We had a very good passage to Brisbane from Port Vila. It is about 1050 miles in total to the entrance to the shipping channel that leads to Brisbane (more on that later) and it took us 8 days so not too bad. The first seven days were beam reaching in 10 to 15 knots so it was just about ideal. The only problem was that it was really chilly, especially at night. I assumed that as we got closer to the coast of Australia the temps should go up as there is a south-flowing current along the coast – and, silly me, I thought this meant that warm water would be moved from the tropics to the north. Silly me! The closer we got the colder the water got until around the entrance to Moreton Bay where Brisbane is located, water temps were less than 20°C. At night June looked like the Michelin Man, except I don’t think he wears a toque.
And this was daytime. At night June really got dressed for the cold weather.
The last 30 hours or so, we had more wind, in the 20 to 30 knot range, but the direction was still good so it was not a problem. Then the wind quit – it was about 5 pm and we were 30 miles or so from the channel entrance. We thought, “Its been a good run, we’ll motor in”. Started the Westerbeke and the alarm sounded (it is a pretty feeble sound to be sure). Shut down and opened the engine compartment and there was smoke all over. Turned out that the pipe nipple that joins the engine flange to the exhaust elbow had failed and the exhaust was no longer connected to the engine. I knew that exhaust elbows were prone to failure but this nipple had looked pretty good. Another opportunity for problem solving (which is a critical part of cruising for sure). The solution was was fiberglass-reinforced JB Weld. The latter is a two part epoxy with metal filler that is quite wonderful for fixing metal things that are exposed to heat. I added a band of fiberglass tape and we waited for a few hours while it all hardened.
It worked beautifully (JB Weld is a very good thing to have onboard!) and we got to the shipping channel at midnight, just as two ships were arriving to make it interesting. The tide had also turned against us, it was raining and pitch-black. Other than that, just fine. This long, winding shipping channel has been dredged to allow ships to access the busy port of Brisbane through a large area of sand banks. I imagine they have to keep dredging because of the shape of the coast here and materials being carried into the bay from the Brisbane and other rivers.
We got to the Customs dock about 11 am and had to be cleared by Customs/Immigration and Quarantine officials. Aussie officials have a terrible reputation among cruisers for the strict rules they have, costly entry, and strict enforcement. We certainly cannot agree with this at all. We found them to be professional, knowledgeable, friendly (like all Aussies we have met), and helpful. They do have strict quarantine regs and will seize, meats, dairy, and fruits and vegetables. We knew about this beforehand and made sure not to have much of these things on board – and they do charge A$325 to take away your food and any garbage onboard. Customs is free although you must have visas arranged before arrival. The ones we got allow multiple entries for one year and cost A$105/person. So, altogether it was A$535 with the Australian dollar worth about 5 cents more than the US buck.
From the customs dock we were about 2 hours away from Scarborough Marina where Ainia will be staying for the next several months while the cyclone season passes to the north of us. This marina is very nice with excellent docks and showers, and good facilities on site (terrific marine store, stainless steel, refrigeration repairs, etc). It is a fair hike by bus/train into downtown Brisbane (which we have only done to get to the intercity train station).
Our first impressions of Australia are very positive. Scarborough and adjacent areas are very attractive and clean. The people are great and you can find basically everything you want – as you would expect in such an advanced country. The economy is going like gang-busters compared to North America and Europe with unemployment less than 5% and considerable inflation worries. Prices are very high for most things, especially at the grocery store. Worst example, bananas are more than A$11/kg and limes A$1.25 each. Even things like Coca-Cola are bad at A$3.50 for 2 litres. Almost nothing is as cheap as in Canada and apparently wages are similar here and there. Real estate in Brisbane is not too bad, perhaps a bit cheaper than Toronto but Sydney is much higher.
The marina is pricey, at least partially because of how it is structured financially. The waterlot (and perhaps the land) are owned by the Queensland department of transportation. They have leased it to the marina company until 2034. The docks are owned by individuals - either for their own use or for investment. The dock we are on would cost A$44,000 to buy today (there is a market for such things) plus A$2000 a year for a maintenance fee. So the money we are paying (around A$600 a month (there is also a liveaboard fee)) goes to the owner of the dock - minus some sort of management fee for the marina I assume. On top of this, you pay A$22/week/person for living aboard the boat. This goes to the marina and pays for electricity, washrooms, etc. In total, the cost is similar to what we were paying in Jersey City, within a mile or so of downtown Manhattan.
Oz seemed like an interesting hybrid of the US and England. As much as Aussies pretend to hate the ‘pommie bastards’ of their homeland, they seem very English in many ways, much more so than in English Canada. They also seem less global in their thinking than most Canadians. For example, when we talked about the high cost of fruits and vegetable, several people indicated that they had to support Aussie farmers even if prices were higher. People also said that they should be doing more processing of the mining products they send off to China, India, and elsewhere. These were the sort of sentiments you heard commonly in Canada 20 years ago, but not so much now as we have gotten used to how a globalized economy works. This is not to say that Australia is not globalized – their booming economy relies on the export of their abundant mining products to Asia. I checked and Australia ended the ‘White Australia Policy’ 40 years ago, but with the exception of Sydney, it still seems to be a very white country. (To be fair we have not seen that much of the country yet.)
We are now in Canada for a month or so (for Ian and Ariane’s wedding primarily). We took the train from Brisbane to Sydney to see something of the country. A pleasant 14 hours but even slower than Via Rail in Canada. From Sydney we flew on Air Canada back to the Great White North. From here June is going to go to Beijing to visit her parents so we booked tickets separately. Hers included a flight that went to Toronto with a stop in Vancouver. I tried to book the same flight and it was $200 more than taking the same plane to Vancouver and then transferring to a different Air Canada flight to Toronto. Being cheap I took the latter option of course and arrived in Toronto within 15 minutes of her flight. I will be returning to Brisbane on October 19th (going west you lose a day, so I will be leaving here on the 17th).
The weather here is not nearly as nice, but it is pleasant to experience a Canadian autumn which is the nicest time of the year in many ways. Bananas here are are C$1.47/kg – the only problem is that they lack the wonderful flavour of bananas eaten within a few miles of where they were grown. Similar problem with all tropical fruits and veg. You can buy them here, but they are not the same.
Q and A
Richard asked about setting up to dump sewage overboard, starting with a boat setup for the Great Lakes i.e. holding tank only. We have a holding tank on our aft head only, but you could do the same for both. You need to have two Y-valves, a T fitting, and a bilge pump (Whale 10 or Henderson). One goes on the head discharge hose on the downhill side. This allows you to send stuff to the holding tank or directly overboard. The other goes on discharge hose from the holding tank and allows you to direct stuff to the deck fitting if you ever find a pumpout (haven't seen one since Chesapeake Bay) or to the overboard discharge, the one direct from the head, where you connect the T. The bilge pump goes on the discharge line from the holding tank Y-valve to the T fitting. Ours is attached to the bottom of the plywood that makes up the aft berth with a slot cut so that the handle sticks up above the berth for use. HINT: (which we have not followed as we should) Work these valves regularly, especially when you leave them in the position for direct discharge overboard (which is most of the time). Otherwise you will have to disassemble to switch them. Ask me how I know.