11/15/2010, Scarborough Marina
I'm sitting in the still early morning and the sun, bright even at 6am, has been up for well over an hour. The only sound that has so far broken the silence is the familiar drone of a small airlpane flying overhead, a sound we've not heard often in the last 8 months.
We've settled into the Scarborough Marina, just off Deception Bay on the tip of a peninsula north of Brisbane. The marina itself is a mix of small commercial fishing boats, local sailors and boaters, and a few cruisers, who are slowly trickling in. Some of the cruising boats come to be sold, and others are here to wait out the cyclone season and will continue sailing in 6 months. A few arrived in previous years and never left. And it's easy to see why.
The seaside town of Scarborough sits between the Sunshine Coast to the north, and the Gold Coast to the south, both heavily developed tourist and resort areas, but this stretch of beach still retains much of it's quiet charm from decades earlier. The marina is surrounded by neighborhoods of little 1940's and 50's homes, all meticulously maintained, some renovated and upgraded to modern standards, some razed and replaced by sleek beachside homes, much like many beachside communities in California. The town of Scarborough faces the sea, with small cafes and shops, and, as I discovered yesterday, rolls up the sidewalks from Sunday night until Tuesday morning. Down the street a few kilometers is Redcliffe, a little busier, a little fancier, but still charming, with a bustling ferry dock and Sunday market in the park along the ocean, where you can get sourdough pumpkin bread and sugar-roasted macadamia nuts. Everyone is friendly. A long bike path stretches from the top of the peninsula all along the beach, and is rumored to go as far as the Brisbane International Airport. The beaches are host to swimmers, windsurfers and kiteboarders, as well as older couples who come with upright folding chairs and sit together reading, or just gazing out to sea.
Inland is all the usual stuff: storage facilities, car fix-it places, funeral homes (seem to be quite a few of them, for some reason,) donut shops, mega grocery stores, and big, air conditioned malls. We took a bike ride the other day along the beachfront bike path, stopped in Scarborough for a nice lunch, then continued on down through Redcliffe and inland on busy 4-lane Anzac Avenue (every major Australian city has an Anzac Avenue) to the mall, where we needed to set up our phone. From there we took a different route home on another wide 4-lane road, but were impressed to note that bike lanes exist almost everywhere, making it a very pleasant area to get around without risking your life.
Mike and Hyo from IO arrived Saturday after a 7-day passage from New Caledonia, and are cleaning out their boat in preparation for return trips home for a month. We've met a number of boaters in the marina, in part because our slip is on the main throughway to almost everywhere else due to the unusual layout of the docks here, so we say hello to everyone passing by. And Fly Aweigh, the new kid on the block, attracts a lot of attention -- she looks big and shiny and new compared to the more mature and solid boats in residence.
We had a surprise visit the other night, a couple knocked on the boat and introduced themselves as "Friends of Carol and John," our cat sitters and car sitters back home. They invited us to join them for pizza, so we happily climbed in their car and drove off up the road to Caloundra, another ritzy seaside area rife with great restaurants, and had the best pizza in years, accompanied by interesting conversation and topped off with fabulous gelato.
Today we're going into Brisbane, a 1-hour bus ride tagged onto a 30-minute train ride to Central Station. We have a little business to do, and then we'll explore the city and hope to meet up with our friend Brian on the motor yacht Furthur for dinner. There's plenty to do around here, it will not be boring. And lots of wild kangaroos and other marsupials apparently have free roam of the more rural areas, according to the "Watch Out for Kangaroo" street signs, and get this: even the crows have Ozzie accents!
11/10/2010, Brisbane, Australia
We made it!
We saw the glow of Brisbane in the wee hours of dark, rounded the corner into Moreton Bay at breakfast time, and were up the Brisbane River at the Quarantine and Customs dock by 12:30.
Tim, the Quarantine officer, was very nice. I even got to keep my cheese and butter, because they were New Zealand products. Most of the things he took I was ready to toss out anyhow, so it went much better than expected. And the Customs guys were great, the process was quick and friendly. Nobody wanted popcorn, though.
We're now motoring downriver to head back up the bay to Scarborough Marina, where Slip I1 is waiting for us. We find that meaningful and symbolic for two reasons: one, we arrived in Australia on 11-11 and will come to rest in berth I1. And, secondly, as Allan pointed out, when spoken aloud, it says triumphantly, "I won!"
