11/30/2010, Scarborough Marina
Middle of the night, I can't sleep. I sneak out of the forward cabin and pull the narrow door closed behind me, just tight enough so the slightly warped wood catches the frame and holds it closed, but not enough to make the loud "click" sound that might disturb Allan as he sleeps. The floor creaks as I tiptoe across it, mainly because it's not a normal floor: it's a series of compartments, with storage, or a motor, or a bilge beneath.
Standing on the companionway stairs, looking out the hatch at the boats in the marina around us, the breeze catches my arms as they rest on the cabin top. The perfect temperature tonight -- cool, warm, a little damp from the rain, fresh. The lights along the docks cast a warm, even glow on the boats, catching glints of stainless and reflecting on their round hulls as they rest in the night. Although it's peaceful and beautiful, it's not quiet: halyards bang rhythmically against wood and metal masts as the breeze lifts and falls, lines creak and groan as bows pull away from the docks, reach their limit, then ease back, pressing on the rubber fenders with a soft squeak. One of my favorite sounds is the wind as it howls softly, moving through and around the ghostly forest of masts, thick and complex with all the paraphernalia that make a sailboat: the horizontal spreaders reaching like arms outstretched; the shrouds that hold the mast upright from the sides; the fore and aft stays that keep it from crashing down on the bow or the stern; the radar domes; reflectors; GPS and radio antennas; the little metal mast steps that some boats have to aid in climbing to the top; the flags. Flags of the host nation in which the boat currently resides, flags from yacht clubs, sailing organizations, homelands -- all flapping gently, sometimes banging annoyingly on the nearby shroud if the gap is too small. The lapping sound of water comes and goes as the surface of the sea is stirred up by wind or current.
This is what I've come to love, among so many other things I love about living on the boat. As I gaze out at the boats packed into this marina, I feel a great affinity for each one, for the stories they tell. I feel alone in the night, but surrounded by friends.
Down in the cabin, I turn on the light over the table and settle into my favorite nook while my tiny EeePC warms up. I pour myself a glass of rice milk and reach for the lid to the "snack box" -- the floor storage beneath the table where all the goodies and things that are generally not very good for you are kept -- and am unable to avoid the loud creak that accompanies it's movement. I find the cinnamon crisps, carefully wrapped and rubber-banded but slightly stale nonetheless. Something you get used to on boats, stale crackers. Not too bad, they softly crumble and the cinnamon sugar on top is still crispy.
Rain comes and goes all night around here this time of year, or this year anyhow. All the locals tell us it's been a very uncharacteristic spring -- cool and rainy, whereas usually by now it's "hot as blazes." All we know is it's absolutely perfect here, we couldn't describe a more ideal climate. But back to the rain, and another reason I love living on the boat: the hatch that sits directly over our bed. An arms-reach away without even having to sit up, we can lie underneath and catch the night breeze through the cracked lid. When the rain comes, it's usually preceded by a gust, which wakes up a certain part of our subconscious brains. Then the sprinkles start falling on our arms or shoulders, lightly, and one of us will reach up and crank down the latch. A little while later, when the mesmerizing sound of rain falling on the fiberglass cabintop subsides, we reach up and release the hatch, shoving it open 6 inches or a foot, the light from the moon, or the dock, or the nearby parking lot streaming in.
Although things aren't always easy to get at, nothing is very far away on a boat. When I'm done with my milk and crackers, I just reach over the couch and set the glass and plate on the galley counter. If I forget a sweater as we're leaving, it's 4 steps back to the closet, not a major excursion like in the house. And lately, with most of our stuff packed away in boxes and resting in the corner of a nearby storeroom awaiting shipment back home, life feels more spacious and easy on board. We really do wonder why we had so much stuff. I'm down to the bare minimums now, and it's feels somehow freeing, wide-open, like a deep breath. My closet isn't crammed so tight I can't get things out. I can push the clothes aside and easily access the shelf behind where I like to keep my bike bag, whereas before I had to pull all the clothes out of the closet and lay them on the bed to get at that space. I can find things, what few things there are to find.
