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Take the Leap – Life as an Ocean Gypsy - Part 6 - 'Pacific Breeze' cruising

by Kristen Anderson 31 Jan 20:36 UTC
Our portable home afloat – at our beloved Iluka, guests of the wonderful Tony and Mary-Anne Purkiss © Kristen Anderson

What do you do when that four-month South Pacific odyssey comes to an end??? Well, you plan the next adventure of course!

Thanking my lucky stars for the luxury of time (I had given myself a gap year after all and it was only half over!!), a month of doing very little other than luxuriating in the arms of my loved ones slid gloriously by, filled with decadently lazy mornings, long lunches, strolls in the winter sunshine and much socialising – oh, and dreamy evenings spent with my man, researching East Coast cruising destinations!

No longer on the open ocean, I was, however, still living the sea gypsy dream on board Richard's very lovely yacht "Pacific Breeze", and was thoroughly enjoying the easy camaraderie of marina life as we hatched our plans. The Breeze, as she is widely known, is no stranger to offshore adventure and, as we steadily prepared her for a sea sojourn, she tugged impatiently at her lines, eager for freedom. Happily, 'taking the leap' is highly infectious and in no time at all Richard had also escaped the treadmill of work and we gave The Breeze free reign, just as long as she took us north – destination immaterial!

Asked where we were headed we invariably replied, "we don't care, so long as the water is warm enough to swim". At my urging we had invested in a brand new (read expensive) stainless steel boat ladder, so whether I wanted to or not I was going to be swimming! But seriously, for us, the voyage was simply about reconnecting and enjoying an adventure, this time together. We had both raced north numerous times, from Sydney to Southport, but this was different, and we wanted to take our time, smelling the roses as they say, or more aptly, the cungee!

Of course, cruising and racing are very different past times and it DID take some time for the racer in Captain Rich to calm down and stop insisting on regular sail changes! On the passage from Newcastle to Coffs Harbour our third crew member the long-suffering Abbott, on being asked to change the headsail for the fifth time that day, asked irritably what the bloody difference was between racing and cruising, and was promptly informed, "when you're racing you've got more people to help you, so get on with it!" There was laughter, but nevertheless it was silently agreed that the next time the number three headsail went up it was there to stay!!

Whilst Captain Rich learned to appreciate a slower pace of life, the two of us adjusted to new levels of trust, reliant on each other here at sea far more than we had ever been on land. We shared the sailing, but other duties fell naturally and easily to one or the other based on skill and inclination. Rich is one of those men who can fix just about anything, so maintenance and repairs fell naturally to him, whilst navigating and provisioning became my domain, and I even got my domestic goddess on (NOT a familiar role!) to become a half way decent boat cook. Always an early riser, on anchor it became the habit for Rich to tweak and fix (never ending!) whilst making my morning cuppa, which I enjoyed in bed while double checking the weather forecast against our trip planner. The constant need for running repairs (The Breeze is not a young girl after all) was not always appreciated, but did attract one of the pithier sayings of the trip. Whilst complaining to a good mate and fellow yachtie back home during yet another engine repair, we were told, "Ah well, you know what they say about cruising...it's just fixing your boat in exotic destinations!" Never a truer word was spoken, I thought, as I dived overboard into tranquil turquoise waters for yet another dip, to the accompaniment of a mumbling of profanities...

We found we were very much on the same page when it came to decision-making, the governing factor being always the wind. I declared Rich to have truly embraced cruising when, after it appeared that northerlies had set in for the duration, he happily proclaimed 'we shall not sail to windward', and pointed us south. It is a beautiful way of life to travel only where the wind allows, one of quiet simplicity that removed the busy noise and complexity from our joined lives for an all too brief period. And, in stark contrast to the Pacific crossing, close proximity to the coast meant that less-than-ideal weather conditions could be avoided by ducking in for shelter, or simply staying put. Without a doubt this peace and simplicity will draw us back to the cruising existence, just as soon as life allows, so that we can again muse, 'it's so beautiful here, why don't we hang around?" and choose, 'yes, let's stay till the wind changes'.

Some highlights from this exploratory foray into the life of grotty cruising yachties were discovering for ourselves the hidden gem of Iluka, finding our place at Bum's Bay, uncovering the joy of flat water sailing whilst navigating our way through the intra-coastal waterway connecting the Gold Coast with Moreton Bay, enjoying a stunning couple of days relaxing in the azure waters of Peel Island, and experiencing one of the most wonderful dolphin interactions in all my years at sea, on a windless day south of Coffs Harbour when the sea was so crystal clear that we could make out the impish joy in the dolphins' eyes as they frolicked alongside. It was also a total privilege, and very much in keeping in the ethos of the boat, to share parts of our adventure with friends. Abbott, whilst he did not, as promised, keep us stocked with fresh fish, enhanced many evenings with his guitar strumming and seriously upped the ante on backgammon tournaments. And 'Petal' and 'The Princess' made for fabulous company on the final passage home, where 'The Princess' not only learned that cask wine is in fact eminently drinkable (she's a french champagne kind of girl) but also that she can read the fine print on navigation charts and can steer okay to boot. Well done Sam!

