Our recent trip to Port Douglas and the Great Barrier Reef reminded us of our own state of Hawaii (minus the killer box jellyfish and crocodiles.) It has also demonstrated how difficult it is to post blogs and pictures in rural areas, and how transient we've become since we left our boat. A few days ago we drove to a Target parking lot on the way to the airport so we could get an internet connection. I love the irony in our being able to post hundreds of miles at sea (with our radio and Pactor modem which we no longer have with us) and yet on land we are hit or miss.
In order to focus on the kids and our rapidly dwindling overland tour time, we are signing off our blog for now. Deepest thanks to all who've been following along, patiently enduring our raves and our rants. You have all provided a tremendous amount of moral support in this endeavor and we've always been excited to read the latest comments.
What have we learned? It would take months to write a blog post about that. Pondering that question is one of the everlasting and most valuable gifts of this journey.
Thank you again for caring about us and our incredible 7 months on the Jenny P.
11/14/2010, Ballina, NSW
We've moved off the boat and onto land. The last few days were similar to times we've moved out of one house to another. Stuff just keeps appearing out of the hidey holes and boxes and more boxes are required. We are shipping the lot home and the day of reckoning will happen back in Seattle in a couple months: Where to put it all?! Meanwhile we've paired down to a duffle bag each and we'll spend the next month and a half travelling to all the places I remember dreaming about as a child: Tasmania, the South Island of New Zealand (Southland, they call it), and Stewart Island (even more South than Southland.)
As Eric wrote, it was bittersweet to leave the Jenny P. We were cramped as a family of 5 with kids who just keeping growing bigger! And being on a boat is like living on a farm - you just don't sit back on the front porch and sip your tea while the sun sets behind your amber waves of grain. It requires constant tending and mending - that is if you expect your boat to actually leave its berth. Jenny P represents so many memories we've made over the last 10 years - not to mention the epic journey we just completed - that we all shed a few tears as we each gave her bowsprit a kiss and said, "Farewell."
While in Brisbane it wasn't all boxing and cleaning - we made sure to carve out some fun time as well. We spent 2 days at the Australia Zoo (home of the late Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.) The kids are busy writing up their impressions which we'll post shortly, so I'll keep my summary short: the most up close I've ever been to so many interesting animals and yet the most bizarre cult of personality experience I've had to date (I have not yet been to Graceland so I'm holding out for that comparison.) The Zoo is half animal-fest, half shrine to Steve-o. But the real weirdness is in the use of their kids as consumer products: on t-shirts, in books, in Free Willy movie sequals, handbags, even a Barbie figure. It was strangely embarrassing and they aren't even my kids. The Zoo portion was stunning and it made me wonder how our own Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle might rise to that level of animal/people interaction - how much more satisfying a visit it could be!
We also went to a cricket match at "The Gabba," Brisbane's main cricket field. Eric printed the rules from Wikipedia and we read them as we sat in the stands on a beautiful sunny day. Some fans in front of us realized we were American and trying to get a handle on the game, so with typical Aussie generosity, they spent the next hour pointing out subtleties in action and strategy that we would have otherwise missed. I'm not usually a sports fan, but Cricket really is such a civilized game that I could've stayed for the remaining hours and hours of the match and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The kids became restless after holding it together for almost 3 hours, so we decided to call it a day.
We are now nestled in the "bush" - about 3 hours South of Brisbane on a horse ranch called "Tassiriki." The ranch owners lived and worked in Vanuatu for years in an area called Tassiriki, "place of calm waters," that is how the ranch gets its name. And calm it is. We sleep in a little cabin with bunk beds and an efficiency kitchen and a front porch. Of course, it also has a substantial bbq grill so we've had wonderful family dinners on the picnic table outside with the horses neighing and the friendly dogs making the feed rounds with their owner in the early morning and again in the evening. The kids have had an hour lesson each, four days in a row. They've become quite confident on their pony "Nugget" and today Sophie and Eric are taking a 2-hour ride together (with guide) along the ocean shore. The quiet of the farm is heavenly.
11/10/2010, Scarborough, QLD
Today we are saying goodbye to the JennyP after ten years and thousands of miles. We looked into shipping the boat back, but it while difficult it really is time to say goodbye. With three growing kids, the boat that seemed so large ten years ago has grown small. Christine and I can't really sleep comfortably in our not quite double berth. Sophie had asked if we could remodel the boat before we left to create some more space. Unless she could make the boat transdimensional, no remodel would help.