Today we had a lot of errands to run, and are grateful for our crummy, rusted, stiff old folding bikes. Armed with backpacks and a bottle of water, we set off for Redcliffe. A stop at the clothing store for a peacock-print dress that caught my eye and wasn't too much money, down along Anzac to the water maker store for some o-rings, a few blocks farther down for a quick sushi lunch before we catch a matinée at the theatre. Afterwards, we find the bikes wet from a rain storm that passed overhead while we were lost in the movie plot. We wipe them off with the tails of our shirts and soggy Kleenex, and head off to the bank, where I change the remaining Polynesian franc's from New Caledonia into local currency. Then, up the street to the glass place, where we've had a small mirror made for the aft bathroom. A quick stop next door at the marine store, which has a consignment section and a few of our things which we hope to sell. Then down the wide 4-lane highway back toward the marina, the air cool from the rain, the sun mercifully shielded by the clouds. We make a stop for cold drinks at the Rugby Club, then decide to verify the rumor that kangaroos come to eat the green grass in the schoolyard in the afternoons. A left turn down Klingner toward the school, but no 'roos, so we take a detour up the street to an arroyo with a grassy field nearby. Gazing across toward the trees, we see them: two small kangaroos -- smaller than I expected -- alert at our approach and sitting upright like big rabbits, their ears twitching and their eyes locked on us. We get surprisingly close before they hop a few feet away, nonplussed, and bend over to eat the wet grass. I try to get a picture of them with my crummy phone camera, and Allan spots a koala asleep in the trees above. All of this is happening just behind a housing area, near 2 busy highways and miles from open space. Finally the mosquitoes from the stagnant water nearby drive us off, and we pedal through the red mud toward home.
We ride back to the marina with satisfied grins on our faces and lock up the bikes in the bike racks, crowded with rusty and abandoned bicycles with flat tires. We're stiff from the hard seats of these old bikes, but there's something very satisfying about relying on them -- we got so much done today, saw so much more than we would have in a car, had a great time together, and got some exercise to boot.
All of this is not part of our normal lives. The creaking boats, the howling wind in the masts, the rain through the hatch over our bed, riding bikes all over town because we don't have a car, the bus is too expensive and the schedule is annoying. We solve problems differently. The rhythm of our lives is different on this boat, and I will miss it terribly. Like all the changes that I've felt in me during this last year, I wonder if I can hang onto this. Or will I revert to my car-dependent self, with my huge bed and the window waaaayyy over there on the other side of the room, my utensil drawer stuffed with every possible peeler and chopper?
I hope not. I read recently that most sailors can return to their old lives after cruising if they get home between one and two years after setting out. But after two full years of cruising the oceans of this amazing planet, of living by your wits, being scared sometimes, and uncomfortable lots of times, and happy even when you don't know it most of the time, of cooking unfamiliar foods in compromised situations, climbing in rubber dinghies with casseroles precariously perched on the seat for a jaunt to a nearby potluck on a friends' boat, affecting repairs in rough seas with minimal tools -- after 104 weeks of this crazy life, it's very difficult to return to the "normal" world. So it would seem we're in the window of being able to reacclimate, and I can't help but wonder if that's a good thing ...
11/29/2010, Scarborough, QLD
G'day! Seems it's been a little while since last I wrote, and although I don't have much to report -- no giant squid sightings or rare purple mundungus encounters, I still feel the need to continue some form of communication.
The bulk of our time and energies of late are devoted to the preparation of selling Fly Aweigh, which includes importing her into Australia, a requirement that must be complete before we can offer her for sale. This has been interesting. Costly, annoying at times, amusing at others, and quite a process. One of the more ridiculous tasks we've accomplished is becoming licensed freon gas importers, required by the newly instituted Ozone Department. As an inbound boat with refrigeration and air conditioning, we're considered "importers" of the freon gas we have aboard to run those devices. So we've paid the $400 fee for the license, and the 15 cents tax on the amount of freon we imported, and now, I guess, we're in the business. Then there are the sniffer dogs, who come this Wednesday to snuffle about in search of termites. We've heard there's only one company in Australia approved by the government for this task, and they have only 3 dogs -- highly-trained Beagles who travel the country and sometimes go abroad on important sniffing duties. After they give the boat a good nosing, and hopefully find no termites residing in what little "timber" we have aboard, we should get a letter from Customs giving us the green light to put Fly Aweigh back on the market.
