Saturday, 25 July 2015

Queensland, Australia


The wind has come up again; blowing over 30 knots as we approach Hydrographers Passage, the pass through the Great Barrier Reef.  We identify the westerly cardinal buoy and the tower marking the opposite side of the channel. This is the finish line for our last leg of the World ARC and we cross the line in the lead, around seven hours ahead of the nearest boat. As we close the pass we can see white water breaking on the reef and then we are though; inside this huge reef but still a hundred miles from the coast of Queensland.

It has been a fast passage across the Coral Sea from Vanuatu, with winds between 25 and 30 knots and a big following swell running from the south east. Juno revels in these conditions. As soon as we set the pole and bear off onto a run, all the stress goes out of the rig and Juno steadies herself and blasts downwind, her wide aft sections giving her the buoyancy to surf down the big waves and we average well over nine knots, 24 hours a day.  However once through the pass we are almost dead upwind, and worse, the tide has turned against us and its now dark. I start the engine to motor sail but even with 130 horsepower revving hard and a reefed mainsail, we are making little progress against the tide. A big tanker, 1,000 feet long, is heading up the channel in the opposite direction so I am unable to tack to build more speed and instead I have to motor against the steep chop, pinned against the reef until the freighter passes and I can bear off and set some sail.  In the middle of all this we receive a radio call from the border control helicopter flying high above us. Polite and efficient, they ask us to identify our self and give our ETA into Mackay. By the time Mick relieves me at midnight I am tired and ready for my bunk.

We arrive just after dawn and tie up at the customs dock in Mackay. Customs and immigration are notoriously strict in Australia and despite us throwing all our fresh food into the sea outside Australian waters we still fill two large yellow bags with nuts, empty bottles, bags of flour and other food products that are not allowed. Customs officers also search the boat, lifting floorboards and opening every locker, even bringing an excited retriever on board. Wearing little rubber boots over its paws it sniffs around the boat wagging its tail furiously but finds nothing of any interest other than a chocolate on the cockpit table. Finally after two hours we are cleared and free to go to our berth in the marina.


It feels very strange being back in a modern, first world country after 7 months in the Pacific Islands. Everyone is friendly and welcoming, the marina is clean and efficient, the shore power supply doesn’t trip out every ten minutes, the water pressure on the dock is enough to hose the top of the mast; and yet it with is mixed emotions that we sit and toast our arrival on the dock.  We are tired after our long trip across the Pacific. Not tired in a way that a good nights sleep will restore, but exhausted from the ceaseless movement of the boat, the need to be constantly alert, ones senses always attuned to the rumble of the anchor chain or the set of the sails and always at the back of ones mind the endless list of jobs to keep the boat safe and sound across thousand of miles of ocean. Yet the prospect of leaving the rally and parting from our friends and ending the adventure is even more unsettling. Its too soon to try and rationalise all these feelings - that will come later; but for now we have a farewell party to organise and we email the invitation to all the boats in the fleet, many still at sea, for a Juno party on the pontoon.



The next few days seems to be full of goodbyes. Mick leaves us to fly home having been a great member of our crew since Vanuatu. We have thoroughly enjoyed having a wise and experienced yachtsman on board who is also such good company. The next day Jamie heads for Sydney on his way back to the UK. We are really pleased that he has done a long offshore passage with us to experience part of our journey and to meet all our friends on the other boats.  Unfortunately the weather has been poor for much of his time on board but it has given him a good taste of life on the ocean and its been wonderful to just have him ‘at home’ with us for a decent length of time.  Then it’s Andrew’s turn to leave. Considering that we have spent seven months with the three of us in a confined space we have got on amazingly well. This is mostly down to Andrew’s calm and easy going nature and it seems very strange that he wont be here when we wake up tomorrow. I think it will be hard for all of us to decompress after this voyage and maybe more so for Andrew to slip back into his life in the UK.   

I drop Caroline at the airport as she heads home to the UK while i check Juno into the boatyard. She is my stalwart companion who has bravely accompanied me on this trip though thick and thin, spreading her magic around the fleet. As one of the skippers said to me “when she talks to me she always makes me feel special”. I head back to the boat to prepare for the haul early the following morning when Juno will be lifted to be anti-fouled and polished. She is looking a little tired after another 10,000 miles since her last wash and brush up in Mallorca. Many of the crews from the fleet have headed to Sydney for a break before embarking on the second half of the rally and over the following few days they return to Mackay; some heading off immediately on the long trip to Darwin, others using the very good facilities in the boat yard to ready their yachts for the long haul across the Indian Ocean to Cape Town.