Still it was a good boat for our trip. If we had tried to trade in for a bigger boat, it would have delayed us 1-2 years, and the kids might have been too old to want to go. It is hard to line up all the stars, the time was right for the family, and the boat was very capable and solid. At times the waves averaged 5 meters with the wind at 38 knots (47.5 mph) but I never worried about the boat or the rig. Sailing to Hawaii the waves were tall enough that in the troughs the wind generator, 15 feet off the water, stopped spinning.
The boat is well rigged and ready to keep sailing. If we held on to the boat the gear would age, eventually the sails would start to rot and in a few years it would need another refit to go cruising again. We see a lot of boats like that in marinas. I would much rather say goodbye to her now and hope that someone buys her who wants to sail back into the South Pacific, or onward to the Indian Ocean. Jenny P has a lot of life left in her.
I get asked a lot if we will buy another boat. We might, but not right away. We stopped camping shortly after Sophie was born because sleeping in tents with kids in diapers was just not fun; it was much easier to take them out into the islands on the boat. Now that they are older, we want to take them up into the Cascades and Olympics and get them hiking. We can always charter boats, and in a few years we may decide we miss it enough to buy another one. Selling in Australia gives us a good chance to re-evaluate. Some people say the two happiest days of owning a boat are the day you buy it, and the day you sell it. For me there have been many fantastic days between.
I still enjoy the look of surprise on people's faces here when they learn that we sailed here. The train driver at the Australia Zoo asked Freya what Seattle was known for, trying to tease out airplanes, and his hint was how she got to Australia. He was confused when she asked him if they made sailboats in Seattle, then amazed when he understood.
Eric has arrived safely in Brisbane - again. He now knows the customs staff by name. Unfortunately, that won't help us much when we import out boat. The procedure is cumbersome and done by the book. For example, we haven't been able to begin the boat importation process yet because we actually have to import our boat's refrigerator first. It contains the R134a gas - nothing unusual - but Australia requires us to import that gas first. Had to pay $400AUD plus 300g of R134a multiplied by 0.00134 cents; get a copy of my passport notarized, submit our boat registration papers, and supply the invoice. When we looked for the fridge invoice we realized that we hadn't ever been billed for the fridge. So we had that unexpected expense as well. The irony is that if it were an older fridge with Freon it would be easy to get a waiver. The import process is quite bureaucratic, but I think it'll go smoothly once we move beyond the fridge. Customs here is quite friendly and helpful despite the reputation they've earned within the cruising community. We assume the reputation is due to a few boaters who started out on the wrong foot with the least easy-going of the agents, and it all went South from there.
We've had a while to let our first impressions settle in a bit and have to admit we still really like it here. The weather has continued to improve, another summer is arriving. The birds are amazing - some call as they do at home (crows for example), but some sing the most beautiful bird song I've ever heard. I don't know the names of the song birds, but lorikeet, parakeet, cockatoo and magpie seem to be among the birds flying freely about. There are some vibrant colors in the trees. Each night at sundown, we also get a treat watching the flying foxed (fruit bats) come out and swoop from tree to tree. They are much larger than you might imagine. The people are friendly - most ask us where we are from, how we like it here, etc. We've had many people offer us lifts to the store, but now we are trying our own hand at driving on the "wrong" side of the road. The driving works fine, but I haven't mastered the turn signal yet; I keep hitting the windshield wipers instead. The walking is a problem...I usually move to the right when I see someone coming which confuses them because they are already walking on the correct side and then they move over to the "wrong" side. We usually do a little dance and I apologize in my accent and they understand immediately.
As I reflect on our all-too-brief time in the tropics (we calculated we will have spent only 3 months in the tropics in our 8 month trip), I conclude that I much prefer the smell of sweat, salt and sand to perfume and hair products. Riding the bus, shopping at the supermarket, taking the kids to the library and museum has put me in the path of lots of perfume lately -- quite an assault to the senses. Cigarettes are also consumed in large quantities here. Packs and packs a day at $100AUD/carton. Most of the beer tastes the same, reminiscent of Budweiser, variations on a theme of light and bitter. For wine drinkers, the selection is much larger and very tasty.
We love the Australian sense of humor. I wonder if it has developed out of the convict past - irreverent and wicked. Last week I took the kids on a river boat cruise up to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. As we departed the dock, the captain gave a safety briefing of the boat. "In the event of a man over board, alert staff immediately. Staff will deploy the man over board ring and we will turn the boat around to go back and pick up the ring....they are very expensive." On the dock at our marina, people know that we are getting ready to sell our boat. Most have stopped to remind us not to clean until customs has valued the boat - no reason to have a good looking boat when the value will determine how much you owe the government. Another boater went so far as to give us various tips on how to temporarily sabotage our engine so it made clunking noises if customs turned it on. We laughed heartily at his suggestions (and assume they were all in good fun), but the question remains of whether he wasn't somewhat serious.
