A note from Dick and Gail Barnes:
Dick and Gail Barnes are off on another excellent adventure on their Nordhavn 57, Ice Dancer II. They departed Honolulu on May 4, 2009 for an expected one-year cruise of the deep South Pacific. On Ice Dancer (I), a Nordhavn 50, they completed trips to Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii and French Polynesia for a total of 23,545 nm. Ice Dancer II has been to Mexico, Alaska, Galapagos Islands, Cape Horn to Hawaii for a total of 28,708 nm. At their first stop for this trip, Palmyra Atoll, they had completed 52,253 nm on their two Nordhavns. You are invited to share their observations, here.
Our latest voyage on Ice Dancer II, our 57 Nordhavn, followed the east coast of Australia, from Lizard Island in the tropical north, to the southwest corner of stormy Tasmania. We then crossed the Tasman Sea to the south end of the South Island of New Zealand and finally, cruised up the west coast to the Cook Strait town of Nelson.
We landed in Cairns, Queensland (16-54S 145-45E) from Port Vila, Vanuatu on September 4. The crossing route was chosen to avoid the storms of the Tasman Sea and to take advantage of light winds and a favorable current. Conditions proved to be as predicted by historical data gleaned from Pilot Charts.
Cairns is organized primarily as a tourist town. A continuous flow of jet aircraft deliver visitors from Australia’s major airports and each morning a fleet of very large excursion boats provide destination opportunities at various facilities on or near the Great Barrier Reef. The waterfront adjacent to the Marlin Marina has been re-developed into an upscale combination of public areas and tourist related facilities. Near the marina, a very large, salt-water swimming pond provides free and safe recreation. At Marlin Marina, we met Trevor and Yvonne on a new Selene cruiser. For long stretches, open parklands and bike trails line the coast and create an open space between houses and the water. We enjoyed using our fold-up, mountain bikes on the trails and in town.
Like virtually all of the ports inside the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is on a shallow estuary with high loads of suspended silt in the water. Undeveloped areas are lined with mangroves and provide habitat for mud crabs (big and delicious) many fish and salt-water crocodiles. The crocs are protected these days, and growing quickly in numbers. Signs at the marina prohibit diving to work on your boat, because of the toothy hazard.
While in Cairns, Ice Dancer II was lifted into a shipyard for new motor mounts, a replacement prop shaft, and new cutlass and intermediate bearings. The motor mount bolts were failing and upon inspection, the prop shaft had corrosion problems. The corrosion likely came from two sources: the boat sat for nearly three years with little use, before we bought it from the original owner. Inadequate drip off from the packing gland could have caused the corrosion. Additionally, the specified shaft was Aquamet 17, a cheaper and less corrosion-resistant material than Aquamet 22, provided on some Nordhavns. The analysis specifications of our new shaft indicate improved corrosion resistance, closer to Aquamet 22. The cause of the motor mount failures is unknown, but we carry replacement bolts on board in case they fail, again.
After Cairns, we motored north to Lizard Island (14-40S 145-27E), a popular wintertime cruising destination for Australian boats. A local mountain has the historic distinction of providing Captain Cook the highest vantage point in the area, where he could see how to get his ship Endeavor out from behind the Great Barrier Reef. Not far away is a reef that bears his ship’s name and the site where he ran aground and nearly lost all. Lizard Island has a good anchorage with protection from the prevailing southwest winds. Each day, many boats run from this protected bay to openings in the outer reef for diving and fishing, returning in the evening to a restful anchorage. Every night, cruisers join together for a sundowner, a cocktail social gathering on the beach. During the day, parents organize group events for home-schooled children from the yachts. While we were in the anchorage, we watched a circus produced and acted out by the children.
Heading south from Lizard Island, we anchored off Hope Island, named by Cook (15-43S 145-27E) where we enjoyed snorkeling on a nearby reef. That evening we joined two other cruising couples on the beach for a sundowner. It was then that Gail saw a large sign warning not to swim in the area, due to sightings of saltwater crocodiles. The small island provides breeding habitat for several bird varieties.
