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Monday 15 July 2024

Horn Island to Tual - day 4 and 5

Day 4

Today was a boat-centric day.

The morning wind was moderate and from behind.  We doing pretty well with main, mizzen and poled out gib, but the swell up and the ride was rolly. 

We seldom sail with only the main and not roll out the gib as well. With the wind from behind, the main sail can block the wind to the gib. This can cause the gib to collapse, then fill suddenly with a jerk only to collapse again or just beat itself against the rigging. It can be quite unpleasant.  

The solution to this is to pole out the gib with a whisker pole, which I think is just a small spinnaker pole, but must check with Tim.  This worked for a while. Our pole is telescopic. It needs to be extended so the gib isn’t completely blanketed by the main.

The pole is extended by sliding the two sections apart until the push button clicks into the hole on the extending section. The collapsed pole is store on the front of the mast.

So Tim gets the pole set up, all is well, he comes back to the cockpit and suddenly the gib is collapsing. Consternation.  The pole had collapsed. This sometimes happens and Tim went out to reset it. After this had happened a couple of times, it seems that the ‘button and hole’ arrangement is failing.  Nothing to be done for the time being and we rolled in the gib and stowed the pole.

With just main and mizzen we were going a long beautifully and we think the ride was smooth without the gib.  A little slow but that suits are arrival time.

By the by, we almost always use the mizzen, putting it up even before we raise the anchor. It can be reefed down if necessary, usually when to much sail ( or any at all) on the mizzen causes yawing - the bow turning up into the wind.

We’re running out of prepared meals, and I really didn’t fancy cooking.  We were actually considering chicken curry from a tin that Tim bought in Fiji when I was in Canada. It is however a meal I feel quite strongly that Tim should eat on his own. After a some head scratching, I decided we’d have the remaining chilli and falafels from previous meals on rice with a bit of grated cheese on the chilli and mango chutney on the falafel and call it ‘fusion’.  It was actually very nice and freed up space in the fridge which is still very full.  

Day 5 

The extra fridge space has been taken up with a lentil veggie soup.  The morning was relatively calm so I went for it.  We had it for lunch with toast with a vegan sun dried tomato pesto I bought to try I Cairns. I wish I’d bought more as it was a really good.

We’re very jealous of the boats that arrived today. It’s very hard to judge exactly when you’ll arrive at a particular waypoint.  The next important waypoint is at the entrance to the river and we want daylight for that.

We’ve put the breaks on so to speak and have a heavily reefed mizzen and gib. If the wind could just blow at the same strength for the next 5 hours, it would be helpful.  We’re trying to keep the speed down to 3 knots.

We had some excitement this afternoon when Tim noticed we were towing a big round fishing buoy by a length of green rope. The last time we would have had something like this happen was probably the south coast of England. 

We haven’t used the engine at all and  we hoped that would mean we were just towing it by the rudder.  We turned Larus up into the wind and the buoy just drifted free.  

It was wonderfully anticlimactic.

Throughout the previous night we passed quite easily between the many large fishing boats lighting up the sea.  From a distance, they seen as eerie patches of the light disappearing into the distance. All were on AIS so their position appeared on our chart plotter, for both the boats and floats on the nets. They were very easy to navigate around.

After dinner this evening, Tim had a frustrating time trying while I was sleeping to get past ONE boat laying out several miles of nets.  We sail with only navigation lights at night so we can see everything around us. They sail with huge deck lights and are blind to everything around them. We use AIS as well. If they chose to lookout for us they could, but you can’t be sure that they will.  In fact you can be pretty sure that they won’t.  

Maybe because it was the only fishing boat in the area that it felt comfortable to go this way, then that way, changing direction as and when it liked.  Tim was sailing this way and that way to avoid them for most of the 3 hours I was sleeping. 

He was a little frazzled when I got up, particularly as he’d just seen an unaccompanied fishing flag drift by.  Even in daylight, you’re unlikely to see flags and buoys unless they catch your eye as they pass. 

We will definitely check our stern before starting the engine.

Halfway through my watch, I can only see a few specks of light in the distance and will keep my eyes in them.

