Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. This season we spent 5 months exploring Vanuatu and are now on the east coast of Australia.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Dubai 2: A city expanding before our eyes

Dubai has gone through a petrol-powered revolution in the past 20 years and the pace of building change shows little sign of slowing down. Running out of prime waterfront real estate? Simple - build a new island shaped like a palm tree. The views being interrupted by the neighbouring buildings? Construct the tallest building in the world.

The sprawl of Dubai - the original town was at The Creek in the top right of the photo and The Palm island is to the bottom left. The other offshore construction is The World, a project that, for the moment is on hold (presumably until the oil price increases again)

The shadows show the skyscrapers - The needle in the middle is the  Burj Khalifa tower
We took a day's hop-on, hop-off bus tour to see most of the sights so here are a few photos:

The Burj Al Arab hotel (one of the most expensive in the world). The round disk at the top is the helicopter pad which has been used for all sorts of PR stunts including David Coulthard doing donuts in a Formula 1 car and Agassi playing tennis on it!

The new Souk Madinat Jumeirah beach-side resort

The tunnel out to the edge of The Palm

Beach life

The Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building at over 800m high (twice the height of the Empire State Building)

The view from the 125th floor of the Burj Khalifa/ Ten years ago this was just desert.

Looking down to the Dubai Fountain

Sunset from the Burj - the atmosphere is pretty hazy through a mix of wind-blown sand and pollution

Di on the 125th floor
The Dubai Fountain starts one of its amazing computer-controlled water, light and music shows

The Burj Khalifa at night

The fountain show
Apart from the overwhelming dazzle of the buildings and the shock of the 'world's largest' shopping malls and the indoor ski slope (really!), we really enjoyed our Dubai experience, thanks in no small part to the wonderful hospitality of Anthony and Lucy. The few days also eased us back into British retail brands and we were delighted to find some decent yogurt at last!

Di finds the Yeo Valley yogurts in the Spinney's supermarket
We are now back in England, staying with great friends in Suffolk. Lovely weather but a bit colder than we are used to!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Dubai Part 1: The Old Town and Old Boats

We have broken the long haul back to England with a three-night stopover in Dubai (a mere 13 hours' flying time from Brisbane, which is about 11 hours too long, according to Graham). If we're honest, it's not a location that would have naturally appealed to us but we are very fortunate that Lucy and Anthony, who live here, were generous enough to welcome us to stay. Graham grew up with Lucy during summer and Easter holidays in Galloway, south-west Scotland, but, since we haven't seen them for nearly 20 years, we were stretching the rather tenuous 'old friends' link rather. However they have been wonderfully welcoming, have shown us some of the sights of the city and even managed to get an extended invitation for us to join them at a house party on the super-smart Palm artificial island.

In the 14 or so years that they have been here, Dubai has changed beyond all recognition with huge clusters of sky-scrapers, including the world's tallest building, built on what was desert when they first arrived. However, some of the old town near The Creek still remains so Anthony took us to see it (in temperatures of about 36 degrees!) on Friday and it was truly fascinating. A few photos follow:

Dianne with Lucy and Anthony on the promenade walkway at the Family Beach....

... which has some unusual rules for those used to Australian beaches

The Creek, with a sea-going cargo dhow
Many of the buildings on this side of the Creek are relatively new, but built along traditional lines. Not something that can be said for most of Dubai's architecture

Some of the big fleet of abra boats - heavily-built wooden ferries which take locals and tourists across the Creek for the sum of 1 dirham (about 20p). The close-quarters boat handling is very entertaining!
The surprisingly large fleet of wooden dhows unloading at the quay carry about 1.7 million tonnes of cargo every year, linking the city to ports in Iran, Iraq, Oman, India, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan. Mostly built of heavy teak planks, the larger boats can weigh up to 500 tonnes and all are loaded by hand; the cargoes we saw included refrigerators, air conditioners, truck tyres and even jet-skis but the boats themselves look as though they haven't changed in centuries, apart from the diesel engines which have replaced the traditional lateen sailing rigs.

air conditioning units unloaded

truck tyres and unidentified sacks

Detail of the superstructure. The toilet is just a seat at the very aft end of the top deck!
A short walk from the quay took us to the Spice and Gold Souks - rabbit-warren streets lined with tiny shops whose traders all wanted to persuade us to come inside for their 'best prices'. Meanwhile on the streets there were more men showing us their 'Rolex' and other fake-brand watches.

