Bound for Vancouver

Super Servant 3, just arrived in Brisbane, prior to unloading

Blackheath, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia 

August 14, 2004

Dear friends and family: 

It was with mixed emotions that we consigned Sequoia to the Super Servant 3, a yacht carrier that is now bound for Vancouver, B.C.

On the one hand, we were very sad to have reached the end of our South Pacific cruising (at least for this trip).  There is so much more we wish we could have seen and done.  On the other hand, we’re looking forward to another ten days of ordinary tourist time in Australia, and then the trip home and resumption of our lives in Portland.  We are certainly experienced a lot of change, and we’ll bring a new perspective to living on land.

First, let me tell you about the delivery of Sequoia to the Super Servant 3 (operated by Dockwise Yacht Transport).  We had timed our arrival in Brisbane to be just a few days ahead of the projected loading date of July 24, 2004.  When we arrived, we learned to our dismay that the date had  been postponed to sometime in early August.  We undertook some boat projects, and did a bit of traveling, which I wrote about in an earlier email. 

We were finally given a "firm" loading date of August 10, 2004 (my birthday!)  So we made and worked on our final lists, which included such things as pickling the watermaker, defrosting the freezer and refrigerator, and saving out enough fresh food to last us just until Sequoia was loaded.  We unbolted the self steering gear from the stern of the boat, wrapped it in bubble wrap, and stowed it in the quarter berth.  We removed the staysail from the solent stay a few days ahead of time, and with some effort, folded it small enough to fit in its never-before-used bag.  (It’s normally rolled around the stay.)  We saved the lowering, folding and stowing of the genoa until the last minute, because you always want to have an alternate source of propulsion (the wind) available in case of engine problems.

In keeping with all the previous delays, there was yet another 24 hour delay as the ship encountered head winds prior to its arrival in Brisbane.  At least one of the sailboats waiting with us at the Scarborough Marina departed for the loading site at the mouth of the Brisbane River before word came through that there would be a delay.  My calculations of exactly how much food we’d need before loading underwent another revision. Fortunately word of the delay came an hour before I had planned to dump the contents of the refrigerator into a dumpster.

We departed the Scarborough Marina midday on Tuesday, motoring south to the mouth of the Brisbane River where we would anchor overnight.  Dockwise wanted us to be at the Coal Terminal, where the ship was docked, by 8:00 a.m. on Wednesday.  Loading was scheduled to commence at 10:00 a.m.  We anchored near the Coal Terminal and then proceeded to remove the genoa from the forestay.  This is a very large sail, and even in a few knots of wind it is almost unmanageable for the two of us to remove from the stay and stow it in its bag.  We finally got it down without dumping any part of it in the water, and after several tries, got it compactly folded and into its bag.

The next morning, we turned the VHF radio to channel 17 as instructed, and watched and listened as the ship commenced the unloading of the boats it had brought to Brisbane.  First, the entire ship lowered itself about 12 feet into the water.  The boats on the ship gradually lifted off their shipment cradles and floated to their natural waterlines.  Then they cast off their mooring lines and motored out into the river.  Our loading would be a reverse of that process. 

Right, above: the starboard side of the Super Servant 3, before lowering.

Right, below:  same view, after the ship is lowered.

There was a substantial delay when one of the boats being unloaded, C Princess,  began to take on water.  Dockwise crew rushed over with a portable pump, and another was obtained from somewhere ashore.  We followed all this drama over the radio, as the “loading master” gave instructions to the crew.  As it turns out, C Princess was a wooden motor boat, just purchased by a novice owner, who didn’t know that if a wooden boat is out of the water for a month, its timbers will shrink, causing it to leak like a sieve when it hits the water again.  If the Dockwise crew had been so instructed, they would have hosed down the hull of the boat every day while underway.  But no such instructions were given, so the new owner received a rude shock.  Finally the pumps were able to staunch the flow sufficiently that a tugboat could come alongside to tow the C Princess to a nearby marina for repairs.

While all this was going on, a news helicopter was circling overhead, and all sorts of sightseers were coming by in small boats, including at least one television news crew.  At one point, the loading master was looking for “Jason” (the Brisbane agent) by radio, and was told that Jason was “talking to the media.”  At one point the Brisbane Port Authority radioed to the loading master that a container ship was coming in through the river mouth, and would he (the loading master) please instruct all the circling yachts to stay out of the ship’s way.

After the unloading was completed, the loading master began calling out the names of boats to be loaded.  The first boats on seemed to be those heading for more distant ports than Vancouver.  Most were Southern California boats to be unloaded in Ensenada.  One very large motor yacht was bound for Miami.  Once the Vancouver-bound boats began to load, it was kind of like waiting for your number to be called for a door prize at a kids’ birthday party.  You knew that eventually everyone would be called, and the only question was when.  I’m not sure how many boats were loaded (probably 30 to 40), but I do know that we were fourth from last.

