Darwin to Cocos

Writing this on our second day in Cocos Keeling- just wasn’t up to a blog entry after the festivities that went down after our arrival on Sunday 🙂

The passage from Darwin to Cocos Keeling was pretty straightforward: we had great trade winds for the first 6-7 days that pushed us along, followed by very light winds that weren’t helpful at all! By day 4 we had the spinnaker up and we spent about 60 hours sailing 8-9 knots with little to no adjustment on the sail whatsoever- that was definitely a first for me!

A few things really stood out on the passage: we had a tremendous full moon by midway through the leg so every night was beautifully illuminated for us. We were very successful on the fishing front: at a certain point we grew tired of all the fresh tuna and just started throwing them back! However, each Wahoo we caught did not make it past the next meal time…

We also burned a ton of fuel getting here- way more than I expected. The light air during the second half of the trip, mostly from directly behind us, just did not keep us moving against the Indian Ocean’s notorious southern swell, so we ran one of the engines almost non-stop from days 8-11.

Cocos Keeling is very nice, a great little community here, and we are anchored off “Direction Island” which has the very best swimming beach in the atoll. However, the logistics of Cocos are definitely a challenge- we aren’t even able to really get dinner anywhere because the last ferry to West Island (about 3nm and plenty of shallow reefs away) leaves for our island at 4pm. Additionally, we are resigned to multiple diesel runs today and tomorrow (always around high tide) and refueling Alyosha is going to take at least 5 trips!

So now it is on to checking the weather constantly and figuring out the best window to head on to Madagascar. That trip is going to be about 16-17 days at sea so getting a good start with strong winds is pretty imperative.

The crew of Blake, Stu and Sebastian were a great asset during the trip and some absolute gourmet meals have been served up during our passages. I am very thankful for all of their contributions. (and I am going to spare everyone details of how much I am missing my family right now, etc… )

The internet is slow here (real slow) so I have no idea whether I will be able to accompany this post with a picture of two… And truthfully, with all of the unknowns surrounding Madagascar, I have no sense of when I will be able to next post.

Darwin- Who Knew?

Today is a very big day on Alyosha, a day of great transition… The Butz Family is now packed up and will fly back home to Baltimore while my new crew- the Indian Ocean Crossing Crew- moves onboard.

I am writing from Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. We arrived about a week ago after some pretty hard sailing around the “Top of Australia.” Mainly it was “hard” in the sense that we had all the wind we could possibly want and then some, there was about a 6 hour period where the winds were between 30-35 knots. When you pair that with some tides/currents sometimes running against those winds, you have a recipe for some rough seas.

So after Lizard Island, we stayed inside the Great Barrier Reef all the way to Cape York, with easy sailing conditions and the wind/wave as our backs… Then we stopped at Thursday Island to catch our breath.

We actually ended up anchoring across from Thursday Island at a place called Horn Island. We spent two nights there and explored both islands by foot. These islands are all in the Torres Strait, a very small body of water, punctuated by many islands, that separates Australia from Papa New Guinea. The people were very friendly, and we were able to provision for the 700 nm remaining to get to Darwin. However, whether it was the crew’s anxiousness about the upcoming sea journey (another 4-5 nights at sea) or just the pending end of our trip, it was hard to really enjoy these islands.

And so we left on a Thursday evening (with the tide, of course) and sailed on to Darwin. We did not use the engine once except to charge the batteries! We zipped across the Gulf of Carpentaria at 9-10 knots, flying along under only the jib. After two nights and some 320 nm, we decided to stop an anchor off of the Wessel Islands. It was a naturally beautiful spot, but we were to afraid of crocodiles to actually get off the boat. On our way to that anchorage we talked to a local trawler who gave us the weather update: the winds would keep building and building on our way to Darwin.

So the next morning, Saturday the 9th of May, we departed our anchorage and sailed in 30-35 knot winds with only the storm jib up, doing 9-10 knots the entire time! It was really some great sailing, and Alyosha handled everything very well. We were going to stop again on the way to Darwin for another break, but the crew made a decision to “go for it” on Sunday and so we sailed Sunday night all the way through the Van Deimen Gulf to Darwin, arriving on Monday morning. It was actually some pretty tricky navigating there, with 5-6 knot tides being countered by strong south easterly winds. Nothing like a challenge for your final night at sea!

