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Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Archive for July, 2010

Off to Mackay

Posted by: melissa

We chatted with a couple of other boats about the 30-hour or so hop to Mackay.  The consensus of local knowledge sealed the deal on our plan – leave before sunrise to ride a following current out of Keppel Bay.  As a general rule, we try avoid approaching or departing without adequate sunlight – it’s just our cruising philosophy and, frankly, common sense – but sometimes it can’t be helped.   Of the mini-flotilla waiting for a weather window to head north, we were the only ones headed directly to Mackay instead of stopping at Middle Pearcy Island or Pearl Bay.  I might have considered dropping the hook in Pearl Bay, but without a working stovetop, dinner at anchor is not a lot of fun. 

The alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. and I hit the snooze.  Andy got up to connect to the Internet and check the weather forecast one last time.  We heard movement outside (voices, engines firing up, etc.) so it was obvious our buddy boats were a go.  Andy went to assist our neighbor to shove off out of their slip, and I started the final preparations and the last-minute stowage.  Shallow water at night is freaky and a bit disconcerting, but the channel is well-marked so no panic attacks or tense moments or anything like that.

And wow, they were so right about that favorable current!  We were zooming right along at a great clip even with very light wind.  Andy slept most of the afternoon in preparation for some slightly tricky navigation through the night.  Around 2:00 a.m., it became clear that the following current was so favorable and helpful, that we may arrive before sun-up.  That’s when he noticed some strange lights in the distance that looked like land.  He checked the navigation, and realized it couldn’t be land.  He turned on the radar and quickly realized what it was – a huge anchorage for container ships outside of the industrial port of Mackay.  And when I say huge, I mean at least 50 container ships – a bigger array than at the entrance to the Panama Canal.

We entered the outer harbor at about 7:00 a.m.  A guy walking his dog on the dock motioned to us to pull in to a slip.  He caught our lines and loaned us the gate key so we could go have some breakfast before the marina office opened at 8:30 a.m.

We headed over to the only place open that early for breakfast.  An eleven-year-old girl (with multiple facial piercings) took our order, and then a 12-year-old girl made our coffees, and then a 13-year-old girl delivered our plates.  I don’t remember the name of this café, but to us, it will forever be called the “Children of the Corn Café.”  Are there no child labor laws in Mackay?  Sheesh.

Evidently, the World ARC is expected any day, so the marina made us move out to Siberia … out by the crazy trimaran that nobody ever takes care of (it’s the same in every marina)!  In a gigantic marina with 500 berths, we are literally the farthest possible location from the main gate (and presumably, the wifi signal).  Argh.  At first glance, though, there seems to be lots to do in the marina complex.

Mackay, Queensland

Posted by: melissa

With a population of about 81,000, Mackay is 600 miles north of Brisbane and 240 miles south of Townsville.  Though Captain Cook arrived in 1770 naming several landmarks, John Mackay (1839 – 1914) explored the region in 1860, staked a land claim, and returned in 1862 with 1200 head of cattle.  Mackay surveyed the Pioneer River, submitted the charts to the government officials in Rockhampton, and thus, the Port of Mackay was born.

The correct pronunciation of the name Mackay is Muh-kai, as in rhymes with ‘sky’.  This unique pronunciation has been a subject of some good-natured controversy.  However, the Scottish descendants of John himself officially ended the discussion by chiming in:  the Gaelic name, Mackay, ends in ‘kai’ not ‘kay’.

On January 21, 1918, one of the most destructive cyclones to strike a populated center in Australia to this day touched down in Mackay.  Every structure in town was damaged, and communication lines were completely destroyed – a full five days passed before the outside world knew of Mackay’s fate.  The accompanying storm surge and 55.55 inches of precipitation caused unprecedented flooding and witnesses reported 6-foot-high breaking waves down Main Street.  

Mackay is nicknamed the sugar capital of Australia.  In the region, sugar cane agriculture covers 86,000 hectares producing up to 6.5 million tons of raw cane for processing.  Mackay Harbor is home to one of the world’s largest bulk-sugar loading terminals.  Unfortunately, the sugar industry has fallen on hard times as the worldwide price of sugar fluctuates, but mining continues to boom.  The nearby Bowen Basin contains the single largest coal reserve in all of Australia with annual extractions of 100 million tons.  Even so, business owners understand the potential fragility of both of these industries and continue heavily investing in tourism infrastructure.  Mackay is well-located as a jumping off point to visit the Whitsunday Islands.  Halfway between Brisbane and Cairns, Mackay is a good stopping off point for yachts in transit as well.

All’s Well in Mackay

Posted by: melissa

Nothing too exciting going on … mostly just killing time before we fly to Los Angeles for my brother’s wedding.  I’m spending a lot of time studying for the Ham Radio licensing exam.  Andy hired a guy to fix the busted propane line.  Other than that, the Sports Bar in the marina complex is super fun so we’ve been watching plenty of Rugby League and Aussie Rules, as well as the last match of the State of Origin series, and the first match of the Bledisloe Cup. 

The marina is quite nice as well … professional and organized.  It also has a fantastic Laundromat – a bit expensive, but I’m willing to pay a premium for the big industrial machines.  Another thing I like is that there’s music in the ablutions building … it’s kinda nice and feels homey to be singin’ in the shower! 

Besides the Sports Bar with its typical Queensland pub grub menu, the marina complex includes an Italian food restaurant (really hit or miss, inedible lasagna, pretty good vegetable primavera), a decent steak house, a seriously over-priced tapas joint run by people who have obviously never been to Spain, a passable Thai restaurant with super convenient take-out, and of course, the “Children of the Corn Café.”