The name 'Bum's Bay' did not sound overly appealing, but how many places can you anchor for free in clear, deep water just a short boat row from a long white stretch of glorious and mostly empty beach, with a million-dollar backyard nestled beneath the bright lights of the Gold Coast? What a fabulous spot, and what a wonderfully eclectic mix of folk! A big shout out to Pete, an interesting and colourful Bum's Bay fixture who did a fabulous job moonlighting as tender-minder as well as intriguing us with his yarns of a life much lived, and to Dennis our Irish neighbour in his 'miami vice' cruiser that, like Mary Poppin's carpet bag, sprouted a vast array of toys from fold-up scooters to jet skis. Many hours of boat fixing were undertaken here, interspersed with ocean walks and swims, culminating in welcome sundowners at the lovely Southport Yacht Club (previously seen only through a post-race, rum-swamped fug).

North of this panoramic anchorage, we also fell in love with the beautiful 'Well'. Whilst its claim to possess the best little pub in the cane fields is perhaps a bit of a stretch, its tranquil waters provided the perfect backdrop for a stunning morning canvas. A pre-dawn departure to catch the tide afforded us a truly sublime sunrise, on a deeply still morning when the waterway came to life in long slow brush strokes, glorious golden colour reflected in the silent depths, bringing with it a chorus of birdlife summoning the start of another new day.

Further north, we stumbled across the quiet beauty of Peel Island, a place that Moreton Bay locals must be at great pains to keep secret. Pristine waters in graduating shades of cerulean blue were home to dugongs and sting rays, and very few people. Rowing ashore we strolled the fringe of sandy beach, lolled in the cool shallows, and explored the fabulously crazed mangroves. All this just a day sail from bustling Brisbane! How totally wonderful to find these treasures so relatively close to home. It certainly proved to us that we didn't have to venture too far north to find waters warm enough to swim, and idyllic anchorages in which to unwind.

Which leads me to the jewel in the crown of our adventure, the peaceful grace of Iluka and the Clarence. Guests of our good friends Tony and Mary-Anne Purkiss from The Iluka Clarence River Marina, we soaked up the completely unpretentious stillness and serenity of their largely under-populated, magical backyard. Maybe I should be wary of sharing too much about this delightful part of the world, lest its secret escape too widely? Suffice to say then that we fell in love with the quiet charms of sleepy Iluka with its lush rainforests, unpopulated beaches, entrancing birdlife, and delicious seafood; along with the gentle lure of the river. Of course, we ran suitably aground at the old-school institution which is the local pub, "The Sedgers Reef", and enjoyed happy, hazy sundowners aboard The Breeze as long, sun-filled days closed with dazzling beauty over the tide walls and constantly changing beauty of the Clarence.

Upriver, the twisting, turning waterway unveiled tiny townlets, tranquil corners, whirling eddies, sandbanks lying in wait for those not vigilant with their navigation, vast acres of cane fields conjouring a bygone era, and fabulously eccentric people: notably the madhouse energy of Inke (no coffee thanks, I'm revved up enough without it!) with his ferro-cement 'project' from Port Stephens, and Captain X, who admired our 'handsome' yacht on the jetty at Ulmarra, claiming that he had almost bought the very same design when buying his 27th (!) boat. He proudly regaled us with tales of how he had had no luck with either women or yachts, and how, now in his seventies and on wife number seven, he obtained very little joy from his current trimaran, and wished he had purchased that beautiful old Farr! And pubs, we thoroughly enjoyed the pubs which, there being more than one, we naturally turned into a pub crawl. Our hands down favourite, no vote required, was 'The Brushy', in the quiet backwater of, wait for it, Brushgrove (possibly the best pub in the cane fields, sorry Jacobs Well!), complete with a free public jetty nearby, enticing happy hour and $12 fresh local flathead and chips. We not only found but embraced our inner 'river rat', the pace of life slowed almost to a standstill, and days and nights alike were filled with peace and serenity. Ahhhhh The Clarence, we love you, and we will return.

Back home in Newcastle, while we were enjoying the simple pleasures of life and love, a very dear friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Both a pragmatist and a spiritualist, she is accepting that this is but a chapter in a very rich life and, whilst she is undergoing some pretty extreme treatment she is also looking within and focussing her valuable energy on love and friendship, peace and positivity. Her news, like the Antarctic near-death experience that birthed this 'take the leap' journey, reinforces the message that life can be short. Crystal's outlook, and her bravery, along with the tranquillity and perspective that the oceans and rivers continue to dispense, increases my faith in the now deep-seated belief that we need to spend our precious time with the people we love, doing the things that we love, and sharing that love. Happily trading 'time-poor, cash-rich' for 'cash-poor, time-in-abundance', gap year number two has commenced...

Life is short – Take the leap

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