The smell in the Spice Souk was wonderful
Crossing the Creek in an abra we walked up to the house that once belonged to Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum Al-Maktoum, who was the leader of Dubai until his death in 1958. The courtyard building was constructed in 1896 and is dominated by four 'barjeels' - wind-towers that directed the cooling sea breezes through the house long before electric air-conditioners, without which Dubai city could not now survive. It's now a museum, containing some wonderful photographs from the mid 1900's when Dubai city was no more than a tiny port town of traditional buildings constructed of stone and date-palm wood.

Entrance to one of the wings, with the wind-tower above
Up on the roof

We drove back along the beach-front as Anthony was keen for us to see the racing dhows that had just returned from the first days of a two-day regatta. These beautiful boats are 22ft, 43ft and 60ft long, with two masts and professional crews; it's a fiercely-contested sport of the very wealthy and is open only to locals. We passed a boatyard where one of the 60ft monsters was being rigged:

Here's a link to a photo of one of these amazing boats under sail: http://www.adsyc.ae/en/pic_gallery.php?aid=113#prettyPhoto[gallery1]/21/

So this was a great day to introduce us to 'old' Dubai as a primer for our explorations the following day into the new parts of town. Photos of that to follow soon!

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Leaving Maunie behind!

Since we last wrote we seem to have been pretty busy, getting ready to leave the boat and fly home. 

Once the floods subsided over the weekend we got the Raymarine technicians aboard and were very happy with their approach. They went through all the issues we were having with the new autopilot that we had fitted in NZ last May and concluded that the installation hadn't been done properly (by a Raymarine-approved installer, hmmm) so effectively re-wired the whole thing, a process that involved taking ceiling panels down and feeding a cable through some improbable spaces. They also replaced the p70 colour-screen control panel which had started to mist up in wet weather and the whole job was done under warranty, thankfully.

So we happily set off down the river that afternoon and pressed the autopilot ‘Auto’ button, anticipating a ruler-straight wake as we watched the world go by. What actually happened was that Maunie immediately executed a tight U–turn and nearly rammed an anchored motorboat (umm that would have been an interesting insurance claim!) before we hurriedly switched it off and grappled with the wheel! We re-anchored and got the instruction book out and went through a few steps of basic commissioning; we think the guys had thought that with the new p70 the original settings would have remained in place but this is a newer model so it had to learn left from right and so on. That just shows that you can never entirely trust the experts (we know, we should have learned that a long time ago)!

Anyway, after that all was done, all seems well and now the chart plotter has a proper communication route with the pilot so we can (if we so wish) set a route of waypoints on the plotter and the pilot will follow it (it wouldn’t do that as it was wired before) . We have even linked the two screens so that when we dim the brightness of one at night, the other dims with it (we're easily pleased by things like that). Hopefully this will be the end of our random problems autopilot. Fingers very much crossed.

We moved back down to the anchorage inside Sovereign Island for a few days, less than a mile from the pontoon where we had arranged to leave Maunie - it's shown by the red pin on the left hand side of this photo:

The anchorage gave us the chance to do lots of boat preparation jobs - taking the sails off, giving the generator an oil change and flushing its cooling system with fresh water, and a hundred other little but time consuming jobs. On Sunday morning, at high tide, we motored round to the canal and introduced Maunie to her home for the next 6 months.

