Airlie Beach To Cairns On A Sailboat

The day finally arrived for us to leave the marina we called home for the last 6 whole weeks. The excitement in the girls was unreal. They had been waiting for this day for months, asking us daily since we got here when we would sail. After stocking up on food and any last minute supplies the 6 person crew (including our two girls) and the captain lifted the ropes and motored between the channel markers out to open waters. With sails up we set our bearings east towards the Whitsunday Islands. There was a strong wind heading due north so we tucked in along the north coast between Hayman and Hook Island. After close to 3 hours under sail we tied onto a mooring ball and called day one a success. The only troubles were that the front genoa sail would not unfurl.

After dinner on the deck we all settled down for a good nights sleep. With high humidity and day time temperatures into the low thirties, the evening 20°C degree temperatures make for a pleasant relief. This provoked problem number two. With little air circulation and the kitchen/galley well below deck, the sleeping conditions were challenging. Tyson actually spent the night outside as the cabin heat was leaving him a hot sweaty mess. Problem three arose around 4 am as the house battery was dead. This left the boat with no electricity, not even the mast anchor light to let others know our location in the dark. It also meant no fans in each of our sleeping cabins, which made them heat up quick. I was left with the solution of hauling the girls up out on the main deck to continue their sleep.

Come morning some final connections were made and the solar panels were now in working order. We ate breakfast and motored around the corner, both charging the batteries and speeding things up as we entered Nara Inlet and dropped anchor. Here we learned that the anchor hydraulic system only worked in the raise direction. Back in the marina it operated fine for lifting and lowering but today, not so much.

Our family of four ate some lunch then took the dingy to the shore to explore the short Nara Inlet hiking trail to an ancient shallow cave where we saw aboriginal cave paintings on its walls. The short 170 m trail took us through tropical jungle with lizards, birds and viewpoints over the inlet. We returned down to the waters edge to search for shells and walk the short beach for anything that caught our eye. Returning to the boat, we relaxed and went for a swim before dinner and then called it a night.

With night two complete, and confident about the boats integrity, we now sailed back to Airlie Beach to pick up our 8th and final crew member. From here we intended to sail north up the full east coast of Australia, around Cape Tribulation to Darwin then across the Indian Ocean via Christmas Island, Keeling Island, Seychelles, Reunion and dock at Cape Town, South Africa. This full journey was expected to take anywhere from 6 to 9 weeks depending on conditions. With plenty of excitement, we were now underway.

Unlike driving a vehicle, while sailing it is not uncommon to keep on the move throughout the night. The sailing yacht is equipped with full navigation equipment along with sonar for the weather and GPS autopilot. While the crew members roll around in their cabin bunks, one member stays awake and keeps watch for anything that may surface over the horizon. Because of the heat, putting the girls to bed at night consisted of Tyson and I cradling them to sleep on the outside deck while they drifted off to dreamland. We would them move them below deck and into bed. The nights this time of the year traditionally consist of overcast skies and rain and that is what we got. Tyson pulled the first shift from 9 pm or so until just after midnight. With no excitement other than a couple parked cargo ships and winds that pushed us between 3 and 6 knots, the night was fairly smooth. Just before 4 am however things took a bit of a turn. We woke up to the beeping sound of the autopilot displaying that there was not enough battery power to operate. The captain was now steering the boat through the black rainy skies. Around 4 am we had now lost all power completely. This resulted in total darkness. Nothing on the boat was operational now, no fridges or freezers, no flushing toilets, mast lights were dark and all display screens were out. The captain was now relying off the last bit of displays he recalled before we went dark. The one main thing we did remember was that we just happened to be crossing a cargo ship shipping lane 10 kms wide and that we were only 1/3rd of the way across. There was also not one but two 200 m boats coming up behind us somewhere in the dark with no way for them to see us and our nearly deflated sails in the 3 knot winds. We tried to start the engines to get things back on line and charging but things fell short. Something must have been plugging the fuel lines as the engine would only run for a matter of minutes before sputtering out and leaving us in silence. With our course now changed we took ourselves out of harms way of the massive ships, and by 5 am the sun was starting to rise and bring some comfort to our situation.

Over the next couple hours the captain was below deck trying his best to get the motor back on line. Fuel filters changed, fuel polished and still we could not get the motor to run for more than 5 minutes. Mother nature was helping us out now shining down on the solar panels and slowly bringing the boat back to life. Other boat members were moving food around and shutting down non essential components to conserve as much as we could. The ocean was calm and the winds were equally peaceful. Hours crawled by where it seemed like we were moving faster with the currents and tides than with the wind. The girls however had no indication that our situation was unplanned or not desirable. They continued on with their smiling faces, taking time throughout the day to colour, laugh, draw and practice their home schooling books with numbers and letters.

