03/30/2012, Chub Cay
Three blokes on a boat once more. I dropped Jules of at Freetown airport for an emotional fair well after what was a full on month of prepping the boat and sailing the first passage. Hey Jules, that was a beat month.....especially the Sunday session when I fell off my bike....4 times. I'm missing you. We spent the last two days in a nice hotel in Lucaya Bay while the boys rocked and rolled at anchorage in 15 to 20 knot winds. Free diving for lobster kept them busy. Grand Bahama island doesn't appear very prosperous with same USA scourge of closed down restaurants and shopping centers. Lucaya is like a make believe village...a little fake but very colorful. The people are wonderful...but the opposing getto blasters on beaches and markets does get to you after a while.
After seeing Jules off Mark picked me up in the dingy. I arrived back at the boat all wet but ready to sail. The dingy doesn't like the chop very much and will be upgraded when we find a better one in the islands. windfinder.com is proving to be our best navigation source and we knew from that we had about 12 hrs of 20 knots to get us at least part way to the Berry Islands enroute to Nassau. These islands are supposed to be the best pick for beaches, bays and diving in the whole Bahamas.
I was lucky enough to get first watch and so tacked into the SE winds at speeds of over 10 knots. I tacked after 20nm into both current and waves that gave the sleeping boys a rough time. For another 10nm we cruised at 7knots. I had to make some adjustments to avoid a cruise ship that passed about 400m across our bow. I passed over to Mark at midnight and at sometime after that, as expected the wind died. When I woke at 6.30 this morning (Thursday 29th) the GPS showed only about another 10nm was added to the trip in the previous 6hrs. Frustrated with the sailing Oli was rewarded with another sunrise. With no wind we are motoring the final 20nm to the islands. ETA 10am.
"Easting" is all about edging as far east as possible into the prevailing winds. If we fall west we will end up with a terrible time of trying to sail to the likes of Dominica and Puerto Rico, and onto the Virgin Islands. That is why Cuba isnt on our agenda. Once that far east however we have the prevailing winds to take us right through the Caribbean. Bragging rights goes to the sailer who "Easts" with the least motoring and most comfort. Unfortunately with guests coming and going we have to make good our passages regardless of favorable winds. Once Charlotte boards that will no longer be a priority...we will play in the sand and sea and wait for the wind to take us onwards.
On our way into anchor at Petit Cay at the north most point of the Berry Island, we caught two barracuda (both released) and a Yellow Tail. Then when anchored Oli got the first Lobster and Mark the second...followed by Mark spearing a massive Hog Fish....and she is going on the BBQ whole....if she fits. More lobsters came latter.
This bay is all white sand and turquoise water. You can see fish on the bottom at 15m. We anchored in 2 meters just off the beach with only one other yacht in site. This island has the highest per capiter millionaires in the world. 700 residents all well healed and invisible - perfect.
No wind and so the water is glass. It looks like Ooroo is sitting right on the bottom. Too shallow to dive in. But it's 2 m deep. I had my first skinny dip, soap up and rinse. I may have to change into fresh boardies....one day.
24hrs latter, swimming, cleaning and a few running repairs and we are off. Leaving our first pristine bay of what shall be one of hundreds when we return. Oli, Mark and I agree that it is the clearest water any of us have ever seen. Thats saying something when you consider the places we have collectively visited.
Once again tacking into the SE at 7-8 knots.
FISH....was the call only 10 mins ago. Oli had a big one on and so the drill is to pull in the jib and turn into the wind. The fish dragged Oli right down the port hull. Before he gained control and dragged it back to me waiting on the swim deck with a gaff. Oli won....just. We hauled in a meter long Barracuda....which bit me when we released her. We are avoiding eating Barracuda due to Ciguatera. A disease none of us want to get that is prevalent in large fish that feed off smaller reef fish. You can be violently ill for a week and then have symptoms that can last for a year or more... Google it....not nice.
That was the third fish we caught since we left the bay only two hours ago. The first, a 3kg tuna like fish, just came off the BBQ (our first BBQ at sea). The second was another Yellow Tail..we ate that already. Filleted and served raw with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy. Very nice.
We are following the crescent shaped Berry Island chain...destination Chub Cay. We will overnight there and head to Nassau tomorrow for a Saturday night in the big smoke.