Ever since checking into Darwin last Monday at the Cullen Bay Marina, we have been shaking our heads in amazement: Darwin is fantastic! Let’s start with the weather, which has been Southern California perfect… Cool and breezy at night, warm but not too hot with a breeze during the day, zero humidity! The sky is clear and almost always cloudless, except for the large smoke clouds from the forest burning happening in the interior of the county. And that smoke and dust in the atmosphere make for the most spectacular, reddish/brown sunsets that I have ever seen.

Everyone here is very friendly, which again came as a bit of a surprise given the remoteness of this city. (Everyone has also told us that we have come to Darwin at the perfect time, and that the “wet season” is not particularly nice…) There is much to do and we have spent the last week swimming in the Darwin City wave pool (an incredible all day value at $5!) and riding our bikes all over town. One night, we took in a movie at the “Deck Chair Cinema,” an outdoor movie theatre clearly care-taken by movie affectionados, that was great. And I have never seen anything like the Mindil Beach markets, where thousands of people (I mean really, at least 3-4 thousand) congregate to 1) watch the sunset off Mindil Beach and 2) check out the large, interesting vendors at the market. Darwin has all of the amenities of a big city, but somehow retains the accessibility of a small town. Very impressed.

After spending 4 days in Darwin, we took a side trip further inland to a resort near Kakadu National Park. Back in February, as Lisa and I negotiated when the family would fly home, we agreed that ending the trip with a fantastic experience in Darwin would be the only appropriate way to wrap up. So we booked a glamorous resort called Bamurru Plains, where we would spend three days and two nights on a flooded wetlands. And what a fantastic experience this was!

From being greeted with a cool and wet Eucalyptus oiled towel upon arrival after travelling three hours from Darwin, to the gourmet meals served (the kids got a kick out of “Duck salad” for lunch) to the wonderful accommodation that slept all five of us, this was really the perfect way to cap off our year long adventure. We did plenty of activities (airboating, quad biking, bonfires, and safaris) and saw amazing birds, wallabies and water buffalo. But the most amazing thing was waking up in our netted, completely open, rustic, yet somehow clean cabin and witnessing the nature that would come to life as the sun rose. The kids won’t forget how well served they were (plenty of help yourself soft drinks and snacks) and I won’t forget how cozy and comfortable we all felt spending these last few days together.

So now I need to wrap this. The family is awake and their plane leaves in about 4 hours. I have plenty to do on the Alyosha side as I get ready for the Indian Ocean Crossing. I imagine this blog will take on a somewhat different feel as it becomes less a family adventure from here on out and more a blog about my goal to finish this circumnavigation.

The Whitsundays, Cairns and Lizard Island! (aka Places People Spend Seasons Exploring Where We Spent A Week)

It is May 5th and I am writing at anchor about 100 yards off a pristine white sand beach on Lizard Island. Looming over the island and this anchorage is a 1,200 foot hill that will provide us with our exercise this morning. It is called “Cook’s Lookout” and has some historical significance: Captain Cook walked to the top of this spot to try to get a better view of the labyrinthian reef system where he was stuck! Two miles north of here is “Cook’s Passage,” where he and his ship, Endeavor, eventually reached the open ocean.

This past week has been filled with great traveling adventures. After Gladstone, where the emphasis was on repairing the engines, we continued north to the Whitsunday Islands. The Whitsundays are supposedly some of the best cruising grounds in Australia, and it was easy to see why: beautiful reefs and islands providing protection from the seas and waves while still allowing plenty of wind to seep through for sailors. We stopped on Hamilton Island and spent three days and two nights at a fantastic marina. We were in the middle of the resort’s “Marina District” so we had our choice of great restaurants and shopping. It reminded me quite a bit of Block Island or Nantucket back home.