Sequoia, after loading onto SS3, is in between a large motor yacht and a Santa Cruz 52 We nosed into an impossibly small gap between the Miami-bound motor yacht and a Santa Cruz 52 bound for Vancouver.  Lines were tied from one boat to the next, and finally to the rails on one side of the ship and on a midships catwalk.  We pulled the curtains, covered the dodger windows, turned off all the switches, grabbed our duffle bags, and made our way across the Santa Cruz 52 to the catwalk.  After we left the ship (or so we were told), divers would place stanchions under the boat, and a block under the keel.  The ship would gradually raise in the water until all the boats were high and dry, and securely propped in place.  Unfortunately, because of the delays in loading, we were out of time to hang around and watch.  We were booked to fly to Sydney the next morning, and changing the travel date would have cost more than the price of the original tickets.

As it turns out, the national news was screened aboard our flight to Sydney.  After the latest about the Bush and Kerry campaigns, and the US-Australia free trade agreement, there was a segment about the Super Servant 3!  There was Jason, talking to the media, and there, perhaps, was Sequoia steaming around in circles waiting to load (although the shot was from the helicopter, and far enough away, that it could have been any of the boats).  The focus of the report was on the boats unloading, which included one glitzy Southern California motor yacht which had reportedly been chartered by Johnny Depp.

We’re now in the Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, staying in a mountain A-frame.  We find that here, like in Montville, people don’t believe in central heating.  At least this place comes with an unlimited supply of firewood, and the woodstove manages to keep about half the cabin livable.  The weather has turned nasty, and we’re cozying up next to the fire.  We just spotted a couple of crimson rosellas in the trees outside.

Before I finish this message, I want to tell you about our last land expedition before we left the boat.  Our friends, Chris and Margie of Storm Bay, recommended that we visit O’Reilly’s Rainforest Guesthouse in Lamington National Park, southwest of Brisbane.  It was a spectacular suggestion, and we stayed two nights.  O’Reilly’s is a world renowned birding destination, and at least half the guests were festooned with binoculars, little notebooks, and an Australian bird book.  Although we’ve never particularly been avid birders, we do enjoy watching new birds, and we had particularly enjoyed seeing all the new and unusual birds thus far in Australia. King parrot
  Crimson Rosellas in the wading pool


Above: A regent bowerbird defending his fencepost stash of raisins against some satin bowerbirds.

At O’Reilly’s, you first notice the king parrots and crimson rosellas.  These brilliantly colored birds are everywhere.  The day-trippers buy little bags of birdseed and hold their hands out.  Soon everyone has a bird perched on their thumb or fingers or shoulder or head.  Sometimes there are several birds on one person.  When we sat in the spa, the crimson rosellas – dozens of them – were taking bird baths in the nearby wading pool.

After our first night there, I went on the early morning bird walk.  Our leader, Tim O’Reilly, pointed out at least 25 different species of bird.  First there was the regent bowerbird, with brilliant yellow and black coloring.  The catbird sounds for all the world like a yowling cat.  The whipbird sounds like a whip.  The tyresian (?) crows sound like Phyllis Diller complaining wordlessly.  I could go on and on about the bird species.  We also saw pademelons, which are like small kangaroos.

The guesthouse has several walks and activities planned each day.  We learned to (sort of) throw a boomerang.  We watched a koala climbing a eucalyptus tree.  We had “billy tea and damper” which is a traditional bush mid-morning refreshment.  Then the boomerang teacher demonstrated didgeridoo music. Billy tea and damper
Craig in boomerang class Our boomerang instructor, playing the didgeridoo

The O’Reilly’s staff encourages everyone to sit at big tables at mealtimes, and get to know other guests, so we made a number of new friends.  Two different Brisbane area couples reported they had been coming every year since the 1950’s.  Others came from all over the world.  We talked to a Connecticut teenager who was there with her parents on an MIT alumni tour.  We made friends with Marjorie, a recently widowed Australian who runs cattle and sheep near Melbourne, and who was staying a week at the guesthouse.  We talked with Debby, a professor of nursing in Maryland who was taking a week’s detour on her way to speak at an oncology nursing conference in Sydney. 

It was an expensive, but very interesting interlude in our Australian explorations, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone visiting that part of Australia.


We’ll spend another ten days in Australia before we fly back to the US on August 24.  Then we have a couple of weeks to find a place to live in Portland before we meet the Super Servant 3 in Vancouver to unload Sequoia and sail back to Portland.  There will likely be a couple more emails before we bring an end to this particular chapter of our lives, and I promise I won’t leave you hanging about whether we made it safely back home with the boat!

Best wishes to all our friends and family.

Craig and Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia


Crimson rosella atop Craig's head

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