Now approaching Chubby (??) with the sun setting (19.30), we had several more fish hooked...all lost due to the size of the things. One I tried to land leap skywards several times before shaking me off. We will be eating well wherever we go. Mark cooked up the last of the Lobster ....as toasted sandwiches. Sacrilege...you may say. Mark says we will have so much lobster that we will be continually finding other unique ways to cook them. I'm thinking Lobster Roast with Yorkshire Pudding for Sunday....with Champaign Gravy.
We started to clean Charlottes room for Sara's stay. I installed some LED mood lights. It's been the tool room for so long that we needed to get it femanised (sorry Dakota) for such important guests.
Anchored in darkness at 20.30...the boys are washing in the dark water (Oli stinks).
We are thinking.....shall we motor in and see if this Friday night in Chubby has night life? Oli smells ok now so we go.
We went. Found an air conditioned bar....didn't like it but was directed to the 'local'. And met a local with 26 kids, another with 9...they know a guy who had 270....all different mothers. He is also a fisherman so maybe he exaggerated. But at least we now know why they call it Chubby.
03/24/2012, Great Bahamas Island
We had a mad last day (Tuesday 20th) in St Augustine. Mark and Skip finalized engines, electrical and whatever else needed doing. Skip kindly donated his last day of labour to the cause....thanks to the Tennessee stud for everything. Oli swobbed decks all day.....brilliantly. It's so nice to get the remnants of the work we have been doing all washed away. I ran around town collecting the last of our required spares and had a quick fair well lunch to St Augustine with Jules.
We motored out of the lift bridge at 6.30pm, leaving Oli on he the dock with his surf board in hand and a smile on his face. He was off to a last fair well to his surfing buddy Jen. Mark and I anchored just 50m from the old Spanish Fort for the night and dined on a Jules curry. Oli was back on board by eleven.....still smiling.
The night was calm except for a depth alarm going off at 1am. We didn't have an issues with the shallow waters, just that the setting on the alarm was set too fine. It did impinge my sleep thou. It mad me think of all the little thing that could go wrong on the three day passage to the Bahamas....and the 12 month passage to Australia.
It's funny to think however that this will be one of our most challenging crossing until be hit the pacific. The winds are not favorable and most other island hops will be under 24hrs....many will be pleasant day sails.
Wed 20th - Mark, Oli and I got up with the sun at 7am. We weighed anchor and against the tide motored out of the river into the big wide world.
Within an hour we had our sails set for 200nm trip south down the Florida coast.
As an aside, we got our clearance papers to depart the USA for the Jacksonville ports authority. We paid $19 and showed the ships papers. No one wanted our passports. So here we a sailing out of the US without being stamped out....and we were told this is normal?
We expected 10 to 20 knots from the east, but got 25 from the south east....the exact direction we a heading. We had to reef the main within the first hour of sailing. The next two hours where a roller coaster ride. With speed over 10knots and we tacked every hour to avoid the beach to the west and a whale migratory no go zone to the east. Our SSB mount didn't like it and gave way within the first hour. We saved the antenna but......who makes this stuff. It's purpose was to carry an antennae on a boat.
It's now 5pm and we have made it 35nm....great speed but the tacking is slowing us down. We a now about to spend our first night at sea. Winds are now 15knots and they will lighten over night. The tacking will continue. Both dolphins and turtles have paid us visits along the way
Oli is on the helm and loving it. Mark has a line out the back and a book in hand, Jules is so chilled out she may be dead.....for a first time sailer she is amazing. No sickness no complaints. I'm about to feed the crew.
I took the first watch from 8pm until 1am. The boat didn't go a under 6 knots. I tacked longer crossing the northern right whales zone. It's no issue to do this however weather reports also request we report injured whales.....so I didn't want to injure one of them or they, us.
Daytona was lit up like a cheap Christmas tree as we sailed past. So I tacked out to sea. We have all now learnt to tack Ooroo unassisted. My first night tack went like a dream but the second required a wake up call to Mark to assist in untangling the sheets from the mast winch. This is a design fault, but we are learning to work with it now.
While I slept through the first 5hrs of The 21st, Mark had the watch. The winds had dropped and was uneventful. Oli was on when I woke at 6.30. Still dark he was in his element and was taking Ooroo further from land.....the stars are better there.
We have now been sailing for 24hrs and am only 60nm....40 behind schedule. The wind is at 10 knots and the engines are now humming away.