Now we're in the usual laundry-phones-Internet-grocery-boat wash mode for the next few days. We'll unfold those poor little under-used bicycles and do a little pedaling about, take the bus to Brisbane and look around, have a bit of fun, you know. (I'm already thinking in an Ozzie accent ...)
We both feel a peaceful sense of accomplishment. I'm aware of a huge feeling of relief, a draining of tension that I didn't know I had, strange. But it's delightful to have done what we've done -- it doesn't really seem real, to be honest. A fabulous dream, crossing the Pacific Ocean.
11/10/2010, Enroute to Brisbane
I'm gazing through salty, sticky windows at the last of a billowy orange sunset, our last at sea. (I'll try not to go overboard on the "lasts" but it is heavy on our minds.)
No word from the Catalina authorities on our damaged rig, so we're not going to attempt any sails and are just happy that we have plenty of fuel, to motor all the way, with lots to spare. Our trusty Yanmar 75 hp turbocharged engine is as reliable as buttered toast. The seas have calmed, the wind has eased, and we've adapted to the movement of the boat so, at times, we don't even notice it. In fact, we've made a bit of a game out of it, standing in the cabin gimbaling on our legs so we remain perpendicular to gravity at all times - a fun trick and not as easy as it sounds, as many of the lurches and undulations are quick and subtle.
We're trying to eat eat eat so we don't have to donate too much food to the Australian food guys, and luckily it's the healthy stuff, so we're big on salads, steamed veggies, fresh papaya, green smoothies, and such. I figured I'd pop the rest of my popcorn and have it out for the Customs, Quarantine and Immigrations folks when they come, who knows -- they might be hungry.
Otherwise, not much to report. Looking forward to getting there, but we're actually enjoying this passage! Good to have as our last, even if we are a motorboat.
Next report will be when we get in and settled.
11/09/2010, Enroute to Brisbane
We've had a little adventure in the last 24 hours, nothing life-threatening but rather mostly annoying. Last night, while I was asleep on break and Allan was at the nav station, we heard a loud and very sudden BANG!, not the kind of bangs we've been hearing for days when a mass of water slams into the hull, no, this was different. I lept out of bed and Allan was on his way up the companionway with a flashlight, and just as he suspected, we lost a shroud.
I got dressed and into my life vest and harness, fired up the motor, and we brought the sails down. We've been in some pretty strong winds and consistently rolling seas, which adds additional stress to the rig, even when the sails are reefed as ours were. Allan hooked in his safety tether and went forward to inspect the shroud, and tape it in place so it wouldn't do any damage to the deck. Of course, this all happens in the pitch black of night, no moon, big waves, slippery deck, lots of fun! We brought the spare halyard over to the port side and attached it for additional support, but we don't really think it's necessary.
For those of you not up on sailspeak, shrouds are the thick wire thingies that keep the mast up. They come in very handy, as you can imagine. Luckily we have quite a few of them on this boat, and this was just the aft lower shroud, one of 4 shrouds on the port side. The failure was somewhere at the top where it attaches to the mast. This is not at all uncommon, our first email was to Michael on Paikea Mist, who suffered a similar occurrence in French Polynesia. The second email was to Byron, the rigger who put this boat together for us during the commissioning stage, and the third was to designer Gerry Douglas at Catalina Yachts. We've heard from faithful Michael, mainly because he's down here in our time zone, but are still awaiting a response from Byron and Gerry. Mainly, we just want to know if the geometry will allow us to keep a bit of the genoa sail up for stability and a little push without taking any further risks.
So, here's the bad part about all of this: we'll spend the last leg of our sailing adventure in perfect wind, ingloriously motoring to Brisbane! Ah well. The good thing is, we have plenty of fuel, otherwise we'd do what I think is the next best thing: rig up a windsurfing mount on the foredeck and Allan can sail us home! Okay, we could take turns -- his arms would get tired.
Motoring in rocky seas is more woggly than anything else I can think of; without at least some sail to stabilize and balance the boat, we're now thrashing about clumsily. Every cupboard and storage space is advertising it's vacancies as the remaining contents slam from side to side, the stove gimbals fore and aft to it's full extension, the dishes slide, despite the dishtowels and hot pads we've tried to stuff into the gaps. So it's a bit noisy in the cabin, Allan doesn't even take his earplugs out half the time, probably a good idea. Even the littlest things can drive you nuts: the butter knife in the dish drainer -- slink, slank. Slink, slank. And when the big waves come, it's an exponential rhythmic din with occasional flying missiles.