In less than 12 hours, we should be at anchor and waiting for Customs and Immigration to arrive. Very looking forward to it.

Saturday 13 July 2024

Horn Bay to Tual - day 2 & 3

Yesterday there were some items of interest throughout our little fleet.

One boat chose to head directly toward Tual, rather than stay in Australian waters to avoid all the fishing nets in international waters. During the first night, they caught the end of a net, but managed to get free in daylight. They are now sailing with gib alone as there in-mast main sail furler jammed before they arrived in Horn Bay with the sail on the outside. They had wrapped the sail round and round the mast and lashed it tight. Then they left Horn Island with no main sail.

A yacht following us had a reefing line break.  Reefing lines run out through the end of the boom and with the ring and hook a the mast end, together they allow us to make a horizontal tuck in the sail to reduce its size. This isn’t something you can fix underway, but normally a sail has 2 or 3 reefing points, so they would will have to settle for a bigger or smaller sail area.

On another boat, the first mate, who suffers terribly from seasickness was resting uncomfortably. :(

We had the relay that turns the power on and off to the autopilot and radar stop working. This happened once before so Tim was pretty sure what the problem was. He knew exactly where to go to unplug and plug it back in.  The relay lives in the aft cabin under our food and stuff storage. While I moved the food and stuff, Tim hand steered and while Tim unplugged and plugged in, I hand steered. We were very glad not have to hand steer the rest of the way to Tual. Now that Tim knows this wasn’t just a one off thing, he’ll look into it not happening again.


Today, the Tradewinds don’t seem to be as strong or consistent recently. This afternoon we have 10 to 14 knots from the stern and we’re wallowing quite a bit in the continuing swell, compliments of the Bay of Carpentaria.

We have been so used to belting along at a great rate of speed that our current of 3.5 to 5 knots is a little underwhelming. This time yesterday was beautiful gentle sailing. The wind was more from the side, which fills the sails better and gives you a constant bit of heel. The effects of a wave or gust of wind are less as you are already over leaning consistently to one side. 

You can put something on the counter, turn your back for a second and you will probably get away with it. We make ‘getting away with it’ more likely we use a Silpat baking tray liner on the counter. It has a tackiness that keeps things from sliding. 

Today, with the wind coming from further behind, we are more vertical. As the wind is light as well, when a wave comes we roll to starboard, then to port, then to starboard…etc.  If another wave happens to come along while all this backing and forthing is going on, the rolling gets deeper and faster causing the sails to whip back and forth. This can make horrible crashing noises. It isn’t dangerous but it’s not kind on the rig, sails or your nerves.

If it has been calm and you get caught by a rogue wave mid lunch, everything on our 3 foot galley counter can shoot from one end to the other - jars, plates, bowls, cutlery and food all rolling around together. Apples and oranges can be particularly good fun. The Silpat will minimise the damage and you can pick it and wash it in the sink.

All this is currently on my mind as we are down to our last whole wheat, banana, oatmeal, raisin, walnut muffins and I will be baking more shortly. These are our go to snack. I find if you have a huge variety of goodies you/I eat them whether you/I are/am really hungry or not. 

Muffin update. Thanks to a change of current from southerly to northerly, our progress is much smoother, which means the baking was too.  They look good though with not as many walnuts as normal. I have two vacuum sealed bags of them that I normally keep in the fridge. As the fridge is so full at the beginning  passage, I put them somewhere dark and at least coolish until there is space.  I have had many thoughts as to where they might be but no luck finding them. Will try again tomorrow.

We have a guest onboard this evening. A black bird with a white cap started circling us as dusk approached. It eventually settled on the railing on the aft deck. 

Two days ago, I noticed the thin smile of a new moon in the west when I started my watch. Tonight it’s not quite half but bright enough that the stars seem dim. Less than an hour later, it was gone.

Bird Update - it was up at dawn despite being perched on the stern push pit. It must have sticky feet as the stainless steel tube it was standing was too big to get a good grasp. When the boat rolled, it would shift weight from port to starboard. It also spend a long time gloomy and fluffing its feathers. I didn’t see the launch but it was swooping behind the boat.