Over the last few weeks we've taken off loads of stuff, and I'm repeatedly reminded that just last year we were putting it all on. I cornered the market on plastic storage bins and containers of all sizes before we left, and they've served us well. As I unpack the deep, dark corners, those odd-sized compartments beneath the mattresses and under the floor, I find bins coated in a layer of sticky goo -- a leaky soap bottle, or a tipped-over container of honey. I'm glad they were in bins and not leaking down into the unreachable depths of the boat, and I pat myself on the back for good organizational skills. Now, they get cleaned out and refilled with things to ship home. We agonize over what to keep and what to sell or donate. We're caught between being thrifty -- wanting to keep the things we've invested perfectly good money in and may use again, and being practical -- recognizing that most material things are really a burden, and we both feel that burden weighing on us with every decision to "ship it home." More stuff to wade through on the other end. We'll be unpacking these boxes and wondering "Why did we keep this??" Not to mention, it's costly to ship, and we have to ask ourselves if we can rebuy back home on the used market for a comparable price.
We took a drive to Australia's famous Gold Coast the other day, a somewhat ill-timed trip that coincided with a break in the school year, which meant beaches swarming with "schoolies," all tidily ID'd and wrist-banded, an apparently new approach to containing the chaos of what we in the US call "spring break." Everyone has to register, and the beach and hotels are monitored for crashers --- known as "toolies" -- the older kids who come and drink too much and generally run amok. It's a good idea, and it keeps the younger teenagers safer. Allan and I found a shady spot on the beach and settled in for a nice rest, enjoying the tousled green sea and the little clumps of teenagers, trying to gage the ratio of ankle bracelets to no ankle bracelets, roughly 9 - 1 in favor of.
Last week we met the local Australian Catalina Yachts dealer in this neck of the woods, who has been helping us with some important boat--related issues, and he invited us to join him and his wife and daughter for a book signing event at the Southport Yacht Club on the chic Gold Coast. Seems the Commodore there is quite an accomplished man in the sailing realm, and just published his latest book, "Bligh." Having sailed across Blighwater in Fiji, and been to many of the places Captains Bligh, Cook and Christian sailed and made famous, I find myself very interested in their stories. This particular book attempts to set the record straight about Bligh's bad reputation, a task that Anna Bligh, the current Premier of Queensland and a descendant of Captain Bligh, is grateful for. The lecture was fun, but I must admit, this was my first reintroduction to high society, as the Southport Yacht Club is huge and full of important people in nice clothes, and I felt somewhat underdressed and plain. But plain in an I-earned-it sort of way, plain by choice.
Our aft lower shroud, which as you may recall separated from the mast on our last leg from New Caledonia, is in the process of being made, and will be a simple matter of reinstallation once we get it. In the meantime, we can't take Fly Aweigh out for a sail, and we're getting a bit ansty to leave the dock. We hope to have her back in sailing condition in a week or so, but may just go out and motor around for a few days before then, out to a local island to scrub the bottom, do a bit of snorkeling, make some water, and bob around a bit.
Meanwhile, our plans keep morphing, as plans do, for what to do with our time in Australia. Our latest thought is to save our energies for traveling around New Zealand after the first of the year. With Christmas coming, repairs, packing, shipping and cleaning underway aboard, and trying to get our head around the idea of selling Fly Aweigh, we can't see having quite enough time to buy a camper van here in Australia and do any touring. So we'll see how that develops, but for now, we'll just lay low and finish the tasks before us.
Last night we joined some of the local cruisers for a weekly BBQ in the park. The Ozzies really do take their BBQ'ing seriously, it would seem, and virtually no park is without clean, free, griddle-style BBQ's that fire up at the touch of a button. On our Sunday bike ride yesterday we noticed that the parks were loaded with families, birthday parties, couples young and old -- all set up with extra folding chairs and tables, blankets, picnic baskets, bottles of wine (I don't think it's legal, but if you don't make a scene, nobody enforces it) and are obviously quite skilled at whipping up a quick park gathering on a moments' notice. Saturday we rode past a wedding in the park by the sea, with the Saturday sailboat regatta in full swing on the bay behind them.
Today, a bike or bus ride to the bank! Whee!! Okay, not nearly as fun as seeing giant mantas or floating eye-to-eye with a Humpback whale, but hey, that's what today has in store, and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it! Tonight, Trivial Pursuit with some of the local cruisers in the marina. It's a rich life.