Heading for the Whitsunday Islands, we made overnight stops at Fitzroy Island (16-56S 145-59E) and Hinchenbrook Island (18-22S 146-12E). Coming into Hinchenbrook, the port stabilizer ram began leaking hydraulic fluid around the shaft seal. We disconnected the pressure and tank hoses and plugged all. We ran with the starboard stabilizer active and the port centered until we reached Brisbane.
The Whitsunday Islands are billed as 100 Magic Miles. Above water, they look much like the San Juan Islands, off Washington and British Columbia. This is a vacation ground for Australians and the largest bareboat charter center in Australia. The sea is still tropical, near the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. Water temperatures are cooler and sea life is a little different from the reefs to the north. Government agencies have installed moorings in many Whitsunday areas, in order to protect the corals from anchor and rode damage. We took a mooring at Hayman Island (20-03S 148-53E) and over the next several days either anchored or moored at Butterfly Bay, Hook Island, Stonehaven Bay, Cid Harbor and in the south, Shaw Island (20-29S 149-04E).
With the help of Nordhavn’s Brisbane managers, we were allowed a yacht club berth at Manly, a seaside area of Brisbane, on Moreton Bay, (27-27S 153-11E). The yacht club provided a secure environment to leave our boat for a Thanksgiving trip back to see family and catch up with mail at our home, in Anchorage. After returning to Brisbane, we had the vibration dampener changed on the front of the John Deere 12.5 liter main engine. This is a scheduled change item by 4,500 hours and we were at 4,530. It was showing signs of losing its effectiveness. We had the local representative of American Bow Thruster order in two new hydraulic rams and bearing sets for our TRAC stabilizers. We kept as a spare the starboard ram that was still good. It had been changed at Dana Point after our Cape Horn trip. In Hawaii, we had the original starboard ram rebuilt and carry it as a spare, as well. In a remote location, these spares could be very useful.
Like Cairns, the Manley area is tastefully planned and developed. Brisbane proper is a large city, best reached from a nearby commuter train station. Several Manley yacht clubs promote boating and sailboat racing. Moreton Bay provides an excellent venue for water activities. At the yacht club, we spent time with Tom and Heather, successful sailboat racers.
We left the Brisbane area on the outside of Moreton Island, rather than navigate the winding and shallow channels leading to The Gold Coast. The route was longer but much less stressful than worrying about grounding a 120,000 pound vessel, about the weight of two D-8 Caterpillar tractors. If Cairns’ tourist attraction is the Great Barrier Reef, The Gold Coast’s lure is its beaches (27-57S 153-25E). South of the calming effects of the Great Barrier Reef, Gold Coast has places like Surfers’ Paradise to interest visitors. The Gold Coast Seaway, running parallel to the beaches, gives easy access to ocean waters for fishers and the protected waters inside promote water skiing and all kinds of racing about. The shoreline competes with Miami Beach for numbers of high-rise hotels and condominiums, and the shopping opportunities appear unlimited.
NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA
Gold Coast to Sydney (33-51S 151-15E) was a two-day sleigh ride, with Ice Dancer II taking full advantage of the East Australia Current, which was flowing our way. Sydney is a delightful city and one of the best natural harbors in the world. We enjoyed Christmas dinner with friends, Peter and Sandy, watched from our dinghy the Boxing Day start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race, visited on other Nordhavns, Graham and Margeurite on N43 Barquita, and Bob and Margaret on N46 Suprr, and watched the New Years Eve fireworks light up the Harbor Bridge and Opera House. Sydney was the site of the first English efforts to transport prisoners out of crowded jails in England and Ireland and simultaneously colonize a newly claimed continent. Previously, prisoners were sent to America, but after the American Revolution, they could no longer transport their prison population, there. After arriving in 1788, the prisoners and guards nearly starved before establishing a viable foothold on the new continent. Today, Sydney is such an impressive city, it is hard to visualize its shaky beginning.