Thursday 11 July 2024

Horn Island to Tual Passage - Day 1 and 2

One forgets how crappy one will feel on the first few days of a longer passage.  Getting your sleep in 3 hour portions is tough.

We had a fast start through the Torres Straits. They are narrow and shallow with at LOT of water going west through them. The farther we got into the Gulf of Carpentaria (doesn’t that have a wonderful ring to it?) the rougher the seas got. Not particularly big, but with a short interval between them, and when the wind came up a few knots the motion got quite rough as well as noisy.

Tonight, Thursday the 11th, we have very light winds and are ghosting along at 4 knots in a flat sea. It’s hard not to chortle, ‘we are going to sleep SO well tonight,’ but it’s best not to tempt fate.

We’ve pretty much stayed inside Australian territorial waters so far, with the short exception of a dip in the border’s red dotted line just before dusk.  Rather than detour under it, we cut straight across. There we found what we’d been warned about - Indonesian fishing boats laying out miles of nets. It was nice to discover that it wasn’t actually that bad.

The boats we saw were laying out a string of three buoys, each fitted with AIS beacons to show their position, what they are, how fast they are moving and in which direction. This is the sort of information you get for any AIS target - just touch the target on the chart plotter screen for basic info and for more choose View AIS Data option. It is useful and very reassuring. You can’t necessarily see the target with the naked eye, but AIS sees all. All, the is that are sending AIS information. Not everyone or everything has the kit to do it, so keeping a good watch is always necessary.

We saw three boats layout one  3 or 4 mile net each, with each net having three AIS beacons.  The boat laying out the net beacon like a mother duck dropping off ducklings as she paddled along.

They seemed to lay them from east to west across the current, which would make sense. There were at least a couple miles between each boat and there net and all the nets were parallel with each other.

I have a screenshot of this but we need to remove the card from the chart plotter and it’s best to do that after you’ve arrived.

We passed between two boats laying their nets and the gap between them was 5 miles. Plenty of room for Larus to squeeze through.

These are commercial operations and it was all very logical and organised.  We will not assume it will always be like this!

We have another 36 hours (or more as we are only making 3.5 knots in very light winds) before we turn north for Indonesia.

We don’t mind taking our time as we need to arrive in daylight and Tim would quite like to watch the England in the Euro Cup final which is on Monday night here and we will still be at sea.

There I go tempting fate again by even mentioning the match.  Happily, we have lots of wood to knock on. 

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Still in Australia but not for long

Hello! It has been a long time since I have posted any blogs and am sorry for that and will do better.

I thought I’d have a lot of time when I got back from wonderful visits to our family in Ontario and then our family in the UK.  Unfortunately, the day after arriving back Sydney, I came down with a super cold or flu, which lasted around 6 weeks. Tim caught it from me after a couple of days. The first two weeks were the worst, but the cough went for ages. 

Flying to Canada I wore a mask for pretty much the whole journey as I didn’t want risk making anyone at home getting sick.  Flying back to Sydney from the UK via Gatwick, Toronto and Vancouver airports, I didn’t.  I’d been freshly boosted for COVID in Canada and felt invincible. (Note to self: next time, stay away from airport lounges and wear a mask and try harder to get a flu jab.) 

FYI Tim flew from the UK via Qatar and was back in Sydney the day before me.

We arrived back on the 1st of March to an empty larder, a freezer that wouldn’t start, a deck covered in dried bird dropping and the hull covered in barnacles.  We left Camarey Marina to anchor near Manly Beach and in the Manly Bay area for provisioning, doctor visits and general boat preparation. We also needed nice clear water for Tim to scrape the bottom free of barnacles.

Manly Beach

We left Sydney Harbour on the 13th of March. I will do Sydney blog once this one is up.

The seasons are turning at this time from autumn in winter.  To sail north, we needed a southerly wind. They come, like clockwork, every few weeks. We took the first we were ready in time for.  If you miss an opportunity the next one might be a long time coming and we had to get moving. We had around 1800 nautical miles to cover and had to been at the top of Australia by the first of July.