Plenty of seafood in this part of town. The fishing boats pull in and out all day and night just behind us on the dock. We are staying across the waterway from Morgan's, a dynasty of a fish store/restaurant. There are three buildings - one for wholesalers, one is a fancier seafood restaurant, and one is a bustling market open 7:30am - 6pm where they sell all kinds of fish, ready to cook, or they'll cook'em for you. They also have an oyster bar, a sushi counter, and bins of steamed prawns and shrimp of various types. The kids want nothing to do with the seafood, but I was dying for some steamed prawns, so the other day I packed the kids some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we marched over to Morgan's. Five minutes later, I walked my little ducks over to the picnic area (another section of the Morgan's compound) with my plastic sack of steamed prawns and cup of sauce. The kids ate their sandwiches and watched in horror and I plucked off the heads of the prawns, shelled them and devoured each and every one.
Burgers are another popular standby here. However, they come with sliced beets as a standard ingredient. You have to ask the cook to hold the beets or you get them automatically. I haven't seen an inordinate amount of beet eating in other aspects of the cuisine, so I am not sure how this custom came about, but burgers with beets are quite delicious.
Thursday and Friday we are off to the Australia Zoo (which locals call the "croc farm") and Sunday we have tickets to a Cricket game at the "Gabba." We thought it might be fun to experience a local sport with a local team.
A couple of quirky bits to note: there seems to be a podiatrist's office on every corner. I have had more chances to visit a podiatrist in the last 2 weeks than I have had in my entire life. Also, funeral advertising is very big, including one for "White Lady Funerals, A Woman's Understanding" featuring a.... white lady!... in a wine colored hat smelling a pretty white flower. The picture makes it looks more like an ad for a retired-aged lady escort service or some discreet feminine product.
Another wonderful quirk - even the smallest of parks has at least one gas grill for bbq-ing. The grills are in working order, squeaky clean and apparently easy to use. I've seen parks staff scraping and cleaning them on a regular basis.
We have reunited in Brisbane, all is well. Busy unloading all our gear and packing boxes to ship home. Eric flies to Noumea on Sunday and it looks like the weather is good for a Monday departure. That would put him back in Brisbane (or possibly Bundaberg) by week's end. We'll be glad when both boats are in Australia and Daddy is back with us full time.
Brisbane is a lovely city full of new and modern buildings, landscaped walkways along the river, bike and walking paths galore. I expected something much more industrial, but it appears they have quite a cultural life here as well. So far my favorite part of the city is the "Whale Mall." The Mall is a concrete corridor connecting the Cultural Center with the State Library. Life size humpback whales, complete with barnacles, hang from the ceiling. Whale song plays over speakers above filling the corridor. It is very beautiful.
The kids and I had some lovely outings whilst (Australian for "while") we awaited Eric's return. We visited the Alma Park Zoo, a cozy little family zoo in the "bush" (countryside) outside Brisbane. We also visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Fig Tree Pocket, just up river from Brisbane City. The kids had the chance to "cuddle a Koala" and have their pictures taken. A great memory for them.
We have encountered wonderful Australian hospitality so far. People offering us lifts in their cars, offering us a place to stay in their home, etc. Our accents give us away immediately and we are often chatted up on the bus or train by people wondering where we've come from, how we got here, what we think of Australia. Many people have trouble with our accents, I get a lot of blank stares the first time I ask a question or make a comment.
I find Australia to be a zoo that people live in - on the beach from near our marina you can take a walk in the park and see Ibis walking along picking at bugs in the grass, mynah birds and cockatoos in the trees. As we walked through a suburb on our way to the little zoo, we saw signs for Koala crossings. Apparently they live in the trees in neighborhoods. Sometimes one male services a female population that spans a few lots - if he is hit by a car crossing the street to visit a lady friend, the entire population suffers. These little creatures are living quite a tenuous life at the moment. They only eat Eucalyptus and the tree population is dwindling due to development. Whilst riding the bus the other day, we noticed a few kangaroos hopping about a high school football (Australian rules) field. Great fun.
We'll be taking a bit of a blogging break for a week while Eric sails on Trenally and Christine and the kids pack up more stuff and scrub the Jenny P. Stay tuned for our November 10th trip to a horse farm where we'll take some riding lessons and hopefully lend a hand in the stables.