On Hamilton Island there were several resort pools that we took advantage of and some incredible hiking. Passage Peak was an 8km round trip giving us a wonderful view of the surrounding islands. We also took advantage of a chance to eat “breakfast with the Koalas” and Max, Sara and Sam absolutely stuffed themselves with “real breakfast food, Dad.” (as opposed to the simple servings on Alyosha, I suppose…)

We were no where near finished with the Whitsundays but our schedule now dictates that we constantly move north to get around Cape York and onto Darwin.

We left Hamilton Island with a 3.5 knot tide and made our way to Cairns. All of our sea legs now are inside the reef and so there is much less rocking and rolling with big seas but much more shipping traffic and reef navigation that require constant attention. Generally, we are sailing for a full overnight and then stopping somewhere before a second overnight watch is required. And so, before reaching Cairns we stopped at Mission Bay, just before the city, for the evening.

On Monday morning, (April 30th?) we sailed into Cairns, not really knowing what to expect. We had booked a marina in the heart of the city for 2 nights and we ended up staying three night and four days. Cairns is the “Gateway to the Reef” for many people, and there were at least 30 large tour boats in/around the marina that went out every day. Our first day we rented a car and drove about a hour south to Josephine Falls and Budinga Boulders, two natural, rain forest attractions that we had read about. They were well worth the effort and we spent a hour swimming in the clear river and sliding down the rocks!

By Tuesday, we had decided to stay an extra day/night and that allowed us to book our own reef tour, which was fantastic. There was a man made lagoon/swimming pool in the heart of the city that kept the kids entertained and between that and some other urban conveniences (malls, movie theaters) we kept pretty busy! Lisa and I were able to get out for a night to the “Salt House” a restaurant right next to the marina and we had a very memorable family dinner at Dundees Waterfront Restaurant. (Max grilled his own kangaroo at the table, quite interesting!)

After Cairns it was on to Lizard Island, with another 15 hour passage under our belts now. The anchorage here is beautiful, and this was the first time we were greeted by reef sharks circling the boat… between those and the now ever-present danger of poisonous (and quite deadly) jellyfish we kept our beach excursion/swimming short and sweet.

And so it is north again today, and by the time we get good connectivity it is very likely we will be in Darwin! (although I will try to post beforehand)

With 16 days left in this adventure, the kids and Lisa are counting down the days to their return home….

Gladstone?

Sitting here this morning for the second day in a row watching the industrial, port city of Gladstone spring into action with the sunrise. (And actually, as I found out yesterday, it springs to life even earlier than sunrise- there are no restrictions here on noise/work in this working town!)

We have been slowly making our way north since our last blog, over the past 10 days or so. We said goodbye to the Gold Coast and sailed all day around the north end of Moreton Island to the Tangalooma wrecks- a very cool anchorage where the kids surfed down sand-banks and we were able to snorkel on a series of shipwrecks not even 100 yards from the coast. After two nights there we traveled into Brisbane for a final provisioning mission (courtesy of a huge suburban mall about 5 miles down river of the actual city of Brisbane- much to our disappointment) and then it was onto our first taste of the Great Barrier Reef, Lady Musgrave Island.

But the trip was not without drama! We stopped at Wide Bay after 10 hours underway from Brisbane, just to rest for the night and because it was so convenient. The next morning, we had a small fire onboard when something went wrong with the starboard engine starter! (more on this and other Alyosha “trials” in my blog) Because it was Friday, we decided not to head to Bundaberg, which was the closest city, and to continue on to Lady Musgrave for Saturday and then to head over to Gladstone for repairs.

Lady Musgrave Island was incredibly beautiful, a perfect lagoon anchorage where the kids could swim and where we snorkeled and strolled around the island. The bird life there is amazing- and we met some folks who had been dropped off at the island for a week of camping. I was able to snorkel with a giant sea turtle for a brief time.

On Sunday we had a rough sail back to the mainland, and Gladstone, from Lady Musgrave. The winds were blowing pretty hard- 20-24 knots- and the seas kicked up a bit. The crew of Alyosha was none too happy (although binge watching “The Last Man on Earth” during the passage certainly helped pass the time!) and we arrived in the late afternoon in Gladstone.

