any thoughts of crocodiles, sharks or stingers. Neither anchor really gripped in the mud and the boat leaned slowly further to port as she dried out and the bank started collapsing into the channel beside her. It all felt alarming and I closed all the port hatches and shut the sea cocks in case she toppled into the creek, but nothing violent happened, and an hour after dark I called up the creek on the radio, she gently floated off, the through-hulls spirted mud followed by clear water, and two new friends helped me to anchor close by.

Next morning was clean-up time, so I motor-sailed out to a beach-lined tropical island anchored and washed. By the following evening I was sufficiently presentable to enjoy some pleasant sundowners with the crews of the boats, DauTadra and Zianna.

One more stop in the area before sailing north again. A university couple in Gladstone had recommended a visit to the crocodile farm. Another dawn start took me into a marina on the mainland in plenty of time for the 10.30 or 1.00pm tour. However there was no transport. A local fellow could drive me there if his other client did not come and he would 'phone me at noon. No call so I cycled into Yepoon for more provisions. I hate an objective not achieved, so the following morning I set out to cycle the 30 km to the farm. I am glad that I did, though was not so thrilled about the return ride in the heat of the day. We watched a baby crocodile cutting its way out of its shell and then having a body emerge that looked far too big to have fitted inside. We saw the enormous parents being fed. We learned a lot about the life and benefits of the crocodile including some emerging aspects to its immune response which may be able to help humane medicine. However the main reason for the farm is the sale of skins for leather.

Anyway, 2 days later, I am pressing north again. The next anchorage will be about 10 hours sailing, and fresh to strong winds are forecast for the next several days. Today looks more comfortably spent resting in this completely deserted anchorage, delightful except for the unmarked entrance and the sign on the beach reading "Danger bombing range" (The coast guard assures me that the Australian Military plans no bombing at the moment). I have finished one project to rebuild the floor of the shower, and filled & sanded the new cabin table, which is big enough to fit both my piano keyboard and two dinner plates, thus avoiding future conflicts. The morning rain showers are passing and it is time for lunch then a walk/jog on the beach.

Now sunset, and I just watched my first "green flash" of the year.

Best wishes to you all from Dave & Harmonica.

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