The mooring at a Spring low tide - we thought we might just touch the mud with the keel but were delighted to find we had enough water to remain fully afloat

Thanks to some amazing perseverance (and world-class packing skills) by Garth at Holt Farm, our custom-made boat cover (last used in the winter of 2011) was unearthed from a storage container and sent across to us. It will protect the boat from the bright sunshine and allow us to keep some hatches open to allow good air circulation below decks. Fitting it involved a bit of work with the sewing machine to patch a couple of minor holes and then some careful lashing to make it all secure.

High tide, and the forward section of the cover is fitted
 So, after a very hectic last day, everything was packed away and the final covers fitted and we could leave Maunie under the watchful eye of Lyn (whose pontoon we are renting) and our friend Brian who lives locally and arranged this fantastic spot for us.

We do have a third section of the red cover back in the UK but, since we already had the blue cockpit cover on board, it didn't seem worth the cost of sending it (or the hassle of modifying it to fit around the solar panel arch that we've added to Maunie since we left home)
And, suddenly, that was it! The flight cases were packed and we were ready for the journey home, a trip involving a train to Brisbane for an overnight in a little hotel we've used before followed by a 13 hour flight to Dubai where we are staying for three nights with an old friend of Graham's. The final leg gets us into Heathrow on Easter Monday.

Bracing ourselves for the journey ahead, and thinking that we'll miss this sunshine!

We'll do a bit of a 'wrap-up' blog update on this blog when we get back home but then you'll get a break until we return to Australia in November.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Debbie Does the Gold Coast

As cyclone Debbie smashed into the Whitsunday Islands and then made landfall at Airlie Beach in Northern Queensland a few days ago, our first concern was for the safety of niece Laura who's working in Airlie. She has a bit of a history with freak weather, have endured a full hurricane on a family holiday to Florida a few years ago, so we were very relieved that she managed to call us from a public phone on Wednesday to say that she was fine (unlike most of the buildings in the badly-battered town). 

Debbie had left Airlie and moved inland and was downgraded from a Category 4 cyclone to a Tropical Low so we had no inkling of the havoc she would then wreak down here when she moved south east and tracked down the coast.

On Thursday morning we'd arranged to come up the Coomera River to anchor off the Boat Works yard for a Raymarine technician to come aboard to sort the autopilot. We saw the forecast for gale force winds and rain so thought that being up the river would give us plenty of shelter. WRONG!

As we motored up river the heavens opened and we had torrential, stinging rain that limited visibility to only a 100m at times:

water sluicing off the bimini cove over the cockpit
When we anchored off the yard and phoned the Raymarine agent we were pretty shocked to be told that the government had just issued a severe flood warning, all schools were being shut and businesses were being urged to send their employees home before the roads near major rivers became impassable; they were about to shut their office. We quickly searched all the weather sites and realised that being anchored here would be foolhardy; we'd read enough to know that the vegetation being swept down a flooded river can quickly build up around the anchor chain, pulling the boat's bow down and potentially breaking the anchor out. Oh, crap!

Luckily a phone call to the Boat Works office was answered by Alana, who we got to know when we were here in November, and she found us a last space in their little marina. Better still, it was tucked behind (and downstream of) a 60ft motor yacht that would do a sterling job of deflecting any debris away from us so we lost no time in mooring up. We then bailed out the dinghy, half full of rain water after only 2 hours, and lashed it on deck, secured all the sails, double-checked the mooring lines and then watched as the river turned brown and swift.

Debris sweeping down the river, just where we'd been anchored
This short video clip may not play if you are viewing this on an iPad, but it shows one of several navigation buoys plus lots of vegetation, being swept down the river.


During the night the river burst its banks and crews on several yachts on the pontoons upstream of us took the decision to abandon their boats and sleep on the floor of the cafe, such was their concern about getting hit by damaging debris or even that the pontoons might fail under the strain.