Gladstone has actually been a decent stopover even though we were warned by several cruisers not to stop here… There are some excellent parks to walk/bike and the kids have made great use of the public library’s free, strong, wifi. We thought we would be leaving yesterday but we need some more parts and are instead hopefully leaving today. (knock, knock) This diversion has cost of some time and cool destinations- we are going to spend the next two nights at sea, sailing up the interior of the Great Barrier Reef, to get to the Whitsunday Islands.

Making Our Way North…

 

Yesterday we finally left a nice little spot we found near the Gold Coast where we stayed for an entire week.

Strategically, it is a bit early for us to go too far north (many people have warned us that cyclone season now really extends into May!) and we found plenty to do anchored off the city of Gold Coast.

Gold Coast was very similar to Fort Lauderdale and Miami, right down to the million dollar mansions sprinkled along the intracoastal side of the city. We anchored in a spot that was supposed to be for 24 hours- there were several other boat there and everyone seemed to think that the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games (basically an Olympic-sized event happening in Gold Coast between April 4th-15th) was creating enough of a diversion that making us leave the anchorage was low priority.

So we absolutely took advantage! We spent the week biking around town, visiting Surfer’s Paradise and Broadview Beach, and even enjoying the free recreational swimming area about 300 feet from the boat. We could hear and see the roar of the crowd from the swimming events stadium, and there was a huge outdoor TV screen showing events around the clock which could also be seen by the boat.

Lisa and I got to land each morning, Lisa for a run and me for 10+ miles of the best rollerblading I have ever been able to do- all the way up the the Gold Coast Seaway inlet and back down to the beaches.

Alongside the Commonwealth Games, they scheduled a huge arts/cultural events fair that lasted the duration of the games. Everything was free, and much of it was highly entertaining: we saw performance art where people in suits jumped into the ocean, stage artists performed everyday activities (setting a table, reading the newspaper) while a cube flooded (effectively dramatizing climate change) and a couple of beach concerts. A personal highlight was the concert put on about Churaki, the first “lifesaver” on the Gold Coast beaches, an Aborginal man directed by his father, an Elder, to “look after those who come to enjoy our country…”

So it was mostly a week of enjoying the beach, plenty of shopping (the Australian Fair, a huge mall/market, was also next door) and taking in as much of the festivities as our crew could handle. A real highlight for all of us was spending a day at a Lawn Bowling Club (which is huge down here). After a lunch of meat pies at the club, we were assigned to club member Ron, who cheerfully showed us how to lawn bowl. (the Butz Kids destroyed Mom & Dad)

Now we sit in a resort on South Stradbroke Island called Couran Bay Resort. It is a nice spot where the kids can pretty much run amok (beautiful pool, cool sports complex, etc…). Last night we came in third place competing with other families in a movie trivia contest- the reward is an free hour in the Virtual Reality Bar which hold great intrigue for Max, Sam and Sara!

 

Goodbye NZ, Hello Alyosha!

Well- we’re back. (and Happy Easter to all of you in the US!)

In the middle of last week, we spent an inordinate amount of time packing up our apartment in Queenstown and shoving the contents into no less than 8 suitcases and 1 oversized (and very expensive to ship!) duffle bag, headed to Brisbane and to Alyosha.

Our last month in New Zealand had some fantastic highlights (white water rafting down the Shotover river, a final regatta in Te Anau for Sara and Sam) and some terrible lowlights (seven hours in the emergency room for me- as my back issue came ROARING back!)

The kids dutifully marched through their online courses and Max and Sara both finished their Honors Algebra course! (Sam is due to take his second final exam today).  We said goodbye to some new sailing friends we met and sold some of our bigger possessions (our car and the kid’s O’pen Bic boat.) Our final great hike- we had been tackling one each week- turned out to be “Big Hill” near Arrowtown… It was a 7 hour adventure that ended with us trudging through the Arrow River through several sections. Great fun.
But the last two weeks were unfortunately tempered by my condition, which seemed to be brought on by a simple game of catch with Sam. At this point, three weeks since the original injury, I am dealing with some simple “referred pain” which seems to get better each day. Not fun, and definitely not the way I wanted to cap off such a great time in NZ!

