As usual, we were sucked into the vortex of city life as soon as we pulled up at the dock at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron. Resulting in the blog lying neglected for two months.....
Our son Matt had left a car at the Squadron for us, so we were able to take our freezer-load of wahoo and tuna home, along with whatever we needed to clothe ourselves and get back into civilisation. Well, civilisation is a word they apply to Sydney life. We aren't sure. The very first thing John noticed was the ineffable rudeness and aggression on the roads as we drove our gear home - unprovoked, gratuitous and irrational rudeness - "If I let you into my lane on the bridge, I'm going to die!" kind of rudeness. After living at 5 knots for the last 6 months it's inexplicable and undigestible to us.
But we got to see Matt, Jane, Tom and Amanda and our wider families, as well as sailing and other friends, so that was part-compensation.
We arrived in Sydney on a Thursday, and had our first patrol at the Surf Club on the Saturday, and John got immediately into training a group of new Rescue Boat crew, so that has tied up Saturdays for him since then. Shauna is back managing First Aid for the Club and she is also busy teaching Advanced Resuscitation. It is so nice to meet up again with all our Surf Club friends, whom we really miss when away.
"Destiny" came through the season with only a few blemishes, and no really significant issues to address, so we count ourselves lucky. We are trying to use her this summer as much as we can, but time always seems to be the issue at home. We aren't handling the transition as well as "Destiny" - each time we go cruising, it seems to get harder to come back to life where stupid trivia and material trappings seem to be more and more important to people every year. This seems to manifest itself in all walks of life. It becomes more and more important to drive a gleaming 2 tonne 4WD capable of reaching 200KPH to go to the supermarket. Kids seem fatally infected with the virus that confers sanctity on "Fame" - trashy celebrities with nothing to say and less to do are the heroes and aspirational models for so many young people - bling is everything.
We miss the disingenuous, artless smiles and natural generosity of the Ni-Van people, their patience with life's problems and with each other. We feel more comfortable where someone can come up to you and say "Hello! I'm Isaiah - where are you from?" without arousing suspicion in us and making us look over our shoulders for their accomplices.
Plans for this coming season are uncertain, due to some family medical issues, but we remain hopeful of getting away from what we call "Compression Sickness". John is cooking up a plan to get some medical outreach going in Vanuatu, and we may have something to report on that soon.
The pic above is of a lovely moonrise we had while anchored at Ilot Mbe Kouen; Grande Terre is in the background, looking rugged and impressive, and the moon is shining over the calm waters of the lagoon like a good old friend coming to visit.
A few new photos are here.
18Sep2012, Coffs Harbour
Our visit to Brisbane was an in-and-out affair: arrival at Caloundra at 20:00 Friday night, the long motor into Moreton Bay and through the reefs and shoals to Brisbane River Bar, through the commercial docks and up to Rivergate Marina (arrival 09:00 Saturday - a long journey after "arriving" at Caloundra). Check-in, fork out $618 AUD, collapse into coma having had 2 hours sleep in the previous 48, wake and call Emma and Ian ("Desire ll") our cruising friends and arrange to meet them. Lunch Sunday with them, a quick trip to the IGA Supermarket and back on board to leave at 20:00 on the outgoing tide for Coffs Harbour. Same snake-like exit and then the open sea at 05:00 Monday morning.
We had a gentle trip to Coffs, with light NE breezes and no hassles for most of the voyage. From the moment we cleared Moreton Bay and slid south past North Stradbroke Island, we were almost surrounded by whales. They are prolific this year - adults and calves frolicking and sunning themselves - mothers seeming to instruct the young in the correct methods of breaching, tail-slapping and rolling. It is nice to see how the numbers have recovered in the last few years. We had one very close encounter as we raised the mainsail just out of Moreton Bay, near the fairway buoy, when one curious adult came and just sat watching what John was doing for a minute or so from a distance of 10 metres - close enough to smell his bad fishy breath!
Coming into Coffs we were set upon by a severe electrical storm but the winds and waves from it were insubstantial and we were able to motor into the Marina as it passed (we were within internet range so Shauna monitored its progress on the Met Bureau website - so useful!), and Pete Walduck was there as usual to greet us and help us onto the dock. A couple of very welcome lagers with Pete and a reheated curry saw us off to bed for 10 hours of the deepest slumber we have had for many a week.
14Sep2012, Rivergate Marina, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
As per expectations the early motor-sailing was followed by some delightful sailing for a few days. The front and embryonic low pressure centre started showing on the GRIBs as extending farther north than anticipated (especially, farther than anticipated by US!! and farther than anticipated by us BEFORE we left!!) Oh well, it wouldn't be a cruising season without a couple of days with the two of us both wondering whether bonzai or Barbie doll collecting wouldn't be a wonderful pastime. We definitely made the right choice to avoid going south into it but nonetheless there's a limit to how many multiples of Mach 1 a heavy old steel cruising cutter can do to avoid strong winds and seas.... So the front caught us, gave us a reminder of who's boss, but quickly moved on. We didn't put up a fight - just hove to and waited - no point in fighting City Hall as they say.
Following a patchy night's sleep jogging on the spot mid-ocean we continued the plan to clear in in Brisbane. The heaving-to of course put us a day behind, which most importantly meant that we were up for higher Saturday clearing-in fees. $618 AUD - for Australian citizens in an Australian vessel!! I really do think it's a bit much, but it's there and it has to be paid.
