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.
I have to say that our weather router's (Bob McDavitt's) forecast for the trip has been spot on. Last night we passed through the cold front. Yesterday we watched the barometer drop and the clouds build. Soon the rain started, and the wind backed to the west, coming directly from where we wanted to go. The waves built up to 2-3 meters, but with no clear direction or pattern it was an uncomfortable ride. We motored into the wind for a few hours, hand steering a good bit of it because we did not have enough power in the waves for our auto pilot and the wind was too variable for our windvane to steer well. It was manageable, but made for a long night.
My old autopilot continued to struggle in the morning, so I finally dismantled the newer, almost compatible autopilot Kevin sent me, rewiring it to work with my older unit. The drive unit was the critical piece I needed. The challenge was that my old drive had 2 wires going into it, and the new one four. I discovered two of the four were electrically connected (ground and neutral perhaps?) a blue wire was the positive lead, and the yellow was "extra". (In the morning Jason suggested that this might be for a clutch or brake control on the newer unit, and I think he is right.) Anyway, it is now installed and working like a champ. There is now no super glue, electrical tape, or cotter pins in my autopilot system. Thank you Kevin.
Today we have had beautiful weather, calm seas, and light winds. We are balancing motor sailing and sailing, but making good progress towards Australia. Tuesday the winds should pick up, and with luck we will arrive Thursday morning.
With Christine ashore she has been relaying comments to me - normally I can't see these until I get into port. Leslie asked if we see differences in the ocean from the bottom topography. Sometimes we see the surface waves steepen if there is a very shallow bank, so we try to avoid these, although the fishing is better and birds sometime congregate. When we leave land, the sea is always rougher until we get into deep (2000+ feet) water. I suspect that the sea mounts also disrupt the currents, but I can't tell
Today we crossed the tropic of Capricorn. I have been surprised at how cool it has been, mid 70s by day, 60s at night but I realize that it is early spring, and we are now south of 25 degrees. I am glad for the break from the heat. I have actually put on my foul jacket at night, the first time since before Hilo.
Yesterday, for only the second time on the trip, we got out our asymmetrical Spinnaker. Like the first time, we didn't get to use it for long. The first time the wind built up beyond the safe zone for this light air sail. This time the wind died 30 minutes after we raised it. Oh well, it was pretty to look at for a while.
We have motorsailed in light wind for 38 of the first 48 hours of the trip. This was part of the trip plan, I had generally a good weather window but light wind and calm seas at the outset. This passage should only be 6 days and as I have multiple forecasts for stronger wind the rest of the way I am not too concerned about fuel. I only need to sail about 30 of the remaining 100 hours to get in without having to touch my reserve cans in the hold. It would be a pain to fill with them at sea, but it is nice to know they are there.
This morning the wind has been building up to 20 kt out of the north and we have been sailing at 6.2kt for several hours. This is quite fast for our boat, but well within the limits. Soon we will cross a cold front, which will swing the winds west, then eventually south. We will probably have to motorsail for a few hours tonight to stay on course - We could alter course and save a couple gallons of fuel, but I am not a purist. I am anxious to get into Brisbane, park the boat and see the family. I have enjoyed the sailing, but am ready to be on land a while. I will have one more leg on Jason's boat, but the pressures of being the captain will be his.
The JennyP s on her way to Brisbane, although with a crew change. Christine did not like the look of the weather report and found me an alternate crew member for the trip. Jason has his own boat and family in Noumea, and was looking for crew for his passage. Christine proposed that he help sail the JennyP to Brisbane, then I fly back to Noumea to help him sail his boat over. Christine and the kids will fly to Brisbane to meet me. I will have a short rest between legs.
I had already cleared out, but Immigration was very easy going and it took less than an hour to change the crew list, cancel the family's departure, and get a revised authorization to leave from the Port Captain.
The trip has started out well, with smooth seas and light winds. We have alternated between sailing and motorsailing. A pin did fall out of the autopilot, but nothing a little electrical tape couldn't fix. Saturday we may get some weather, but nothing serious, just a moderate cold front to cross with 20-30 kt winds, but with wave heights forecasted at less than 3 meters. Mid-week we should be in Australia.
We're back in Noumea after an all too brief sojourn in Vanuatu (Van-WAH-tu), a group of islands a little Northeast of New Caledonia. We didn't have time to sail there and sail to New Cal (as Finn calls it) and make it to Brisbane in time, so we took the short cut by plane. On the flight we had a reminder that we were entering a malaria zone as the stewardess walked up and down the aisle, spraying us for mosquitos. We had hesitated to go to Vanuatu as it is a malaria zone, but we have heard it is more an issue in the rainy season and does not seem to be a current outbreak.
We arrived in Port Vila late on Sunday night, checked in to the Vanuatu Holiday Hotel within walking distance of the downtown. The room was very Spartan, yet clean, with functioning toilet and showers. The kids thought they were in the lap of luxury - despite the 5 dead cockroaches on the floor and under the beds. We congratulated ourselves on our fine selection of hotel since the roaches were dead and not scurrying around the place without care.
We spent a couple days exploring the city, shopping at the farmer's market, playing in the park on the swings, investigating our options for Day 2. We settled on an all day van trip around the island of Efate (Eh-FAR-tey), some traditional dancing, fire walking, sand drawing and snorkeling at a couple beach spots. For lunch we stopped at a restaurant along a rural beach road, a small band (including baby goat) serenaded us while we ate.