We had reasonable wind strengths but the sea state, until we got far enough away from the harbour entrance, was terrible. It was as messy as we have seen. Larus pitched and rolled. We’d get hit by a wave on the bow that sent a rush of water down the deck. Other waves would slap the stern hard and change our direction and push us up and over the next wave. 

It really was exhilarating. Surprising too, as we (well at least I) hadn’t experienced conditions like this.  It was it an unrelentingly lumpy ride and got tedious pretty fast.

We stopped when we could; normally every 2 or 3 days. Main towns and marinas are often built in river estuaries. Entrances to these can be restricted by sand bars formed from sediment accumulating at the mouth of the river. You need the right condition to cross them safely.

We bypassed one of these and opted to wait out a big blow from the south in Coff’s Harbour. 

We were anchored in the bay for 5 days waiting. That was an experience and more will follow in future the Sydney blog. By the time the wind and swell dropped, we were more than ready to move on.

Yamba and Iluka, which sit on opposite banks of the Clarence River Estuary, were our next stop.  There is a very manageable ‘bar’ at the river entrance. We had ideal conditions and state of tide and breezed in.

From the Iluka side, we walked to the north side of the river entrance. The waves in the distance are breaking on the ‘bar’ at low water.

After completing some maintenance work, we headed north for the Gold Coast, which is the entrance to southern route to Brisbane. The main city, Southport, has a Miami feel with its skyscrapers at the edge of an ocean.

There is a bar here as well but the entrance is was dredged and widened for commercial traffic. It’s one of the few poker straight stretches of waterway. It doesn’t stay like that long, as one continues to the winding river, sandbanky river it used to be.

Giraffes on the commercial docks guarding the entrance to the Brisbane River.

We anchored in the Brisbane River to get a deck bag made for our stay sail, small sail for up wind sailing. This was in anticipation of having it available and ready to go for all the up wind sailing we expect to be doing in the Red Sea. We are hoping to be in the Mediterranean by 2025.

We anchored in the Brisbane River.  

Rather than use the generator and watermaker to top up our tanks, we came along side one of the many public jetties with a fresh water tape.  There is a two hour limit for being on the dock and because the river is tidal and fast flowing, one needs to choose a time when the current is slack. Early morning is great as there is less traffic as well. 

The public jetties are cheek by jowl with commercial ferry docks. The river winds through the city and the ferries run like buses.

On a long hot walk to from dock to shop, these enormous fig(?) trees caught my eye. They looked particularly majestic with their backdrop of drainage pipes for the renovation of riverside docks from commercial to residential.  I also thought they had a ‘You shall not pass!’ vibe going on. It was so lovely and cool in their shade.

We seldom saw pelicans unless fishing or the gutting of fish were involved.

From Brisbane we headed straight to Bundaberg where we were booked to a haul out. As well as getting the hull scraped and the copper coat burnished, we replaced the sink in the aft head due (toilet) and put a rope cutter on the prop in anticipation of Indonesian fishing nets.  We also did a lot of provisioning as the next place for a major shop was Cairns, approximately 800 miles to the north.

Haul out via travel lift to the hard standing, hidden behind the big blue doors at Bundaberg marina.

Behind the big blue doors is the area where they pressure wash the hulls of every boat they haul out. The water used and the Antifoul, the general muck and barnacles that cleaned off aren’t released into the river.

Every time we’ve been lifted there, crew doing the pressure washing has said, ‘Excellent, Coppercoat,’ which is faster and easier to clean. Unfortunately the pressure wash added an extra job to our list. When we first applied it in the UK, we peeled the hull under the water line, re- fibre glassed it, then filled and sanded. We then applied Coppercoat on a perfect surface.

We did this because we had bubbles appearing on the hull under the waterline caused by Osmosis.  We then had a professional spray the hull with AwlGrip, a particularly long lasting finish. 

As the years passed and we began living on Larus, we acquired a lot more stuff. As Larus became heavier, she sat deeper in the water.  When the old waterline is underwater,  it’s time to have a clear out , get a bigger boat move the waterline higher. The new waterline is now above the re-fibreglassed area of the hull and over time osmosis rears is ugly head once again.