11/20/2010, Somerset Park, QLD
I've been flying to Australia for almost 10 years now, and have taken numerous trips into the countryside on trains and buses, scouring the treetops in the rich eucalyptus forests until my eyes hurt, hoping to spot a koala in the wild. I've never seen one, and began to think that their nocturnal habits kept them hidden, or perhaps, understandably, they avoid the trees near the roads. I'd not given up hope though, and today I finally got my wish. My sharp-eyed husband -- who can spot a tiny purple nudibranch under a rock on a coral reef, or a reclusive octopus jammed in a hole, caught sight of a furry lump of koala in a skinny eucalyptus tree.
We've rented a car for four days to catch up on errands, and took advantage of a cool, cloudy Saturday to go exploring in the nearby mountains. We'd pulled into a campground to have a look at Australian camping, and there it was -- sleeping on the thinnest little branch, the young tree swaying in the breeze. We pulled the car onto the grass and lept out, oohed and aahed and got a few pictures, patted ourselves on the back a number of times, and then, as we were standing there marveling at our good fortune, the little critter woke up, stretched and reached out for a snack, munching on the young leaves sleepily. Amazing. The ultimate teddy bear.
And the Australian nature show goes on: as we were gazing up at the little bear, joined by a South African family who'd come up to camp for the weekend, a gang of wild white cockatoos flew over making a huge squawking fuss, landing in trees overhead and spreading their gorgeous yellow headdresses in a display of obvious irritation. And then we spotted the colorful parrots, some of them quite large, one with lime green and brilliant red. Earlier in the drive I almost ran over a big lizard that crossed the mountain road, racing across the street on his hind legs like a little T-Rex. It was a fabulous day of terrestrial discovery and got us all fired up about our latest idea of buying a camper van here for the next 2 months.
So a little backtracking is in order to come up to speed: we're in the process of importing the boat to Australia, a tedious and costly process that's required before we can put it up for sale here. (Unless you know someone who wants it: if you do, let us know ASAP so they can come and buy it as an "offshore buyer" and they'll save a hunk-o-money if we don't have to import. And then, they can hang out in Australia for the sailing season here, and when cyclone season is over in a few months in the Pacific, they can continue the journey! Great Barrier Reef! Thailand! Indonesia! Europe! I'm just saying.)
But, to continue, the import process involves complex forms and inspections, and while Allan is going through that I'm busily clearing out all the stuff we stuffed on the boat before we left, dividing it into 5 piles: ship home, give away, leave for new buyer, keep for the next 4 months of our adventure, or sell tomorrow at the flea market. Which brings me to the next fun thing: the Scarborough Sunday Flea Market at the show grounds: $6 to drive your car into a spot and pop open your "boot" and $2 for an optional table. It's a big "Boot Sale" and people come with their junk and sell it out of their trunks. How fun! Hardest part will be to resist the temptation to check out other's people's Boot Loot. Hyo from IO, Mary from Carpe Vita and I are all getting up at 4:45am tomorrow and driving the loaded rental car to the show grounds with hot mugs of coffee and maybe some stale Clif Bars (I found 1,000 of them in our ditch bag -- I think I was ready for a month at sea in the liferaft ...) and see what we can get rid of. $5 is the going rate for everything, we jokingly decided. We're optimistic, and at any rate, we'll have fun.
The clearing-out is -- as spring cleaning can be -- cathartic and exhausting at the same time. Combined with other complex financial issues that have arisen, we've been a bit crazed, but the good part is that the Scarborough Marina is a great place, we love our spot, we have some wonderful people around us, and a fabulous breeze blows all the time. We've even had some rain, which keeps it cool and fresh.
The mystery of how to ship our things home is big on our minds. It's apparent that will be a more costly endeavor than we'd expected, hence the selling-off and giving-away that is hopefully liberating us from a lot of our useless and burdensome possessions. This process again reminds me of George Carlin's routine entitled "A Place for My Stuff" -- brilliant, if you haven't heard it -- we're now in the second phase of "creating an even smaller version of our stuff" as Carlin describes it -- the stuff we'll have with us for the next 4 months as we camp through Australia and New Zealand.
But not too fast -- first: import the boat (unless you know a buyer, remember); second: put the boat up for sale (unless you've sent us a buyer); third: find as many people interested in buying the boat as seem to want to list the boat (numerous brokers have stopped by); and fourth: take the money and camp. We'll see how it all goes.
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.