As the day faded into night we were already gearing up for the same problems as the night prior. We passed cargo ships anchorages, and sailed just outside of Townsville to Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. We managed to have enough electricity to get us there under full and confident navigation then turned on the motor at the last minute to curl into the bay and set anchor safely. It was now 11:30 pm, half the crew was fast asleep and the remainder of us chatted under the overcast skies until just past midnight.

Waking this morning under a slight cloud cover with bits of blue ever so often was a pleasant sight. After breakfast the captain and Tyson headed below deck to tend to our unsolved mystery as to why the engine was not receiving fuel. They started pulling lines off at the motor and worked their way back to the tank, cleaning and replacing parts where needed. They were having issues of particulates and came to the conclusion that there must be some crud build up in the day tank. This had now turned into a one man job so Tyson and the family, along with one other, got on the tender to shore to make the best of the day and treat ourselves to a beach shower and lunch on land. Soon enough we were back on the boat with the motor running smoothly and ready to continue north once more.

Once we were out of the bay we soon realized that there was basically zero wind. This was not much of a concern at this point in time for having the motor running would also top up the battery bank as the clouds had now built up thick and were doing nothing for our solar array. After a half day at sea, with confidence low and rain falling hard we all gathered together around the upper saloon table to enjoy a delicious Christmas dinner with our boat family and friends. By 9 pm people were starting to slip back into their cabin or any cool place they could find for the night and prepare for their night watch shift.

The following day was moving along smoothly. We had motored all night and continued through the day with no issues. Confidence was now high but winds were now low. On the boat there were multiple fuel tanks with the “day tank” being the last in line before the motor. In our seeming endless challenges the electric motor that fills the day tank decided to stop working with no chance of resurrecting it. This was not that big of an issue as we had a manual pump that could be used as a backup. But true to fashion the suction had decided to let go leaving a nearly empty fuel tank and no way to fill it up with. With no motor now and a wind speed of 2 knots it would be quicker to swim to our destination than rely on the sails. Once a couple hours had passed the winds did however pick up and we started gaining some ground. Our desired destination in the morning was the Cairns marina by 3:00 in the afternoon, however as we watched the sun set we chose to stop short and settle for Fitzroy Island. We tucked ourselves in on the north side of the island and dropped anchor shortly after 10:00 at night. By 2:00 am we are awoken to the sounds of alarms displaying low battery; here we go again!

Morning now brought more challenges. With zero battery life and no motor fuel to charge them some major inconveniences start to kick in. Our toilet was now replaced with a bucket, the desalination plant would not operate and food was spoiling at a rapid rate. We were also somewhat greeted with over an hour of the thickest tropical rain we have ever seen. This made for an opportunity to channel rain water into the holding tanks and shower the sweat off from the never ending heat. Once the rain thinned out some of us took the tender to shore while the captain and a neighbouring boat captain worked on our fuel challenges. With extra fuel on his boat and a portable pump they managed to gain a few litres into our day tank. Us on land ate a meal at the resort then took a walk through the jungle to a secluded beach and enjoyed the island.

While we were on shore the captain got the engine operable and let it idle long enough to charge the batteries a bit. We got back to the boat just in time for another huge downpour of rain and then enjoyed a BBQ dinner of every kind of meat that had now thawed from the lack of battery power. With one thing happening after another, we still found some humour to it and decided to enjoy the moment.

We then chose to stay anchored for a second night at Fitzroy Island. The rain continued on and on so we took the opportunity to collect rainwater to do the dishes.

By morning the batteries were back down to useless, so we untangled the neighbouring mooring ball from our rudder, started the motor, lifted the anchor and powered our way towards Cairns while eating breakfast on the way. After a couple hours we were safely backed into a marina berth and plugged into shore power and water. There seemed to be a few systems that required some major work before any further ground could be gained.

What a wild week it was! With the never ended mechanical issues, the unwavering heat and being this late into the monsoon season, the two of us had a tough decision to make. It was here however that we chose to step away from the boat and leave our dream of sailing the Indian Ocean to another time. It was now time to come up with a plan B.

We spent a week in Cairns to get things lined up for what was next for us. While we tossed around the idea of renting a van and touring around Australia, or spending some time in New Zealand, we needed to find a more affordable destination to continue our travels.

We decided to spend the next leg of our abstract plans just a short flight north. Coming up next is 29 days in Bali, Indonesia.

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