On the third day we got up at 4:30am and headed to the airport to fly to tiny Tanna island, home of Mt Yasur (Yah-ZUR), the "world's most accessible volcano." Lucky for us this volcano is on Tanna where the safety rules are a bit more lax. Back in the US, officials would probably stop us miles before the actual volcano and force us view the activity from far away. That was our experience in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii anyway. On Tanna, we stayed at the Tanna Evergreen Resort. We had the family unit, a small plywood house complete with raised concrete flooring, a stinky fridge stocked with frozen meat, a piano and piles of church literature stored in the rafters. It was actually a lovely place and the kids wanted to stay indefinitely.
At 3pm on Wednesday afternoon, our local guide Jack, picked us up in his 4WD truck and we headed out to the volcano. We had been warned that the road was bumpy - teeth rattling was how I'd describe it. After 2 hours of driving partially on paved roadway, and mostly through dirt track in the bush, we arrived at the base of Mt Yasur. The sun was just setting as we hiked up to the rim of the crater. It was moonlike, with gray stand and black lava rock scattered about. Before we saw the eruptions, we heard them. Loud booms, bangs and spurts would come out of nowhere and then we'd look up to see smoke billowing from the mouth of the crater. Once the sun set and darkness fell, we could see that the billowing smoke actually contained bits of molten lava as well. We had quite a light show that night as we sat on a log by the edge of the crater. Jack offered to take us higher up the ridge so we could see down into the crater's mouth - not such a good idea with the kids - but Eric took the challenge and off they went into the darkness, hiking up a somewhat marked trail. Jack and Eric were on the ridge when the largest of eruptions happened, sending a hunk of burning lava up and over their heads!
Not much can top that kind of experience, except a visit to a Kastom (custom, traditional) village on Tanna where the people work very hard to live according to their ancient traditions rather than getting caught up in the modern ideas of schooling, western medicine, jobs for money, etc. For a small fee and with another local guide, we were invited to see how they live. The women showed us how they cook Laplap, a staple in their diet. Laplap is made by grinding banana and tapioca into a mush, then spreading that on leaves, which is then wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled on an open fire. The result is quite good though it may have given me and Eric both a bit of a stomach bug. The men showed us how they start fire by rubbing two pieces of wood together and how they roll their own tobacco. Finn and Sophie joined the kids and climbed up an ancient banyan tree. Sophie came down once the ladder ended, Finn followed the lead of the boys and crawled off the ladder and up the banyan roots for the last 10-20 feet and made it all the way up to the tree house (see the pictures!) This made a big impression on the kids. The visit ended in song and dance. Even the littlest of the boys was in the middle of the dance circle doing his best to keep up. It made me consider how song and dance are such an important part of everyday celebrating in these islands. Back home in the US, we often focus on perfection and precision in order to prepare ourselves to dance or sing for others, leaving the less talented out of the mix altogether. What a shame.
As always, the visit included a chance to look over their traditional handicrafts for purchase. One of the items was a bow and arrow set that a boy Finn's age had made. He showed Finn how to shoot the arrow and that was that - we now have a bow and arrow to stow somewhere on the boat!
The only real drawback with Vanuatu was the potential for malaria, so we bought medicine at the clinic in Port Vila and we have treatment on board should something arise. We did take precautions with bug repellant, long sleeves and pants, and mosquito coils at night so I think we are relatively in the clear, but just in case, we are prepared should something arise.
After surviving accommodations, bumpy rides to volcanoes, watching our child climb 40 ft up into a banyan tree, lathering up with mosquito repellant every day, we thought we were home free the morning we went to the airport to check in for our return flight to Noumea. Not so fast!
The gate agent would not issue our boarding cards because we had no tickets beyond Noumea. He wanted us to prove that we had a way out of the country once we were allowed back in. We didn't think to bring our boat registration or other immigration papers with us. We just assumed that if we originated in New Caledonia and bought a round trip ticket we'd have no problem flying back. In retrospect, we should have worried a little more about this because Eric and I both had to carry a letter from our ship's captain last year when we flew into one place to meet the boat and then flew out of another country once we'd made the passage. This agent was determined not to let us into New Caledonia until we could prove that we would be leaving. Eventually, he referred us to his supervisor and the race with the clock was on - just 1 ½ hours to prove that we could leave Noumea. We thought about calling the Noumea harbor master who could verify that our boat was in their harbor - but they didn't open until 8am and our flight was leaving at 6:30am. Then we thought we could show him our crew list, but we had forgotten our power cord for the laptop we brought and by the time Eric booted it up it was out of battery. We asked if showing him our blog site would work - sure, he said, but he didn't have internet at his terminal so we'd have to go to the café, buy an internet card and log on to one of two (very ancient) machines at a kiosk. We bought the card, tried to log on, but we couldn't get a connection. At that point we were getting desperate, so I asked the supervisor if anyone at all in the airport would possibly have an internet connection. He felt my pain so he took me back into their offices, behind the security door and the luggage checking, and logged on to an office computer. Almost there....but not quite, turns out the internet connection for the entire airport was down. We were almost at the point where we'd have to put up thousands of dollars to buy refundable tickets from Noumea to Seattle, until Eric unearthed one of our boat cards we had made to give people we meet our contact info and blogsite address. The supervisor made a Xerox of the front and back of the card for his files. This little card showing our boat name and the names of each of us seemed to do the trick and suddenly we were back at the gate receiving our boarding passes. Yikes! So, let this be a warning to any cruisers who plan to fly mid-journey....keep your boat registration papers, crew list and first born child with you at all times.
We hear from our weather router that Thursday Oct 14th may be our day to head out. Crossing our fingers and looking forward to reaching Brisbane at last.