Pressure washing can be quite a harsh procedure, and once it was done we found we that the tops of small blisters had been peeled off completely. The holes this created in the AwlGrib needed to be sanded back and filled. We decided to sand back the affected area and have a ‘boot top’ of anti-foul as a stop gap measure. We didn’t have the time to redo the Coppercoat over the damaged area. 

Next job was the aft heads sink.

Old sink out.

The tiny new sink is in. It was the only sink we could find that would fit.  After several months of living with it, it’s still tiny but we are used to it.

The new ‘boot top’ is black and looks good and, months later, is doing the job.

Being dropped back in the water by the very friendly marina staff.

It was ANZAC Day during our stay in Bundaberg. On ANZAC Day, I was told by one of marina staff, there is a well attended dawn church service, followed by a tot of rum and milk, which the soldiers fighting in the war took for health and finally BBQs and beer. This would have been great to participate in but everything stopped for the day (including Public Transport) and the celebrations were miles away.

We have seen many memorials and displays particularly as we travelled further north.

I was also inspired to make ANZAC Cookies, but had to wait for the shops to be open to buy golden syrup.  You only need a couple tablespoons for the recipe but the smallest jar I could find was 850g. Coconut is the special ingredient. I see a lot more ANZAC cookies in our future.

They were wonderfully chewy with that irresistible richness that Golden Syrup and butter provides. 

(Oh dear, this has taken much longer than expected to get to this part of our trip and we are far beyond this anchored as we are off Horn Island in the Torres Straits. (09 July)  Cracking on!)

Just north of Bundaberg, begins the Great Barrier Reef and we sailed through it all the way up to Horn Island where we are now anchored.

These are three websites that help explain the Great Barrier Reef - Great Barrier Marine ParkThe Great Barrier Reefs and Coral Reefs.

I haven’t found anything that really describes what our experience was like.

The Tradewinds had set in and we have had strong winds for the majority of our trip north with the fastest daily passages in a long time. We day sailed when we could and anchored at night.  When the winds were up we often had swell in the anchorages which often meant a poor nights sleep. We often didn’t hang around long and would set off at first light.

Salt water crocodiles are an issue and we stay out of the water. They start appearing in Queensland. We didn't see any in the south but they become more plentiful in the north.

Pancake Bay - we anchored at the mouth of the river.  Too shallow here for us.


Our next night stop was Pearl Bay. 

We arrived in the late afternoon just as a squall with driving rain hit us.  The entrance to the anchorage is between the mainland and the island and you don’t see the gap between them until you are quite close.  It was a relief when it did appeared, though we had no reason to believe it wouldn’t. 

We left at first light as, though it doesn’t look possible in this protected cove, the dreaded side swell came in at the change of tide.

Squalls and rainbows.

This is the coast of the island below. If you told me this was Greece, I’d believe you. This is not what we expected a Great Barrier Island to look like.

Percy Island - where Tim went ashore with Into The Blue, Estehr (correct spelling) and Barracuda and left a British Ensign with Larus written in marker on it in the ‘A’ frame on the beach. It is the thing to do. We were the only boats there and rolled like pigs in the slight swell coming into the bay and left the next day.

Long after our visit, Bruno’s Girl who has now caught us up, partied with the many other boats in the anchorage and ate goat stew cooked by the couple who manage the island. 

We were very early in the season and ahead of most of the boats heading north.

A burst of speed on our way to the Scawfell Island, which had a huge bay with permanent moorings. It looked idyllic but we had another lumpy night.  Swell bends around islands and it’s very hard to find somewhere it can’t reach. 

This is Thomas Island where we stopped at the day after Scawfell. Scawfell was very much a destination island with mooring balls and probably snorkelling on big day boats in season. It looked very like this but much bigger. So big in fact that I couldn’t get a decent photo of it.

Our next stop was Airlie Beach, a very lovely seaside town and best of all we found new friends there. Natalia and her daughter Cristina welcomed us with open arms. Natalia is a good friend of our sister-in-law Eleana and warned her of our coming. Natalia fed us, drove us around and even lent us her car.  Both Natalia and Cristina had much to share of their lives and experiences living tropical QLD and it was all so interesting.