(Already we all miss the Remarkables Mountains and their ever-changing, always stunning backdrop!)

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After spending our arrival night in Brisbane, near the airport, in a hotel that felt like a luxury jail cell, we got down to the boat on Thursday morning and Alyosha was promptly launched. While it was great to unpack everything and begin the move-aboard process, the list of “work to do” on Alyosha seemed to grow by the minute. You just can’t leave a boat- even out of the water- for four months and not expect some work to greet you.

We just spent Easter weekend here in the Boat Works marina- the weather is fantastic and this area offers much to explore. We took a day trip into Brisbane proper (the city actually has fantastic beaches and swimming pools open to the public and the kids took advantage) and Lisa and Sara, Max and Sam spent our first day back enjoying “DreamWorld”, an adventure park no more than five minutes from the marina.

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, turned out to be a great day as we went down to the Gold Coast to explore Surfer’s Paradise. The beaches here are just phenomenal (the Aussies know how to do beaches!) and we spent most of the afternoon having a blast in the warm waters. (and trying to refresh our tans!)

We have about three more days before we leave the marina- days likely filled with repairs, maintenance and maybe one more theme park. The goal is Darwin, but we are in no rush to leave the beauty of Brisbane and the Gold Coast, so we will likely find a great spot to anchor and continue exploration. I expect we will be blogging a bit more frequently now….

February in NZ

Another NZ Blog

Tomorrow marks “three weeks left” here in Queenstown before we get back on board Alyosha. Make no mistake, at this point, we are all pretty ready to return to life at sea. And with tickets flying back to America now purchased, there might be a few members of the family looking beyond that…. 🙂

We have built a really nice routine here over the last few weeks and it doesn’t even make sense to continue to complain about the home schooling daily ritual, so I won’t. This coming Friday, we are going river rafting down the Shotover River. This is a trip we are all looking forward to (Grade 4/5 rapids!) and even getting to the put in location looks sketchy. We intentionally saved this adventure towards the end of our time here in order to have something special to look forward to…

We now spend Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings with a group of sailing families, training for the kids final regatta in Te Anau March 24/25. Max, Sara, and Sam have all progressed in their sailing and racing skills and it is going to be very interesting to see how they fare compared to where they started at the turn of the year. Sara and Lisa drive 2 hours each week to Gore for her to practice skating and Sam and Max started playing organized soccer (called Summer Sixes) last Tuesday. Additionally, we have completed a few of the big, epic hikes on our list (like “Big Hill”- 12 miles across some tough terrain) and we continue bike nearly every day.

It has been a month since my last blog, and the main highlight we had in February was a trip to Wellington. It was nice to be in an urban environment again and we had a great time walking through the streets, shopping and eating out! The event we went up to see, the opening of the New Zealand festival with a performance on the harbor, turned out to be a bit of a bust! There were certainly thousands of people lining the shores, and there were some off shore “participants.” But what actually transpired was hard to figure out, and the kids “opted out” after about an hour. We did finally end up taking in our first “Lord of the Rings” tour in Wellington. (there are some 60+ groups that run some kind of NZ/LOTR tour) The most interesting thing was how Peter Jackson seemingly willed his city, Wellington, into becoming a creative powerhouse influential in so many great films. They call this section of town “Wellywood.”

Another highlight has been following through on each of the kid’s birthday wishes. We decided early on to allow them to choose a single, unique experience to celebrate their birthday. In my last blog, I talked about Sam’s helibike experience. This past week, Max got a chance to bungy jump from 134 meters! This was nearly 3x higher than his original jump back in 2014. And Sara and I went Paragliding- which was just incredible. I will not soon forget the view of Queenstown from above and the skill in which our “pilots” navigated the air currents to stay aloft. (seriously, what a cool sport, some of the pilots have even traveled to Wanaka- 100km away- using thermals to travel along the mountains! Our pilot equated it to “3D Sailing”)

My plan is to hopefully summarize the rafting and big regatta in a final blog on NZ before we return to Alyosha, so stay tuned…