One of my favorite sayings is "If you have a plan, something can go wrong". That worked for me over the past few years. In sailing it's more like "if you have a plan, change it, change it and change it again until it goes right".
Cape Canaveral is dead ahead. We can see the launching pads. Short of any rocket launches today it looks to be a light and sunny motor sail....south.
Now 10hrs latter as we rest the engines and as the sun sets we discussed the lack of boat traffic....even when we cruised 1nm into the restricted waters of the Kennedy Pace Centre we saw no dark security vessels. And then three huge cruise ships in convoy passed us within 500 meters. They weren't flagged nor brandishing any exotic ships names. It was Jules on the binoculars that saw written on the side was "Church of Scientology". Now folks, that's more than 6000 people heading our way. What was I saying about having plans?
Dolphins played on our bow at sunset. Oli got some nice shots.
It's now 1.30am Friday morning and what do I see...but two of the ships that passed us earlier. They are anchored about 20nm off shore. Secrete Scientology business I guess. Tapping into the power of the Gulf Stream. Time for a cuppa.
I woke at 7.30am to dad, dad, dad, dad. Its not a nice way to wake....panic was in Oli's voice. I'm thinking, collision, fire, whatever. It was Tuna. Sashimi quality. It was breakfast.
After the catch the wind changed further SE and we could sail again. Under sail we are doing 6knots. The engines only give us 4.
We expect the wind to change to the south but I'm not getting to excited....however we are now just 6 hours from our turn to the east and the Bahamas. Only 6 hrs behind the first schedule. Then we would love a southern breeze.
We sighted more dolphins and turtles. Pleasure craft of immense value started appearing as we approached Palm Beach. We sailed past divers, fishermen. Charter boats and major container ships.
Saturday 24th - Oli woke me at 3am for my watch. We are only three hours from our destination...West End, Grand Bahama Island. The crossing started at 6pm. We left the opulent Palm Beach behind with the setting sun and within 30 minutes hit the gulf stream. I had the helm and played with the forces of wind, current and engines to maintain our bearing. Marks watch was much the same starting from 9pm. We lost some wind then and motored on. The current quickly lessened. We had crossed he stream in hours. Oli stayed on deck with me so we could hoist full sails for my watch. We are now going 7knots with lights clearly visible at our destination. It's so good having Mark and Oli on board. Natural sailers. Oli for someone who has never sailed has taken to it so easily. Setting sails to perfection and remembering the small stuff.....he babies the sails and the engines. Two captains and two admirals in his blood is showing dividends. Mark is quick to recognize any issue and fixes it almost by reflex. I can learn lots here.
The wind was so good we arrived outside the Harbour and hour early. I have de-powered the sail and am letting Mark get and extra half hours kip before we enter on the rising sun. I even have time for a spell check. I bet I still get it very wrong.
It smells like camp fires. This is the first sense that we are indeed in a different country.
We pulled into customs at 7 and refueled Ooroo all before 8. Such an easy process. We are now flying the Bahamas flag next to the Aussie and Pom one. I'm finishing this blog on the beach 20m from Ooroo's berth. Jules, next to me is on the iPad doing office work in via Noosa. It certainly piled up after 84hrs on board. Oli and Mark have gone spear fishing in the dingy at an adjacent Cay. Very surreal.
03/19/2012, St Augustine
Tomorrow night or he following morning we depart the shores of Florida on a heading for Freetown in the Bahamas. The first in the journey back to Australia.
We plan on sailing 200nm south from St Augustine before changing our heading east for another 80nm to the Bahamas. The trip could take us two days. The weather and win look fine. The sail south is expected to be in 10 to 15 knot winds. It will be very pleasant indeed. The trip east will hopefully be at on angle of 50 to 60 degrees into the wind. We know Ooroo handles that well. However we will have the gulf stream to cross. To expedite this crossing we will probably run the engines. It apparently is not a very nice place to be if the winds turn to the North. The Current runs at about 3knots north. And so it will be trying to push us back up here if we don't navigate our course well.