Before leaving Sydney, we had our prop shaft aligned, to account for settlement of engine mounts and bearings, since their installation, in Cairns.
From Sydney, we ran overnight to Eden (37-05S 149-56E), where we bided our time while waiting for an inviting weather window to cross the Bass Strait to Tasmania. This is the last protected harbor before the notorious weather conditions of Bass Strait. It is a delightful place to wait. It has delicious mussels, fine beaches and a comfortable seaport town. It has the remains of a famous whaling station. We met new friends, Mike, Alisa and son Elias from Kodiak, Alaska, similarly waiting for good weather conditions.
On January 14, we had our weather window and started across the strait. After 12 hours, our stabilizer system sensed a reversing condition and centered the fins. We tried a work-around that consists of clipping and joining two of three wires on the transmission linkage sensor, but with no luck. So, we returned to Eden to solve the problem, losing 24 hours of run time. We didn’t want to start down the coast of Tasmania without stabilizers. With some help from the Trac factory and some detective work with an ohm meter, we found that the sensor cable had a broken wire within. It had been over tightened with a wire tie and that crushed the fine, 24-gauge wire, inside. We removed that section of cable and reconnected the sensor. We were back in business. Unfortunately, the good weather window was gone. On the afternoon of January 20, we departed Eden, once again.
TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA (PREVIOUSLY CALLED VAN DIEMEN’S LAND)
A day and a half later, we anchored in Schouten Passage, Tasmania (42-18S 148-17E). This is a popular destination for Hobart residents to fish and camp. They bring small craft on trailers, launch and cross a bay to the Schouten Islands. Two days later we stopped at Maria Island (42-40S 148-03E), rounded Cathedral rocks at Pillar Point the next morning and anchored at Port Arthur (43-08S 147-52E). Port Arthur was a large prison settlement at the beginning of the 1800s. Its crumbling ruins on a picturesque hillside belie the horrors endured here by transported prisoners convicted of secondary crimes after arriving in Australia. We toured local trails on our folding mountain bikes. Maria Island was used for prison workshops and filled with prisoners that required less supervision and punishment. Our anchorage at Maria Island was on the sheltered side of a strand. The windward side is a well-known surfing beach. Rock formations along the south side of Tasman Island, especially Pillar Point, are faced with hexagonal basalt pillars, many rising 200 feet above the sea. They are similar to Devil’s Postpile, in the Sierra Mountains of California.
On January 28, we tied up at the Royal Tasmanian Yacht Club, in Hobart (42-52S 147-20E), sponsors of the annual Boxing Day, Sydney to Hobart Race. Hobart was, like most settlements of Australia, established around a prison facility. It was the primary prison in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and ran the other prisons, around the island. Many of Hobart’s government buildings were constructed with prison labor. Today it is a pleasant city of 150,000 with good facilities and a beautiful setting. While in Hobart we visited more with Mike and Alisa, the Alaska couple that we met in Eden, met Annika and Bjorn from Sweden and spent time with the famous navigators on N46 Egret, Scott and Mary Flanders. We first shared time with the Flanders in the Beagle Channel, near Cape Horn.
On February 6, we left Hobart to see the wilderness area of Port Davey (43-19S 146-00E), on the southwestern side of Tasmania. We traveled down the d’Entrecasteaux Channel to Recherche Bay (43-34S 146-54E), passing many fine anchorages. From Recherche Bay we traversed the southwestern shores of Tasmania and visited Schooner Cove, Spain Bay, Melaleuca Inlet and Branble Cove, all in Port Davey. This is where we dove for our first Australian lobsters and enjoyed abalone shared by a fisherman. The area is pristine and void of development and pollution.
We returned to Hobart February 12, with a stop at Southport along the way. In Hobart, we fueled and checked out of Australia on February 15.
SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND
The crossing to south New Zealand from Hobart took 4-1/2 days. When passing Tasman Island and near the edge of the continental shelf, we landed four albacore tuna. They were a fine addition to our frozen fish, which still included yellowfin tuna caught near Fanning Island, close to the equator. The first two days of the crossing were in very calm waters, which made us wonder if we would be punished, later on. The southern Tasman Sea can be cranky, and the following two days proved so. Seas running with the prevailing winds became big, but posed no problem. The challenging issue was the occasional large wave coming from the deep Antarctic that hit our beam and caused us to roll, excessively. After contending with that for several hours, we dropped off course about 20 degrees, to improve our angle to the rogue waves. After about ten hours, we were able to get back on course. When we reached the strait between Stewart Island and South Island, we saw the fury of storm conditions off Puysegur Point and in the Foveaux Channel, with winds above 50 knots. Favorable currents and following seas had pushed us along faster than plan, causing us to reach the entrance to Bluff Harbor before daylight. The cruising guides warned not to enter the harbor at night, so we crossed the channel to the lee of Stewart Island, and waited for daylight. When we approached the harbor at Bluff (46-36S 168-20E), we still had 50 knot winds. Annika and Bjorn, our new friends from Sweden, were on the fixed pier to help us dock.
Bluff is an active fishing and shipping port and the site of an aluminum smelter. Its homes and businesses are modest, but you can find basic provisions. We cleared customs and quarantine, getting their standard 90-day visa and one-year temporary import of the boat. Both time periods can be extended upon application or by leaving the country and returning. The quarantine officer was very aggressive in confiscating food purchased in Australia.
On February 24, we crossed the Foveaux Channel back to Stewart Island. It is a wilderness area with development only around Halfmoon Bay (46-54S 168-08E). Stewart Island has excellent anchorages and interesting topography. We gathered clams and mussels and caught blue cod, a delicious bottom fish. We explored Golden Bay, Glory Cove, Disappointment Cove, Shipbuilders Cove and Port Pegasus, on the stormy southern coast. We spent time with Annika and Bjorn in Port Pegasus, and Annika, a computer engineer, fixed a recurring instability of our desktop computer.
We departed Stewart Island on March 6 for Fjordland. The route is back around the west coast of South Island and passes Point Puysegur (46-10S 166-37E), notorious for the worst New Zealand sea conditions. We watched forecasts for a pause in Puysegur’s high winds and seas, and made an easy rouding of the cape. We reached Doubtful Sound after an overnight passage.
For two days, we took advantage of clear and calm weather by taking pictures in the fjords. Then, the weather turned harsh, especially outside the sounds. Within the sounds we had high winds and rain, but little swell makes it inside. While the winds were high, we anchored with 350 feet of chain and had three lines to shore. Anchoring is tricky in the fjords, due to the steep seabeds close to shore. We were able to gather lobsters, mussels and blue cod, despite the bad weather.
On March 17, we moved to Milford Sound, the center for tourism in Fjordland. Tourists arrive in Milford by the hundreds on buses and airplanes, then see the sound by tour boat. It has magnificent views and extremely steep mountains that plunge into the narrrow fjords. A tour operator graciously offered its mooring in Harrison Cove (44-38S 156-54E) for us to tie for the night. Milford is small, in comparison to sounds to the south. We saw what was there and left for Nelson the next day.
From Milford to Port Nelson (41-16S 173-17E) is a two-night voyage. Nelson has a good marina, operated by the city. It is well protected and provided a safe place to leave Ice Dancer II while we returned to the states to see family and catch up on accumulated mail. Nelson is the fishing base for vessels working Cook Strait and offshore. As a result, it has a wide variety of boat services and supplies, very near the marina. It is a perfect size for visiting cruisers: big enough to buy anything that you need and small enough to easily get around. In Nelson, we were met by Dick, friend of Graham and Scott, who helped us get organized for leaving Ice Dancer II.
On this segment of our continuing voyage, from Cairns to Nelson, we had more maintenance issues than expected. Nonetheless, the problems were primarily from use of systems and to be expected. The boat, as always, served us very well, in comfort and safety.
Dick and Gail Barnes