Sadly, we couldn’t get them out to Larus to reciprocate their hospitality as the weather was wet and windy for most of our time there.  We did so enjoy their company and hope that our paths cross again. We were sorry to have to leave.

Airlie Beach Bay with the tide out.  

The bay is very shallow so we needed to anchor quite far out.  This can make for a long wet dinghy ride is wet and windy conditions. 

We caught up with our three companion boats on Keppell Island and headed together to Shark Bay.

Zoe took this terrific photo of us with all sails set.  

We are on a run with the wind from behind us. The wind direction is slightly from the port side so the mainsail is set on the starboard side. The mizzen is ‘poled’ on the port side - if it was behind the mainsail it would collapse for lack of wind. The mizzen is set on the port side to so that between the three sails we are catching every bit of wind. Down wind sailing is the slowest point of wind.

Shark Bay was very pretty and is only accessible by boat. Holiday homes line the beaches and even scrap of timber, nail and pipe was brought by boat. We met a local couple who told us about how this summer home community started and how it continues to grow.

 It has a wonderful rocky coastline and I have many, many photos.

If I stood there till the tide came in, my hat would float right of my head. 

The bay used to have a crocodile but it was got rid of years ago. It still does have sharks but not as many as when fishing trawlers would anchor in the bay and throw the bycatch overboard.

One white tree.

Stopping for such short periods of time as we do, it’s hard to know just how low the tide will go.  We are fortunate that our dinghy is very light and with a lot of effort we can drag it across the mud.

Graham, Kate, Tim, Nancy, Zoe and Bill.

Our next stop was Magnetic Island, which is just off the coast of Townsville and it is a very popular tourist destination.

The park has wonderful paths of varying difficulty.

This does get one’s hopes up of seeing a koala.

We weren’t disappointed. 

We were lucky that others had spotted the koala in the tree as I don’t think we would have seen it ourselves.

Orpheus Island was a night stop and well known for its giant clams.

When the tide is particularly low, you can walk among them. We drifted over them instead.  They were cultivated here in the past but are now left to their own devices.

Gould Island was one night stay where we met a Romanian couple Soran and Anna.

They joined Bill and Zoe on Larus for  a raucous evening.

We had quite wonderful sunsets as it was the time of the giant sunspots.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, it did, though I’m sure that seeing the Northern/Southern Lights in unexpected latitudes would trump a sunset any day.

Dunk Island. There had been a resort on the island but a cyclone 2 years ago had closed it down.

The anchorage is quite exposed and at high water very lumpy.

Bill and Tim getting sand blasted on the downwind side of a sand spit, and possibly attacked by seagulls. lol.

Next stop for the night - Mourilyan Island. Me: Which was that? Tim: The place with the yellow buoys.

Fitzroy Island is a short hop from Cairns. It’s a popular day trip as well as longer stays at the eco lodge. It’s is we’ll known for sea turtles protection and rehabilitation as well snorkelling on a reef where one is likely to see turtles.


I have a wonderful new phone that takes much better photos than the old.  

Fitzroy Island has some challenging walks.

I stopped to top up water bottle at before heading up the slope.  The others went on ahead and as I hurried to catch-up, I only noticed this guy when it hissed at me. It’s over a metre long and if it hadn’t piped up I might well have stepped on it.

It was a steep climb with great views.

Nearly there.

At the top.

Larus - the white boat by the trees.

The descent was harder than the climb for me. My knees don’t like downhill very much.  Neither does my head, which tends to make me think how much more I’d prefer to fall up hill than down. I put it down to having knee issues for such a long time. Even when they are much better, you have to relearn to trust them, I think.

On my way down, I met a couple from Cairns on there way to the top. They asked where I was from and how I had got here - from the UKon a sailboat, they asked, ‘Is yours the pretty white boat in the anchorage?’  They thought she looked fast and seaworthy. 

Much as I would have like to get all the way up to Thursday Day and Horn Islands, our departure date has arrived.  We cleared out this morning and have just begun a 5 or 6 day passage Tual, Indonesia.

I’ll work on the final bit of this blog when we have the internet via the Starlink.

We’ll lose the phone signal soon so posting now!

Nancy and Tim