Jules flys home from Freetown (Grand Bahamas) on the 28th and so will have great week with us in the Bahamas....she will be missed by us all. We will then sail south to Nassau (New Providence Is) to pick up cousin Sara on the 2nd. The female influence is so needed on board. After a week of spring break action, we head further south for two weeks of wonderful sailing to George Town (Great Exuma Is) to pick up Charlotte and Dakota on the 22nd. Then we still head south east. We are not sure were Dakota will depart the good ship Ooroo after spending a month with us. We suspect it will be Dominica republic, Puerto Rico or maybe will get to the Virgin Islands. That will be his little surprise.
We have had delays and so anything can happen. But with the weather looking like it is right now, I can't but feel confident that between now and Charlotte coming on board, all will be peasant and well deserved sailing. So good.
03/16/2012, St Augustine FL
10 knots from the east, no cloud and a beautiful 26 Celsius. We took Ooroo for a trial sail in the wide open seas.
Skip came along and notices instantly the starboard engine wasn't pumping water. We shut that down to fix the pump another day. The good thing with Cats is that we have two engines.
Yesterday our very expensive inverter also shat itself. The second brand new piece of equipment to not work. That means a wait til Monday or Tuesday to have the new one arrive.
Anyway....we sailed, dolphins escorted us down the river, we passed through the lift bridge and navigated out of the mouth. That alone is an hour and a half trip.
The sails went up, we calibrated our auto pilot we relaxed with a the 10 knots pushing us along at 6 knots. We tested Ooroo at all angles to the wind. To our surprise, fully loaded she sailed extremely well at up to 40 degrees into the wind. I was always told the Fontaines are fast boats except when loaded.
We have a years supply of various food items, 70 steaks, 100 chicken thighs, snags, mince and bacon (just in case Mark isn't the fisherman we actually expect he is). We have full tanks of water and diesel plus 150 litters extra of each, and of course beer and wine.....and she still sailed beautifully.
Jules relaxes on deck and I played with the new toy under the watchful guidance of Skip while Oli and Mark kept jumping overboard.....and then catching a stern line to pull themselves back in. Imagine doing that in pacific 1000nm from land. It will happen.
Oli and Mark swam ashore in St Augustine as we passed the old Spanish Fort to pick up there bikes left rather drunkenly the night before. Skip and I sailed all the way back down the river and onto the dock. I wasn't ever shown how to sail onto a dock..the wind just blow us right on while Skip tied off. Who needs an engine.
So delays and progress all in the same day. Fun and sun - what a sail. Thanks Skip and crew.
03/15/2012, St Augustine FL
We are into the third day of absolutely beautiful sailing weather and yet we wait for the last few items to be shipped and installed before we take Ooroo down the coast of Florida to West Palm Beach and make the crossing of the infamous Gulf Stream to the Bahamas with Mark and Jules on board.
It's Thursday and the weather should hold until Monday. Our plan is to move Ooroo to the outside of the Bridge of Lions, lift bridge on Friday. Anchor overnight and depart very early Saturday morning. Today we get our customs clearance, yesterday we purchased $1000 of provisions and the day before that we topped up fuel and water. Ooroo will never again be heavier than she is right now.
I have had a chance to explore some of Florida with Jules. Jules arrived into Miami on the 5th and we spent a wonderful 3 days in the Art Deco, South Beach area. The wind made beach going unpleasant so we wined and dined non stop. We then drove down to Key West, a town that rivals St Augustine in appeal and equals the West Coast Hwy1 coastal drive. Long bridges, turquoise water and glaringly white beaches verses the rugged cliffs, wild oceans and winding roads of the West. This is a great country for driving. We slowley headed back to northern Florida via the austintacious Palm Beach, the contrsting down trodded West Palm Beach to the Cape Canaveral Space Centre. Then we got mixed up in the traffic created by 10,000 Harley Davidsons converging on Daytona for Bike Week. Needless to say we kept driving through Daytona ending up at a cheap and cheerful beachside motel before heading back to St Augustine to do the finishing touches on Ooroo.
Meanwhile, my lovely daughter turned 18. I have now managed to miss both my kids 18ths due to travel but will more than make up for that with some on board celebrations. Oli will also have his 21st on board in July. As if we need a reason to party
03/03/2012, St Augustine FL
My words haven't been with me lately....that and the distraction of this great town of St Augustine and the huge amount of works we have done on board. We have had Skip Reynolds fully employed to install all the new you-beaut electronics. I had the job of being up the mast installing the radar in high winds and rain today...warm rain. Thats the job for the little guy.