We'll only be here a few days max, as we have so things to attend to back home. Everybody think REAL HARD now - moderate nor'easterly breezes for John and Shauna for four days - after a season of odd and unsatisfactory sailing weather, we feel we deserve it.
12Sep2012, Coral Sea
As we got further across the Coral Sea towards East Coast Australia, the GRIB weather files showed that what had a week ago shown as a weak low-pressure interlude between two high pressure systems was in fact developing a mind of its own and wanted to be noticed when it grew up. And so it came to pass - directly on our rhum line the cold front was whipping up the coast from below Tasmania and was slated to cause 35 to 40 knot average wind strength (that is gale force) and very confused seas - and worse, the 40 knots were going to come from precisely the direction we were planning to head.. Mindful of the fact that nobody is paying us to do this, and life is probably more fun if it's fun, we convened a meeting of our Cowardly Cruising Sailors Association branch and elected, after a conversation lasting all of three seconds, to divert north to Brisbane - where, other than a change in wind direction, little evidence of the front was expected. So this morning, Thursday 13 September at 06:00 hours local time, here we are pleasantly sailing on a beam reach to the north tip of Bribie Island, from where we will sail down the relatively sheltered waterway of Moreton Bay, inside Bribie, Moreton and Stradbroke Islands. Customs clearance in Brisbane is done at the Rivergate Marina, a good 6 miles up the Brisbane River - so it's quite a hike going north to enter the bay then south inside it then several miles upriver to the Quarantine dock at Rivergate. We could see this as time-wasting, but almost anything's better than a gale from dead ahead. We'll be in the Bay at about 02:00 tonight and should dock at about 11:00; as we'll then officially be in Internet Land, we'll put up some more pics. Cheers from us
10Sep2012, Coral Sea
Well, we left Noumea Saturday lunchtime for Australia. We expected to have to motor-sail the first night, which we did, and then about 0700 the wind kicked in from SSE and we have been sailing in 15 to 20 knots since then. The breeze is fine but we have had a significant swell from the south which has been quite annoying at times. We are now at 22deg 18 south latitude and 159deg 58 east longitude. Progress has been good with beam winds for the last 18 hours. We would like to be in Coffs Harbour before the next cold front comes up from the south, but it's a bit difficult to know if we can as the fronts pass up the coast at quite a variable rate. Anyhow, one way or the other we should get to Coffs by the weekend. Cheers to all, John and Shauna
After getting the boat tidied up, and scrubbing the beard that has been forming along the waterline since we have been in tropical waters, we headed out into the lagoon again.
For the first two days we had "Memphis" as company and then we were flying solo. Warren and Alison are good people and great company - he is a builder and ex-cop from Auckland and they have been aboard "Memphis" for four years but are heading home now. We visited two new anchorages on islands we had not previously not seen.
Ilot Te Ndu (also known as Ilot Signal) is a fairly good-sized sand and coral island which is a renowned bird-nesting area and there were a huge variety of quite un-shy birds there, including a couple of large eagles who looked pretty much like the owners of the joint as they circled over us, as if to decide whether we should be allowed to stay or not.
We moved on to Ilot Mbe Kouen and spent a couple of days there in isolation, which was very nice. It is a tiny handkerchief of a sand and coral islet, but has two protective arms like the ends of a croissant that protect it completely from swell. The trade wind still comes in but as the boat is facing steadily into the breeze, comfort is complete. The water is clear to the point of almost seeming not to be there, with the boat just floating in space. We were in 5 metres over sand and holding was superb - although the water was very shallow, we had dolphins coming in at dawn and dusk, hunting for bait fish, and they were quite friendly and seemingly very pleased to see us, chat a bit and show us a few tricks.
We are back in town now and will be in touch again within a couple of days. Don't forget the pics - click here
We decided to hire a car so that we could see something of the inland areas of New Caledonia, and look at some of the anchorages we have stayed at, but from the land viewpoint. We were offered a Peugeot 107 but instead took a 207 - wise choice as even the 207 was barely up to the steep mountainous road grades. We headed off North-East to Yate, across the central mountain range, via Mont d'Or on the coast.
This led us through steep mountains, upland lakes and waterfalls. The mountains are so high, steep, rugged and primitive looking: really awe-inspiring and unlike anything we have experienced. Around each bend in the road, looking down from the edge of the shoulders with no guard rails, we could see spectacular drop-offs to jagged valleys and rivers. The descent to Yate on the other side of the mountain range was just beautiful, and we could see every coral head and sand-bank in the bordering reefs and anchorage entrance from the road above. But also we saw some disturbing views of the scarring being caused to the terrain by the nickel mines - they are really extensive in the south, and they are denuding the mountaintops and exposing the orange-red sub-surface layers to erosion and collapse. However, New Caledonia has a significant proportion of the world's nickel and this isn't going to stop soon - in fact, it's expanding...
Tom and Amanda took a flight home on Sunday, and of course there were tears all round but we spoke to Tom after his arrival in Sydney and this calmed things down a little at this end.
Further driving took us north to Boulouparis and into the "Cowboy" belt - lots of cattle, farming, and fusillades of recreational rifle fire in the hills - deer hunting, presumably. There is a pretty bay up there called Ouenghi, where some pretty upscale development is taking place - wealthier French from the city building holiday or retirement homes there - an a tiny but lovely little marina which seems to have enough depth for substantial production boats. We had lunch there and really enjoyed the area - so much nicer than "Port Moresmell".
Don't forget to check out our photos - click here.