This was the headline in the Brisbane newspaper on Monday November 17th, the day after we arrived. As we approached Moreton Bay in Australia (on Sunday) where we were to make our first landfall since leaving New Caledonia, we heard on the radio that there was a “high wind” advisory for the area . We had known that a storm was predicted for the coast of Australia on Sunday, and had timed our departure from New Caledonia six days before, calculating that we would arrive before it hit . The storm was not supposed to arrive until late in the day and we knew we would arrive by mid-morning so we were not overly concerned about it. It was a gorgeous, hot and sunny day and our entrance into Moreton Bay was lovely – the huge bay was filled with kayakers and sailboats and also big cargo ships waiting to either drop off or pick up cargo from the docks at the Brisbane River. It was not terribly windy and the skies were perfectly clear. We got to Rivergate Marina and immediately were boarded by the check-in officials from quarantine, customs and immigration. Everything went smoothly and they were all really friendly and professional, despite all the rumors we had heard from other sailors that Brisbane had extremely tough check-in procedures. It couldn’t have been easier. Then about 4:00 p.m. as we were just resting and relaxing after our long passage we saw the clouds start to darken, and by 5:00 p.m. the winds had increased to 30 knots, it was pouring and there was just an incredible amount of lightning. Huge jagged streaks came down from the clouds for the longest time with driving rain and gusts up to 35 knots. Finally the lighting stopped, but it continued to rain all night . We just slept through the night, however, being exhausted from the trip and also feeling all safe and secure in our slip. It was not until the next day that we found out that we had gotten there just in time for the biggest and most damaging thunderstorm in Brisbane in the last 25 years! Here is a quote from the newspaper: “ Soldiers, low security prisoners and police recruits will today help to clean up Brisbane, which was declared a natural disaster area after it was lashed by one of the most damaging storms to hit the Queensland capital in a quarter of a century.” Wow – we felt very lucky that we had not been out at sea when it hit!
We spent only one night in Rivergate Marina and then moved six miles upriver the next day to the Dockside Marina. Dockside is right in the center of Brisbane, on one side of the Brisbane River which is lined with dozens of very beautiful condominiums, manicured lawns and gardens, walking paths, several restaurants, and best of all, a ferry dock right at the marina that takes you across the river in 4 minutes to downtown Brisbane. It is a very large city – just jammed with commercial property of all sorts – banks, businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, malls within malls and every kind of retail shop you can imagine. There is a pedestrian mall downtown that stretches for blocks and walking along it at mid-day is like walking through Boston. It is jammed with people. Ferries run up and down the river taking people back and forth to wherever they are headed and there are efficient well marked bus routes and all sorts of public transportation. It is fun to be in such an urban environment for a change.
When we moved the boat up to the Dockside Marina from Rivergate we were a little worried about how we would tie up to the dock. Normally there is someone at a marina who can help you by grabbing your boat lines and tying you up to the dock. It is hard for us to do it alone as Mark has to steer the boat and that leaves just me to leap off the boat and tie off 4 lines quickly before the boat drifts off and knocks into neighbors. (Luckily we are rarely at a dock). This marina is mostly for locals who are at work all day and the woman who works in the office told us she can not help with lines. The weather forecast was for strong winds, and there are strong currents on the river which would have made bringing it up to a dock unaided even more difficult. We were in luck though, as our neighbors on the dock we were leaving were actually crew members (on a large and beautiful 68 foot Oyster). They, Lorenzo (Italian) and Candia (German) were nice enough to drive up to the Dockside Marina at the same time as we were sailing up, and then met us on the dock to help with lines. It turned out to be especially helpful because the slip that had been assigned to us had another boat in it when we arrived and we did not know where to bring the boat. We also could not easily contact the office as the woman who runs it does not moniter a VHF. Lorenzo found her by using his cell phone, got us another slip assigned, and then he and Candia walked down the dock and grabbed our lines and easily tied us up. What nice people we meet along the way!
It is very strange how some things don’t work very well here though. We have been trying to get a simm for our cell-phone for two whole days now and even though the downtown area is filled with mobile phone shops, we still do not have a working phone. Today we got a simm from Vodaphone – one of the two major suppliers here – and after spending 3 hours in the office – providing them with every piece of information possible (including our passport numbers!) we still do not have a working phone. They insisted on us having a local phone number before they would issue us a cell phone, so we gave them the number of the marina. How can you have a number here if you are getting a phone for the first time? When, after 3 hours, we were still there in the office and the simm did not work, we asked them to simply refund our money so we could go on our way. Unbelievably, they refused saying they do not make refunds. Even when it was clear that it was their product that was not working, and we never even left the office or were able to use the phone for one minute, , they refused, saying that once they sell you something it is “not refundable”. Amazingly frustrating. So, right now we are out $60 for a simm and a pre-paid phone plan that just doesn’t work. We are hoping that maybe the system will accept us somehow later today and we will be able to use the phone. We could get a cell phone chip that worked in all of the very undeveloped countries we have visited (like Vanuatu where most of the cell phone users don’t even wear clothing), but here in Australia it is all a big mystery.
At least we can use the internet from the boat here, and tomorrow we will get a regular old phone card and be able to use the pay-phones on shore.
No worries, mate.