We'll still get to Brisbane in good time, but not as quickly as under sail. That's the magnificent thing about a sailboat -- the wind is free and if it's steady and strong enough, you can go faster than under power, and it's a lot quieter. And don't let anyone tell you a powerboat has less movement because it doesn't heel! We're now spending our 117 gallons of expensive French diesel, enduring the constant thrum of the engine, and rocking worse than when under sail.
Otherwise, all is well. I've been wasting massive amounts of time on crossword puzzles and still trying to wade through the Old Testament, a task I consider heinously difficult, I'll leave it at that. Allan is still reading Harry Potter and we take, as I've mentioned before, a lot of naps. Our SSB radio Net will be more difficult with our fellow sailors; the engine and generator create a lot of radio noise and make reception very difficult. Still, we were able to relay through one of the boats who's closer to us on this mornings' Net, and got the message out to Mike on the boat IO, who's volunteered to be Net Controller for our small group.
Another 48 hours or so remain, maybe by then I'll be through 2nd Kings or something. By the way, so far, the computer hasn't been able to beat me at Scrabble. Nevermind I've got it on the easiest setting. I still beat the pants off my cyber opponent, and that makes me feel real smart!
11/08/2010, Enroute to Brisbane
Last night, after I posted the blurb, Neptune got feisty and started tossing huge buckets of water over the boat and putting what sounded like cement blocks in our path, making such loud, sharp bangs they could wake the dead. The seas are up to 3 meters at times, but the interval is just enough to not make us miserable. The wind averaged 20-25 knots, with a few gusts to 30, and we kept up a good pace even double-reefed. We've been making great time -- more than 100 miles ahead of our plan now, and almost at the halfway point.
We spent most of the night inside, staying dry, monitoring our repeater displays in the cabin and popping up at regular intervals to check things out in the cockpit. I had one ship sighting last night, a freighter enroute to Sydney, and a cargo ship today who passed in front of us. We can expect more ship sightings from now on out, I think.
Today we've experienced minimal thrashing and woggling -- or maybe we're just loving this last leg so much we're not noticing. We've been working on our laptops much of the day, creating spreadsheets on boat maintenance, fuel, and our cruising costs. I thought to get some cleaning done, but that's pushing the envelope a bit ... sitting is one thing, moving around is another.
I'm looking around the cabin, taking in the bits and pieces of things that have made this boat a home: the stuffed fish we got as a going-away present, named "Bob" in honor of our Catalina Yachts boat salesman in Oxnard. We joke that this was all his fault, and he should at least be allowed to come along. We wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for Bob, who worked hard to sell us this boat and get it ready to cruise; the dancing dolphins my mother made, who've been smiling the whole way, keeping the mood light; the colorful Mexican wooden fish we got as a memento for participating in the 2009 Baja Ha Ha; the hand-carved fish hook from Fiji; the little yellow watercolor fish with the wistful expression on his face, painted by my nephew, Brian; and -- in a rare nod to terra firma -- the oil painting of the Tuolomne River in Yosemite. I couldn't have lived without the fish-print fleece throw that we used regularly even in the hottest climes - to sit on if not to snuggle under; the thrift-store surfboard comforter in the guest stateroom that's been washed so many times it's getting little holes, so I've hand-patched with not-so-matching fabric for a cruiserly look.
Other things are showing signs of wear, or wear-out -- the year at sea has taken it's toll on laptops, cameras, glasses, and clothes. The boat, and all things made for boats, have done well. It's the stuff we brought that aren't meant to be in this watery world that are struggling. I can see how, if we were going to continue, we'd be tossing out and replacing a lot of things in Australia, something to put in the budget for next time. (Next time? Oh yeah. Later...)
As I write the boat is being lifted and gently lowered on the 10-foot waves, which have moved just enough behind us now for that fun surfing thing again, I love that. At times, when we look out the companionway toward the stern, all we see is a rising wall of water, sometimes breaking a little on the top, but it rolls under us making a whooshing sound, lifting us up, and a few seconds later we're at the top of the world. Then back down again -- a slight twist of the hull if the wave is more from the side. And sometimes, if it's really more from the side, we dip left and right, so out the port side windows all I see is water, and then with a smooth roll, all I see is sky. (Whoa! Big one -- I think I saw Jupiter!) What's it going to be like on dry land? Maybe we need to get some cast-offs from the fun zone, or mount our couch on a mechanical bull.
