Fortunately, the weather improved for their stay, and we made the most of nice sunny days to entertain the kids with dinghy rides, fishing, visits to Underwater World and even a quick road trip up to Noosa.
Unfortunately, the time passed all too quickly, and we regrettably waved the clan off as they headed back to a frigid Victoria.
After a day to clean up, we re-provisioned and were ready for sea again. Our old friend Robert Cleveland had been volunteering to join us for quite a while, but health reasons and the tyranny of distance had made it difficult until now.
We've known Robert since our days living in California, so it was fantastic to have him join us.
It was a good learning experience, too, and Robert just loves trimming the sails.
We set off from Mooloolaba in a moderate Southwesterly and had a nice sail before the breeze turned onto our tail, and we coasted past Noosa under jib and engine only. One of the day's highlights was spotting three humpback whales!
In the morning, with all kinds of ominous predictions from the Weather Bureau, it was a quick run north to the notorious Wide Bay Bar at the southern end of Fraser Island.
It's an intimidating stretch of water, but with Robert at the helm, and having carefully planned for the crossing on the right tide, it was a much less frightening experience than it could've been, given the stiff breeze that we experienced.
We rocked and rolled through the famed Mad Mile and headed north up into The Great Sandy Strait for a quiet night on the anchor in "Garry's Anchorage".
It was a bit off-putting to see the "Beware Of Crocodiles" and "Beware Of Dingoes" signs on the beach and of course we scoffed at the idea of crocodiles this far south. Until the morning, when we saw what looked suspiciously like crocodile tracks on the sand bank just behind the boat!
From there, the weather turned increasingly nasty, and after waiting for the tide to fill in, we set off under a cold, grey sky, more akin to crossing the English Channel than what we expected on our Queensland coast.
We motored through the Strait and found a deep water anchorage off the Kingfisher Eco-Resort.
It was quite rolly and uncomfortable, and we decided that we'd be safer on the other side of the strait, so we pulled up the pick and headed off towards Big Woody Island. Realizing mid-channel that we had to skirt around a big sandbar to get there, and it would mean arriving in the dark, we changed our minds and headed back to Kingfisher again, this time a bit further south for more protection.
It was a difficult anchoring process, in very deep water and requiring a lot of chain. Paying it out, the chain jumped off the gypsy and it took a bit of battling to bring it back under control, but it held firm and we had a surprisingly calm night.
Robert's daughter picked him up in Bundaberg to put him on the train home, and we settled at the marina for a few days, crewless again, making a special point of visiting the local rum factory. It's NOT a high tech industry!
Poor old Bundaberg's still in recovery mode after the devastating floods of last year, so we were happy to hang out and spend a few tourist dollars in the town.
The next leg of the journey was a full-day run to an anchorage in, what I thought was the "remote" Pancake Creek.
We motored out of the Burnett River early, in the dark and with a heavy fog. I was pleased that both of our hazard-avoiding electronic devices, the radar and the AIS receiver, worked effectively, as we couldn't see much more than 20 metres around the boat. It wasn't until after 0930 that the sun peeked through, and we could actually see our fellow sailors, five other yachts around us, as they, like us, had been waiting for the right day to leave the shelter of Bundy.
It was a pleasant, but uneventful journey after that, with just the odd few dolphins visiting the boat to cruise along our bow wave. (We were just 30 minutes behind another yacht that witnessed a magnificent Humpback breaching off their bow.)
Just as another thick fog bank rolled in, and we were a bit concerned, searching for a safe spot to anchor before dark amongst the throng. Three different spots, and the anchor dragged on a rocky bottom with a speedy current. Finally, we had a good "bite" and the owner of a boat behind us came up on deck and expressed his fear that we'd drag onto him, but he was happy enough once he'd seen us put the boat into reverse and power against the anchor. (The next morning, as we were departing, he made a point of coming on deck to tell us that Endurance was "the prettiest girl in the anchorage"). Made my day!
The fog was still thick when we woke, but we wanted to wait for the tide to fill in before we packed up. By the time it had thinned a little, we saw that half the boats had already left, mostly headed North. It's a bit like the Migration of the Wildebeest.....all of these cruising boats heading towards the Holy Grail of the Whitsundays.
It was an interesting run as we approached Gladstone, now the second busiest port in Australia. At first, it reminded me of Geelong's Corio Bay, until I realized just how big, and busy, the port really is.
Gladstone's actually the furthest North I've been in Queensland since the early seventies, so it's all a bit of an adventure.
The next morning, we had a call from Marion Hughes, a friend of my brother's partner Marionne, and she visited the boat, gave us a bit of a tour of the city, and then took us home to her apartment on the Boyne River. Then a really nice home-cooked dinner with her partner Martin, also a yachtie who's almost finished building his own boat, and herself.
A great introduction to Gladstone, which could easily be seen as just a bit of a grungy Fly-In, Fly-Out industrial city.
So today, I'm aboard the boat while the 30 knot winds outside hold us in harbour again, and I've finally had a chance to update the blog. And it's sunny!
The Tropic Of Capricorn's less than a day's sail away. The Great Barrier Reef is to our East. We're nearly in The Tropics!
Now, where's that snorkel......