It has been fun being in the yard working on Juno during the day with Andy and meeting up in the bar every evening with all the other World ARC crews. By the time we launch, Juno looks better than new and I spend my last few days tidying up and turning her back from an expedition boat that has crossed the largest Ocean in the world to a modern apartment with white leather upholstery and air conditioning. 






The crew of Aretha return from Sydney, re-energised after a weeks rest. Willow, aged three, greets me with excitement.

“Hello Paul” she says, jumping up and down in her bunny hoodie, ears flapping.
“Where’s Caroline?” she asks, looking past me eagerly, expecting to see her friend.
“She’s gone to England” I reply. Her brow furrows in disappointment.
“Where’s Andrew?” she says hopefully.
“He’s gone home to England too”.
“Is Caroline with Andrew?”.
“Well, sort of”.

Caspar and Nichola’s three children, Bluebell, Columbus and Willow, have all changed during the course of the past seven months and it is great to see how much more confident they have all become. Columbus and Bluebell give me long hugs, reluctant to let go, and as I cast off their lines I have a lump in my throat. I am full of admiration for Caspar and Nichola, coping not only with the trials of the journey (winning this last leg on corrected time), but also the challenges of looking after a young family. I am sure that we will see them all again – but it won’t be quite the same.

Finally its time to leave and I say goodbye to all our great friends who are still in the marina.  It’s quite emotional knowing that we are stepping off this rally, never to re-join and maybe never again to see many of our friends. I head for the boat yard to say goodbye to Pete from Wayward Wind and by the time I am ready to leave I feel quite wrung out.  I sit alone in my hotel room in Sydney, looking forward to seeing friends and family at home, but feeling very melancholic. Farewell emails from our friends in the fleet are very touching and although I know that we are doing the right thing taking a break, part of me would love to be with them all, out on the water, leading the fleet north to Darwin and then on to Lombok, Cape Town and Brazil. My journey home by air takes me via Hong Kong and the contrast is stark.  After months in relative isolation with few people, huge horizons and the sound of the ocean, Hong Kong comes as a shock. The sheer number of people crammed into such a small space, with soaring skyscrapers obliterating the sky and teeming with busy shoppers, taxis, trams and ferries is a ferocious assault on the senses. 






This trip has been an amazing adventure and we have done what we set out to do – sail from Europe to Australia. The experiences have been rich and diverse, full of emotion and wonder and I have been thinking how I will reply to the question from friends: “So, how was it?”.   Juno is still in Australia and I look forward to the next leg of the journey to get Juno home. Not sure when, but the prospect of sailing through Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand has got me thinking about that list again. 

We left Gibraltar on 1st November 2014 and after sailing over 15,000 miles we arrived in Mackay in Queensland Australia in the rain just in time for breakfast on 23rd July 2015.  We thought that we would see some amazing places and have some great experiences - and we did. What we didn't expect was to make so many great friends along the way and as we leave the World ARC rally in Australia we will miss them all greatly.

Our satellite tracker shows our route since we bought Juno in 2011 with two Atlantic crossings, two circuits of the western Mediterranean and a Pacific crossing. 41,612 miles in all. No wonder we're exhausted!





Thanks to everyone who has crewed, repaired, emailed and blogged along the way.  We genuinely couldn't have done it without you.

Paul, Caroline and Andrew



6 comments:

  1. Hurrah! Well done to you all. Many happy memories for you to cherish. Xx

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  2. Huge congratulations, feeling very emotional and proud. Much love from us all xxx

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  3. Well done to you three - a real achievement, you will miss all the World ARC crews but you can follow them online - they will miss the Juno crew very much too. xxx

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  4. Terrific effort one & all! Have loved following your memorable Juno adventures! Looking forward to hearing more in person!
    Much love from all Naylors on dry land in Cornwall xoxox

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  5. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. Best of luck on your return. Thanks again.

    Phil

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  6. The GDP of Down Under is ranked 12th and it has 5th highest per capita income in the world. This country has lowest poverty studymigratem.au and ranks only second to Switzerland in terms average per capita wealth.

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