Until tomorrow --
11/07/2010, Enroute to Brisbane
So far this has been a delightful sail, a great time at sea. The wind took a few hours to appear yesterday, as we expected, but it's been steady, and steadily increasing, ever since. We moved smoothly through the night with single-reefed sails and no splashing, let me say that again: NO splashing of salty water over the boat or into the cockpit at all. How nice. We don't know whether to credit the sea-sickness medication for our comfort or the sea itself, but it's nice to be out here enjoying the passage. Today the seas are picking up -- we're seeing up to 10 feet at times now -- and we were only salt-free until this morning, with occasional wave-dousings over the bow this afternoon, but it was a great first night out. We even had lasagna! The down-side to not being seasick is that we want to eat everything in sight, Allan notes.
We have a route plan from our weather router Bob McDavitt, which I printed with spaces beneath to write the actual progress. We've used Bob in the past for several passages but I was never this organized. This time, I'm curious about the favorable current we're supposed to encounter, and whether we can "beat the flight plan" as pilots love to do. And so far, we are -- we're faster than anticipated and about 20 miles farther down track than planned at this time, so we're hoping to miss some of the rougher seas that were forecast in the squash zone, and get in to Brisbane around Thursday morning, a good 9 hours earlier than planned. The technical details: We clicked off 170 miles in the first 24 hours, seeing up to 8 knots at times. We're happy with how Fly Aweigh performs when she has good wind, even with partially reefed sails. In fact, sometimes she's happier reefed than with all the fabric out.
Allan's deep into the Harry Potter book I read on the last passage, mindful of the fact that the 7th movie is due out in a few weeks and he's a few behind. And I'm reading a book given to me by Martine, our friend in New Caledonia, a story based in Australia. We while away the blank hours contemplating the next phase of our lives, but of course, it's hard to imagine. How soon will the boat sell? Will the buyer want all our gear and junk or do we need to have continual yard sales in the marina parking lot? How much will we ship home? Where should we ship it? Do we rent a furnished flat in Brisbane, or stay aboard with a storage space nearby in which to sort through our things? Will we need a car? Should we rent one or buy a used one? What about insurance? And how much of my food will Customs take?
On that last point: Australia will be the toughest country so far where food regulations are concerned; I've been into Australia many times as a pilot and I know the rules, but this will be the first time I've had such so much food, and I'm anticipating losing about a quarter of it, despite careful planning to avoid this. I may be able to save the organic dried garbanzos if I pressure cook them and make hummus, and I could save the French green lentils, perhaps. But it's curtains for the Chilorio Mexican Beef, and the green peas, the raisins, the green powder I like to put in smoothies, and the raw walnuts and almonds I just can't use in the next 4 days. It's probably over for the 8 kinds of herb tea I brought, the brown rice, and of course, all the leftover veggies. So it goes.
Our goal at this point is to enjoy what we can of our last passage, and perhaps our last sail, aboard Fly Aweigh. Who could have guessed how fond we'd get of a chunk of fiberglass? A squeaky boat with little closets and a proclivity to avoid permanent addresses has become our home, our rock. "Home is where the hull is," a fellow cruiser says in his signature line, and that's been completely true for us. We'll transition from cruisers -- turtles with our shells on our backs, to little hermit crabs searching the beach for shelter, oh, a pitiful image! But sort of exciting, too. Who would have thought we'd be homeless in our 50's? And by choice, no less! The next phase is a completely blank slate, as we don't have to go back to work until next summer, and don't have a home to move back into until fall. How we came to be in this particular quandary is just the way things went once we decided to turn right instead of left. The left turn had a plan through to the end. This one, decided upon as an afterthought 10 months ago, doesn't. But if there's anything I've learned in this process, it's that there is a God. And for some reason, He's been awfully nice to us. Things have worked out against all odds repeatedly, and I have no reason not to believe that will continue.
By the way, I have no intent of closing out this blurb just because Phase One, "Jobless Airline Pilots Sail the Pacific" is ending, so if you choose to, check in with us and see how it goes in Phase Two, "Homeless Airline Pilots Roam Aimlessly."
But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, we're not homeless, and in this moment, we're still in the South Pacific, a blue sky overhead and puffy clouds on the horizon, a brisk 15-20 knot wind, a fridge full of salad stuff, veggie lasagna, Meat Lovers pizza, Lentil Loaf, and Meat Lovers Pizza (go figure.) There are cold Cokes and that bag of m & m's, we have each other, and life is just very good.