Oli insulated the new DC refrigeration, Mark replaced bilges with automatic ones and retired most of the dodgy electronics. We have had rigging fixed and even cleaned the carpets. One more large job to do is lifting the port engine to fix an oil leak in the sail drive and a small job of wiring the solar. Then we will be able to stow the tools, clean the boat all in time for Jules arrival.
I meet Jules in Miami on Monday to have a much needed catch up after 3 months on the road. We plan to drive the Key Lago and the back up here. That will take a week...then...... we sail. Yep thats what we are here to do. Not sit in a marina, but to hoist the sails up our 63 foot mast and head offshore.
Charlottes is primed to come join us in April. She would have turned 18 without me and it will be the longest we have ever been apart. I so can't wait to see her, hear her guitar and voice. I would have achieved my aim of being in a lovely boat in the Caribbean and having both my kids on board. Charlotte and boyfriend Dakota will be in for some exciting sailing. We had expected to be much further south for there arrival but now should still be in the Bahamas.
And again an interruption to this blog...as a result of Marks surfboard blowing overboard I had a to dive for it. A well meaning motor boat tried to pick it up but almost took out the new Ooroo signage in their effort. . Not a nice thing to do in a marina...swim that is. Got to look about for floaties.
Now showered, with beer in hand and Oli's beloved Radiohead playing out of our kick arse stereo I can relax. Now.....all those people who know me well......yes I can relax.
Oli takes possession of his surfboard via a very nice surfer chick who will drop it off in an hour or so. It's my meager 21st birthday gift to him. That and a sail across the pacific. What will be the ultimate location of his July 10th birthday? Will our oven handle a cake, will we even be able to sit down and enjoy it. It's the not knowing that is the reason for this journey. Do we even know ourselves?
Well this has been a bit of an all over the place Blog....sorry about that. But at risk I am about to continue that theme but telling you all a bedtime story. If you fall asleep reading it then it served it purpose. Charlotte edited my awful gramma and spelling. Its my first attempt at writing since primary school. It's also a story theme that I use to tell Oli and Charlotte as kids. Until know they have never been written. Sleep well.
THE SANDCASTLE STORIES
"The First Discovery"
By Richard "Dad" McLeod
Oli and Charlotte had spent hours in the sand pit at the back of the garden, and what a beautiful garden it was. The sand pit was huge...well, doesn't everything look huge when you're 7 and 9 years old? And the sand within it's wooden confines was as white as snow, but very dry in the hot Australian summer. It was December and the lawn was brittle brown but the roses and fruit trees looked wonderfully alive.
Oli had run the hose from the tap near the house and filled up three big buckets with cool water. "This is how we build a great sandcastle..." Charlotte watched as he turned on the tap..."add a little water to the sand to make it strong like the house...and drink a little as well!"
"Yeah...we can't make a good sandcastle if we die of thirst" said Charlotte.
Charlotte and Oli were right...it was very hot. Dad made sure these little builders had hats and sunblock, but he really didn't need to. Charlotte learned from the previous summer...she was so badly burnt that she cried herself to sleep for nights on end! Oli remembers it so well. "Don't be a baby Charlotte. Just because your redder than the belly of a black snake, it can't hurt that much". But he knew that it hurt, he just liked to talk tough sometimes, so he wasn't going to let that happen to Charlotte or himself again.
Charlotte new exactly the sandcastle she wanted to build. She had a wonderful imagination. She stated by drawing a large circle in the sand and dug a big hole in the middle. "This will be the dungeon here," she said. They then placed spikes from the rose bush around the hole and covered it with leaves.
"That will keep the bad guys inside alright," noted Oli as if talking to himself. He did that a lot, which Charlotte liked, because sometimes he would say something really stupid and she could have a good belly laugh at him.
They then mixed the water and sand in a bucket. When the sand was like mud they turned the bucket upside down on the circle that Charlotte had drawn. They did this 8 times. These were the turrets of the castle. From the top of the turrets the soldiers could stand with their bow and arrows to defend the king and queen who would be all tucked up inside.
Between the turrets they made smaller walls of sand and water, sticking small sharp sticks about as long as their little fingers into the top of the walls to stop the bad guys climbing over. They made a gate out of two pieces of wood from dads shed. Already everything looked so real.
