From ten miles out you could see the yellow sodium lights that appeared for miles along the coast. From the uniformity it was obvious that this wasn't the shoreline even though we were drawing close to the port of Mackay during a moonless night. As we came closer it became apparent that we were making our way through another field of coal carriers anchored some ten miles off shore. There were sixty-three freighters at this location waiting to be loaded with Australia's largest export. The expansion of Asian economies has driven the demand for Australian mineral wealth to the point where the port infrastructure is unable to support the contracts for coal thereby creating a logjam at all ports able to handle coal. When we we left Sydney there were 153 vessels waiting, creating demurrage charges of $400,000 AU per day and a significant loss to the Australian economy in the product sitting waiting to be exported. Not that the economy is doing poorly mind you, in fact it is booming thanks to mineral exports. Along with a great deal of coal, Australia is the worlds largest exporter of bauxite and diamonds. They also produce 13% of the worlds gold and are the major exporter of iron ore to Japan and Germany. This wealth is creating a "trickle down" effect throughout the economy and unemployment is as low as Australia has ever seen in peace time.
Australia is primarily a desert. Look at one of those geographical maps and you'll see mostly brown representing arid conditions and in fact today Australia is suffering from a decade long drought which many citizens feel is a result of global warming. The press and radio news carry a great deal about global warming and there seems to be a national effort to cut back on emissions. Since Australia is located nearer the poles than most nations it may be more susceptible to the impact of this man made catastrophe. And yet Australia is the primary exporter of coal to China and other nations that will do nothing more than turn it into green house gases. Quite a perplexing eco-economic dilemma.
Australia's great distance from the rest of the world has created a great sense of independence. This has lead to a great allegiance to anything Australian. Every product is marked if made in Australia and if it isn't made in Australia then maybe it comes from an Australian company or maybe packaged in Australia. In the supermarket every vegetable, fruit, fish, meat product, can, bag or wrapper is marked as to its origin and it is easy to tell that Australia is self sufficient in agriculture and in fact is a net exporter especially in wine. If the draught continues prices will certainly rise but we believe Australians will continue to buy Australian products. Most advertising is not targeted at the features and benefits of a particular product but rather if your purchase in some way benefits Australia. There is a real concern that Australia cannot be economically independent by just being a major exporter of minerals and therefore the tariff or import duty on foreign goods is high to encourage local manufacturers.
According to local news, Sydney is one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live. Australians work hard and they believe they work harder than any other nationality although I doubt this claim. They have significant vacation time starting at four weeks and national holidays appear to be abundant. The wealth of today's Australia has as its base minerals and the government is working to encourage manufacturing and agriculture. But the economy is very healthy and there appears to be no end to the conspicuous consumption. High powered motor yachts headed from Brisbane to Sydney have no problem spending $10,000 for fuel. Enormous houses decorate every river and water front. The Australian dollar that was trading at $.72 USD when we arrived is now $.83. I might also add that despite the wealth Australians have a great sense of community and over 43% of Australian adults participate in some form of volunteer ism.
Almost every business or government agency has a uniform. Every employee at the bank, every tradesman in a marina, most retail establishments, clerks behind the desk at government agencies. The place is uniform crazy and it most all start in school where students are well appointed in dresses and ties and broad brimmed hats for both sexes. I took my watch to a small closest of a place that did watch repair in a mall and an older gentleman helped me and in fact offered to just put a retaining strap rather then sell me a new band. Waiting for him to return from the back room with my watch and out comes a younger man in the exact same shirt and tie and tie clasp. A two man operation with a uniform. Maybe it's part of the psyche, a need to belong or a mediumship.
Okay enough on Australia back to the Slackadventure.
We left Southport on Saturday, the 14th of April bound for Lady Musgrave. For two days the winds held up but fell the night before our arrival so we motored into the atoll at midmorning. The entrance is narrow but well marked and the anchorage appeared larger than in our cruising guide. The sun was high enough to enable us to see the reefs and coral heads in the the anchorage and we set the hook in twelve feet of water in the company of four or five other boats. We rested, attended to a few boat projects, snorkeled, and then continue north.
At our next stop, Fishermans Beach at the Great Keppel Island, we met up with our friends, Tom and Amy, on S/V Sandpiper and their guests, Ian and Mike. We shared a few drinks and had a few laughs and then headed north. The cruising guide touts Pearl Bay as one of the coast's prettiest anchorages, being surrounded by steep, densely wooded hills. It was scenic but we think that monohulls would find the anchorage a bit too rolly for comfort.
The winds were light when we left Pearl Bay so we decided to sail to an anchorage at Hexham Island. Now that got a wow from us. The anchorage is small and we happened to be the only boat there. The cathedral rock is very pretty at sunset and we took an abundance of pictures as sea eagles glided over head.
The next morning we struck out for the Percy Islands and after 5 hours of sailing we were putting down chain at Middle Percy Island in West Bay. Unfortunately the winds were coming from the north which produced a hefty swell throughout the anchorage. There were only two other boats in the anchorage when we arrived and in this small fraternity of cruisers we happened to know both of them. On shore there is a hut where for the last 50 years cruisers have nailed signs with their boat name and date of their visit. We opted to depart for Mackay without leaving our mark.