What a difference a year makes!
In January 2020, bushfires were ravaging Australia, and my blog post was titled “Australia is Burning.” In January 2021, rain is the order of the day. Not to mention two cyclones within two weeks. On 3 January, Cyclone Imogen struck the York Peninsula, the pointy tip of northeast Australia, with torrential rain. It caused flash floods that damaged roads and bridges and isolated many communities, but thankfully, no casualties. On 19 January, Cyclone Kimi aimed for Townsville. It put the marina on alert, and Eric and I spent four strenuous hours stripping Corroboree of her sails, bimini and other deck gear, only to have Kimi fizzle out offshore an hour later. We spent five hours the next day tugging and wrestling everything back into place.
So, what gives with all the water? Blame it on La Niña, a climate phase that occurs when equatorial trade winds strengthen and change ocean surface currents. In the western Pacific Ocean and to the north of Australia, these winds pile up warm surface waters. The warming, in turn, promotes rising air, cloud development and rainfall. (Yes, I did have to look that up.) Forecasters began predicting a wetter than usual wet season several months ago.
The season also started sooner. In 2020, when Corroboree was berthed in Bundaberg, the rain didn’t arrive in earnest until late January. This year in Townsville, it started on Christmas Eve and kept at it in varying degrees—sometimes a downpour, sometimes a mere mist—for two weeks straight. Then, in between cyclones, we had a week of sunny days. So there’s no solid pattern yet, and meanwhile we’ll take any reprieve we can get.
For most Australians, the rain is good news. Farmers and ranchers are rejoicing that their crops and animals are thriving. Water storage levels in dams and reservoirs are recovering after falling perilously low last year. Grass so brown and parched that it crackled underfoot has rebounded in luxurious green. On Fraser Island, south of Bundaberg, a devastating bushfire that started with an illegal campfire in October and defied all firefighting efforts, was finally extinguished in mid-December by drenching rains. Fraser Island is the largest sand dune island in the world and a World Heritage site, and the fire destroyed 87,000 hectares (214,981 acres). We’ve heard no reports of bushfires anywhere since then.
This being Corroboree’s second wet season in Australia, Eric and I are much better prepared than last year. We have, as Baldrick of Blackadder might say, a “cunning plan.”
2021 WET SEASON CUNNING PLAN
1) DEPLOY SUNSHADES. We draped Corroboree in sunshades back in September when it was early spring in Australia and daytime temperatures were in the comfortable 80s. By keeping direct sunlight off the deck, the shades instantly dropped the temperature inside the boat another 10°F. As summer neared and temperatures climbed to the sizzling 90s, a corresponding benefit continued to apply. Now, except in driving rain, the sunshades also allow us to keep the saloon portholes and forward hatch open for better ventilation. It’s like living on a boat inside a tent, but the benefits are worth it. Good thing we’ve always liked camping.
2) ATTACK MILDEW. I hate mildew. Sneaky and insidious, it lies in wait, then leaps out and swarms the premises like a horde of black-garbed, mini ninja warriors. Boats in tropical climates in the rainy season are especially vulnerable, and on Corroboree, our enemy likes to wage its fungal warfare on our textured plastic ceiling. Scrubbing it out of all the crevices is, literally, a pain in the neck. In response, Eric and I have developed a tag-team, counter-terrorism approach. The moment our enemy shows its face, I wield the bleach and sponge, Eric dries the site with a paper towel, then spritzes it with a mixture of 10 drops of oil of cloves in 12 ounces of water. This recipe, shared by other cruisers, acts as a preventative. It’s not 100% effective, but it has given us the upper hand. Die, you evil scum!
3) ERECT SCREENS. During last year’s rainy season the mosquitoes and sand flies in Bundaberg nearly drove us mad. The ravenous, whining army arose every evening at sunset, and if we delayed a single minute in closing every aperture, it invaded with glee. At the time we had screens for Corroboree’s four deck hatches but not for the main hatchway and ten portholes. Even with the cabin fans on full blast, the atmosphere inside the closed boat was stifling. This year Eric proactively constructed 11 custom-fitting screens. Mozzies out, more fresh air in—Hooray!
4) DEVISE BARRICADES. From the start of our voyage, one of our nagging problems aboard Corroboree has been that whenever we encounter rain, the drops run down the mast, through the mast collar at deck level, then down the rest of the mast to puddle on the cabin floor. This despite wrapping the mast collar with a special, stretchy rubber tape that is supposed to cure in place to create a watertight seal. Guess what? It doesn’t. We’ve been through this exercise four times with two different brands of tape—I believe that is the definition of insanity—yet rain still trickles in. During a downpour, it streams. Of course, any water inside the boat aids and abets the mildew. Eric’s next tactic, therefore, will be to seal the mast collar with a custom-cut piece of neoprene with a waterproof zipper. Fingers crossed this will work.
5) OUTFLANK AND OUTWIT. Australia’s rainy season usually ends by late March, so the final element of our Cunning Plan is to ward off cabin fever until the sun returns full-time. Now almost a full year into Covid-19, many of you are already expert at truly Cunning Plans of your own. In our case, a big thanks to the Maritime Museum for keeping us productively occupied and to the Townsville Library for serving as an alternate “office” when we need a change of scene. Baldrick would be proud of us all, and if you aren’t already familiar with Blackadder, give it a try. My favorite episode is when Baldrick seemingly burns Samuel Johnson’s only copy of his newly written dictionary, and he and Blackadder have to rewrite it overnight. Pop some popcorn and enjoy!