Charlotte cut holes in a shoebox for doors and windows and put them in their rightful places. After all, the king and queen needed a palace...and what a palace it was! Their mum had all these expensive shoes, and they came in the most wonderful cardboard boxes! This one was gold and silver in colour, and had stars on the side that were purplish pink and big words fittingly spelling out 'Windsor'. "The real king and queen have a castle called that!" Charlotte was happy with her creation already.
They finished off by adding a small mote around the outside and used some more wood from dad's shed as a bridge. It was a drawbridge that could be lifted by imaginary ropes to allow the soldiers to cross. No one would ever swim in the mote because it was full of crocodiles...well, they imagined it was anyway.
When finished, Oli was all covered in wet sand and Charlotte looked like she had been freshly showered. How is it that some girls always look so squeaky-clean? She was actually really dirty but she just didn't look it. They stood back and admired the sandcastle. "It's so magical!" Charlotte was in awe.
"It's so real!" Oli added, and what happened next was truly mysterious. Charlotte said the magic words...although she didn't know they were magic yet.
"I wish we could live in there..."
That was when the magic started. The sandcastle started to grow! Or was it that Oli and Charlotte started to shrink? This would freak out most kids...but not these two. As it happens, they were in fact shrinking! The water buckets were now like rainwater tanks and the garden hose looked like a massive tree trunk curled up and twisted on the sand. The castle itself was so large that Charlotte and Oli were eventually standing in its shadow. Charlotte, as cool as a cucumber, breathed a sigh of relief. "It's nice to be out of the sun!" Oli, on the other hand, was speechless.
"That's a change," thought Charlotte.
Usually, this garden would be full of lots of amazing animals...most of them cute and cuddly. But when you're only 5cm tall they can be seriously scary! Oli saw it first..."RUN!" he yelled, and without another word they hightailed it to the drawbridge with a huntsman spider in hot pursuit. When you're big, a huntsman is bigger than your hand and scary. When you're small it's like being chased by an eight legged spaceship! Huntsmen have sharp fangs, which Oli knew only too much about. When he was younger and sillier, he mischievously picked one up so he could hide it in Charlotte's lunchbox. Of course, it bit him, and of course, it hurt! The drawbridge was down but as they approached, it stated to lift. There were soldiers on the other side and they didn't want this Huntsman turning them into lunch either! Oli and Charlotte ran even faster...and at the last minute, they jumped.
Charlotte gripped the drawbridge's edge like a spider-monkey (speaking of spiders!) She was dangling with her toes just above the water, her hat now slowly floating towards the water like a feather in the wind.
"Your hat!" Yelled Oli. To his horror, it didn't even make it to the water. A gecko snapped at it in mid-air before disappearing below the murky water. Oli grabbed hold with one hand and swung himself to the top of the fast rising bridge. He just loved to show off! When he saw the gecko rise in the water he went white...now is not the time to be a smarty-pants. He grabbed Charlotte by the hand and they both clambered over the now upright drawbridge and down the other side to safety. Or so they thought.
It wasn't their sandcastle anymore! A soldier not much taller than them stood with a crossbow aimed menacingly towards them. It's funny the thoughts that go through one's mind at a time like this. Oli was thinking, "hey! I own you. I made you!" while Charlotte was wondering why his uniform of old sheets and tin foil looked so home made, and why the cross bow looked so very real.
"Come with me," he said in a kid-like voice, which reflected exactly what he was...a kid. Oli and Charlotte looked at each other and then back at the soldier, and after some thought they decided to do as they were told...for once.
The castle was truly beautiful in a medieval sort of way. The turrets were now solid stone. The castle doors, which stood meters above their heads, slowly opened. Inside there was so much activity. Snails pulled carts along narrow streets. Stalls were loaded with barrels and sacks to sell. Bare foot Soldiers marched in columns and were all dressed like Oli and Charlotte's captor. Women and children wandered around just like in real life, except for one thing. They were all the same size! Listening to them talk was really funny. Mums, dads, soldiers and kids all sounded just like them...like children!
The place was alive, and another kid now accompanied the little soldier. Oli and Charlotte could tell the new kid was the boss because he stuck his little chest out as far as it would go and tried with all his might to make his voice sound deeper. "Who are you and what are you doing in MY castle!" He bellowed.
Charlotte hoped that Oli wouldn't give a silly answer like, "we were just looking for the lolly shop, "or "what...this isn't our school?" So she got in first.