As morning dawned, sunny thankfully, the river subsided and the clean-up operations began. The water was like cocoa but when we walked ashore we were shocked to see all the mud in the car parks and boat yards several metres above the normal river level. Apparently there was a real danger of a couple of catamarans floating off their stands in the yard when the water level peaked just after midnight.

muddy waters

A river authority boat with a collection of navigation buoys that had gone adrift

The water has receded and the mud has been hosed off the pathway but the electricity box on the right was engulfed in the flood

This was the high-tide line. Apparently the box started emitting substantial quantities of steam before tripping out

Across the river, the tide line, level with the top step, shows how close this house had come to having a swimming pool full of brown water
So we feel very relieved to have got through the night with no damage to Maunie but realise how close we came to a nasty outcome. In the yard the clean-up was done very quickly and efficiently and work was back to normal by midday. We stayed an extra night on the pontoon to allow the river to continue to drop and are now anchored off the yard to wait for the Raymarine expert on Monday.

Finally, though, no Maunie story would be complete without an improbable coincidence. Once we'd moored up on Thursday we received an email from Carolyn and Russel, a Kiwi couple we'd met on the Lake Waikaremoana hike that we did last February. During the walk they'd discovered we were sailors and asked lots of questions, saying they were planning early retirement to buy a catamaran to become liveaboard yachties themselves. Anyway, their email said that they'd bought a boat last June and they were aboard it, on the next pontoon only 20 metres behind us! Tiny world.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Yamba to the Gold Coast - and another daring rescue

The unplanned break in Yamba gave us the chance to walk out to the headland to look down on the impressive man-made sea walls at the entrance to the Clarence River before we motored out on Sunday afternoon.

Looking south-east from the Yamba headland....

... and looking north, with the surf beach in the foreground and the long sea walls of the river entrance behind.
The exit between those sea walls has to be approached with considerable care because the 'bar' (shallows) just beyond them kicks up some horrible and dangerous waves at times. The trick is to cross the bar when the tide is flooding in, up the river; if it's ebbing, the flow of millions of litres of water running at up to 4 knots creates huge standing waves. We left in very light winds at the time when the flood should have been well and truly developed but found ourselves being flushed out in a 2 knot ebb, caused by all the rain that's fallen in the Clarence River's vast catchment over the past week. It was only when  we were about a mile out to see that we crossed a very definite line in the water, leaving the brown, silty fresh river water and crossing into the blue ocean.

After that, the 100nm passage was very easy. The winds were light so we had to run the engine the whole way but we once again hugged to coast to avoid the current and had some nigh-time entertainment using the radar to help us dodge several fishing boats in our path. However, there's no such thing as an incident-free voyage on Maunie and we had our autopilot suddenly sound alarms and switch itself off three times, with the boat suddenly veering off course as a result.

So where has it gone, then?
 Thankfully, this problem seemed to fix itself so we didn't have to hand-steer for hours and we could concentrate on some interesting pilotage.

A slalom between the Danger Reefs off Tweed Heads. They were so named by Captain Cook who saw breaking waves and took Endeavor off shore and hove-to overnight. As a result he was the first navigator to discover the south-going East Coast Current as the ship was 20 miles further south by daybreak
 As dawn arrived we could see the delightful skyline of Surfers Paradise which meant our passage was nearly complete.

We are now anchored at Paradise Point, only a mile or so from where we'll leave Maunie in two weeks' time. Emails to the technical support team of Raymarine Australia have yielded very quick responses so we'll hope to get a local technician aboard in the next few days to find out why the autopilot's playing up. Meanwhile Maunie's reputation as the boat that tows others was further confirmed when we spotted a motorboat drifting past us on the fairly swift tide. Their engine had overheated and cut out so, once Graham had introduced them to the safety concept of throwing the anchor over before they hit something, he got in the dinghy and towed them back to their pontoon.

Clueless motorboat owners - all the gear and no idea
Having got the engine on the dinghy we then took the opportunity to go round to recce the mooring for the nest 6 months, which looks as though it'll be great.

The day ended with a really lovely bbg on the shore - the Australians provide these fantastic outdoor hotplate bbq's (which are free) and we ended up chatting to a couple of other yacht crews doing the same thing.

Di stirring the Royale sauce for the fillet steaks, with sweet potatoes and carrots. Yum-oh! Maunie's visible in the background.