A Slice of Life Down Under
Six months in Bundaberg, waiting out the cyclone season.
Artwork on one of Suka's ports, drawn by Deidrie.
The Queensland sun bore down intensely onto our already sunburned hides, so as soon as the anchor had settled we pitched the tropic awning between the masts. In its shade we then opened a bottle of champagne, stowed while still in San Diego more than eleven months ago for just this occasion. We toasted to a successful season of cruising and to our reaching this landfall. The passages across the expansive Pacific had been first rate learning experiences. We had worked hard, and had passed the tests. Now in Bundaberg we planned to await the end of hurricane season, and I was really looking forward to the well deserved respite.
With the satisfaction of having won a hard-earned goal, at last we were free to indulge in a luxury we had been many days without: uninterrupted sleep.
Plying the River
Next morning we awoke well rested. When I hailed the port authorities by radio, a voice assured us that the river was indeed navigable, and requested us to call in at the office of the port authorities once we arrived in town.
We weighed and set off upriver with a rising tide, glad that an inflowing current would be assisting Suka from astern. Finding the way without benefit of a chart proved somewhat non-systematic, yet Jenny's soundings soon showed the necessity of keeping to the outside of the river bends, where the faster flowing current had sluiced the channel the deepest.
The day was warm and peaceful, and we reveled in the river's extraordinary tranquility. Our little brig lay strangely still, almost as if she were hauled-out on the ways. But Perkins rumbled quietly, sending its reverberations reassuringly throughout the craft. As Suka forged ever ahead, her bow knifing through the silt-green water, Jenny stood at the foredeck heaving her lead line. Occasionally we would encounter shallow water, after turning the wrong way, and this would send us into anxiety for a few moments until we had found a better course. Generally, though, we maintained at least a few feet of clearance beneath the keel. And because we avoided running aground, we concluded that this new-to-us experience of river plying was one that we thoroughly enjoyed.
The waterway was perhaps 30 yards wide, and its mud banks steep-to. At eye level, the earth stretched away flat as the proverbial pancake. Moreover, it was laden in fields of vibrant green sugar cane, which amusingly we mistook for corn. Where the river widened, its banks lay smothered in tangles of mangroves.
Aside from the occasional beam trawler rumbling past, traveling two to three times our speed in one direction or the other, the only activity we encountered, if it could be called that, was the random outboard skiff drifting upriver with the tide, and bearing its unanimated occupants. Fishing was the apparent pretext, but nursing cans of beer seemed the more apparent enterprise. Invariably these fellows waved to us heartily.
Reaching the town of Bundaberg
Two and a half hours into the morning we closed the town jetty. I wheeled Suka around, powered gently, bow into the current, and maneuvered the boat alongside a concrete wharf. A friendly Australian couple accepted Jenny's bow and spring lines and made them fast. Don and Toni introduced themselves, and said they lived aboard their ferrocement sloop, Scylla III, moored among perhaps 25 yachts lying to "tire moorings" mid-river.
“After confiscating the lion's share of our provisions, the officer wrote "Voluntarily Surrendered" on his Seizure Form and presented it to me for a signature.”
We were reluctant to step ashore before receiving our clearance, and yet Jenny's Q-flag aloft had no effect at summoning the authorities. So eventually Don volunteered to go summon them. By and by, the functionaries of Health, Customs, and Immigration arrived, cordially executed their formalities, then departed. Then the agricultural officer boarded, only to produce a long list of prohibited comestibles. Undaunted by our paucity of fresh food, he all but emptied Suka's dry-goods lockers. After confiscating the lion's share of our provisions, he wrote the words "Voluntarily Surrendered" on his Seizure Form and presented it to me for a signature. This embargo was of course aimed at deterring any intruding pests that might threaten the country's agrarian interests. And as the zealous emissary struggled to his car, bags of loot slung over a shoulder like a Santa Claus gone amok, Jenny and I looked at each other, stupefied. Presumably, we were free to go ashore.
Suka moored on the Burnett River, in the town of Bundaberg
We then reported to the office of harbor control, where for twelve Aussie dollars a week a deputy assigned Suka a niche among the local and foreign cruising yachts.
“Our Aussie friends stood us a few local beers and an apple strudel each. Their warm hospitality left us with the feeling that we would become fond of the Australians.”
That evening, Don and Toni rowed alongside, and offered to show us some of the town. Also, they generously extended us a few Aussie dollars, for it seems that the banks, where foreign visitors such as ourselves would exchange currency, had closed for the weekend. Then at one of the ubiquitous Aussie pubs our new friends stood us a few local beers and an apple strudel each. Their warm hospitality left us with the feeling that we would become fond of the Australians, as indeed that proved the case.