"I'm Charlotte and we come in peace" Oli looked at her in a 'that-was-a-lame-thing-to-say' sort of way. She glared right back at him.
"We are here because we built this place and a huge spider wanted us for lunch," said Oli, a little annoyed that they didn't give he or Charlotte credit for creating the home in which they live. Instead of thanking him, the tough little soldier stuck his chest out even further (if that's possible) and demanded they be taken to the dungeon. Not a very friendly place it seemed.
When they arrived in the dungeons, Charlotte realized she had designed them better than she thought. The rose thorns looked incredibly sharp and the leaves were like steel. There was a heavy door with chains and locks and beyond it was a windowless, dank space as small as Charlottes bedroom and as dirty as Oli's. Charlotte was furious. "Those...those KIDS can't do this to me!" Anyone who knew her would know better than to make her angry, as Oli had learnt when he put that snappy spider in her lunchbox. If she could only bring those emotions on now it would surely help them escape.
The thing about sandcastles is that they are - well - made from sand, and remembering that fact, Charlotte formed a plan. "Dig" she whispered towards Oli. And he did, which was probably the first time he ever did what his little sister told him to do. Although he didn't show it, he was now getting a little scared himself.
Oli had already dug a small hole in the sand when he suddenly stopped in his tracks, fear spreading across his face. "What is it?" asked Charlotte, noticing his skin turn pasty white.
"The sand is moving!" he shrieked, and with that he jumped backwards, almost into Charlotte's arms. She started to giggle, but not long after her smile withered as she saw what Ollie had seen. Slithering out of the hole was a massive worm!
It was huge! As round as Oli's waist and longer than both of them if one was standing on the other's shoulders. It came towards them, slowly and threateningly filling the dungeon and pushing Charlotte and Oli back towards the corner. It was very dark, almost pitch black, but Charlotte remembered that earthworms live beneath the ground and can't see. The worm moved quietly past them as if not noticing the two kids, shivering in their little boots. "Go away!" Oli squeaked, holding on tight to his little sisters arm. Charlotte liked seeing this side of him...he wasn't so tough anymore. All of a sudden, as if it had heard what Oli had said, the worm slithered through the sand wall opposite and disappeared into the ground again. Suddenly confident again, Oli shouted in the direction of the worm, "That's right you stinking worm, I'm the king of this dungeon!"
"Let's follow it!" Charlotte said, enthused.
"You're kidding me" said Oli, shrinking down again.
But Charlotte wasn't kidding. She was smart. As the worm disappeared it left in its wake a small tunnel. The only problem was, Charlotte remembered learning that earthworms eat the sand as they travel and poo it out behind them. Yuck! This was NOT going to be fun. They slithered and slimed after the worm. It was hot and smelled like sand after a rainstorm. Better than smelling like poo.
"This may just work!" thought Oli, and in less than ten minutes the worm had made it's way into another room.
Now Charlotte looked really dirty. The room was unlocked but equally dark, and as they opened the door, the worm continued into the wall opposite to resume its sandy journey to, well, who knows? Just like the worm, Oli and Charlotte had to keep moving. They made their way to a door on the other side of the dark room. Oli pushed at it and it opened without a struggle.
The light was blinding, but as their eyes adjusted they realized they had made it outside! They could see the castle just a short distance away and figured that they could hide where they were until dark. But Oli's belly was rumbling, and he wanted to make a break for the outside world before he missed his lunch. Charlotte remembered making a door at the back of the palace, and she also knew that she built the walls smaller at the back. The thing is...when you make a sandcastle, you tend to make the part you can see better than the part you can't. They headed that way.
The palace was open and inviting. Oli and his rumbling belly lead the way while Charlotte kept a sharp lookout for soldiers. They crept through an amazing array of cluttered rooms. You could tell that they had really nice stuff inside, but the mess was astounding. "This entire castle looks like a kiddies play room" Charlotte said as she tried her best not to sit down and start playing. It was no time to be a kid, that's for sure.
Peaking into one room they saw a couple of messy looking kids dressed like a prince and princess. Unlike in fairy tales, these guys we're not the sort you would fall in love with at first sight. In fact, they reminded Oli of warty little cane toads! Food scraps sat at their dirty little feet and broken toys littered the floor. An unmade bed was hardly visible under the weight of dirty clothes.
Suddenly, the two sets of puffy eyes turned and spotted them. It was time to run again. The prince and princess struggled to find their feet while they tried to yell, croaking like frogs instead. The food that they had stuffed into their mouths fell out in yucky lumps. Charlotte and Oli let out a chuckle as they ran past the slow, lazy, muted kids.
Running towards the back door, they could see freedom only meters away. The wall was lower and didn't have as many sharp sticks to slow their climb...but they were now clearly visible from the turrets.
The alarms were raised and bells started ringing. Surely this was the alarm to bring all the soldiers out in hot pursuit of the little escapees? They could hear much commotion all around the castle, along with cries of fear, but why weren't they being chased?
Whatever was happening elsewhere in the castle was distracting the soldiers! "Score!" yelled Oli...they had an easy climb to safety. The slow moving prince and princess hadn't even bothered to chase them, but Oli and Charlotte were positive they would tell someone the direction they had gone soon, so they climbed.
The sand was dry like soft rock, allowing them to make toe holes effortlessly, and the wall had a gentle slope, making it easier to climb. The sticks at the top we're loose, so they pushed them out and over the other side of the wall. All that was left now was the jump down the other side, which looked scary, but Oli and Charlotte threw themselves into the air without a second thought. They were free, or so they thought. Up until now, they had forgotten about the mote.
Charlotte led the way around the castle, making sure they stayed in the shadows of the walls. When they were in sight of the drawbridge, they could also see what the warning bells were for.
A scorpion with a razor-sharp, poisonous spike in its tail had scurried across the drawbridge!
"Why is it that scurrying animals are always the most sickening?" Charlotte thought as they watched it in horror. Oli was thinking the same thing. It was shiny black and had dark holes for eyes.
"Gross," he said.
A split second later, the soldiers attacked. Arrows filled the air and came raining down on the scorpions armored back. It didn't slow. A very brave soldier went to meet the scorpion with nothing more than a spear and shield. The scorpion was ruthless. With one slow flick of its tail the soldier went flying through the air. "The drawbridge is down!" Oli said, "let's skedaddle." And they did. Once on the bridge they turned to watch the fight. Out from the castle's main door came a very distinguished knight, riding yet another scurrying animal...a rat.
"Ewe!" said Charlotte, screwing up her nose, but although the knight was riding a rat, she couldn't ignore that he was brave. The rat charged the scorpion with the knight holding on tight to a long lance. He hit the scorpion at full pace, the lance piercing its shell. With the pain of the blow the scorpion spun around, hurling the knight to the ground only meters from Charlotte's feet. The scorpion approached the knight, its lethal tail cutting through the air, ready to strike the now defenseless knight. It's funny how things this serious seem to play back in slow motion. Funny, but no one was laughing.
Charlotte saw an opportunity. The lance was still sticking out of the scorpion's side, which provoked its intent on injecting its poison into the knight. Without thinking, Charlotte pounced on the lance, pushing it further into the scorpion's side. Oli, realizing her plan, joined in to add strength to the task. The scorpion wasn't happy. It spun and heaved and scurried out of control, it's legs buckling with the effort and pain. And then the tail struck.
The spike missed Charlotte by inches and imbedded itself into the wooden bridge. Oli went for the lance again, assisted now by the upright, but still slightly groggy knight. The scorpion tried to turn but was held back by the imbedded lance, and it slowly began to fall sideways. Oli and the knight, using all their strength and might, pushed the lance one final time. The scorpion fell from the bridge.
"Splash!" It appeared from the bridge that there were more than just child-eating geckos in the water. The mote bubbled and churned as the scorpion slowly succumbed to the frantic feeding frenzy below. Oli and Charlotte found each other, both looking dirtier and hungrier than ever. Everything was still and quiet.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a very familiar and cheering voice.
"Oli, Charlotte!" It was their dad, calling from the house. "Lunchtime!"
The two grubby kids started to grow, the shadow of the castle receded, and the hose resumed to its normal size, along with the bucket, that started to look just like a bucket should. And the sandcastle, well, it was simply a sandcastle.
"Let's eat!" said Charlotte, making her way inside.
"Dad won't like that you lost your hat!" Oli called after her, his tummy churning as he imagined what their dad had made them for lunch today.
"We can go back tomorrow and find it..."
"Oh no we won't!" Oli protested.
But both he and Charlotte knew they would be back...there was more to be discovered within the sandy walls of their new-found world.