We flew out of LAX on February 6 and arrived in Australia on February 8 (due to an overnight flight and crossing the date line). We had taken the bus from Bundaberg to Brisbane on our trip home so we thought we might like to try the train on the return trip. Researching schedules while back in the US we found that the trains weren't running to Bundaberg due to flooding of the tracks. So it was going to be the bus again. We were advised to purchase our bus tickets once we arrived as plane schedules change and there were plenty of buses each day and empty seats on every bus. From the Brisbane airport we took the Airtrain to the Central Transit Center. It wasn't a long walk from baggage claim to the airtrain but with nearly 90 pounds of boat supplies, whenever we couldn't use a baggage cart (known as a trolley in Oz), it was a challenge. Thank goodness Dennis' knees were up to the task! Once there we asked for the next bus to Bundaberg and we were told that that would be a long wait as they weren't running until March as now the roads were too flooded. But the train had just restarted its run the day before. Lucky for us! We had several hours to wait and so we started to call hotels in Bundaberg as we would be arriving too late to go to the marina. One after another they reported being booked due to emergency personnel that had come into the area to help with flood recovery. They were trying to be helpful though, saying they had an email list where they were sharing info on who had openings. But with each subsequent call...no room at the inn. We decided we might have to go to the marina and try to scale the fence to get onto the boat! It was quite a pleasant train ride, until near the end when a young couple boarded who were either high on life or some controlled substance and were laughing loudly and dancing in their seats right immediately in front of us. In addition, the conductor announced that the train had slowed from 60 kmh to 20 kmh due to a technical difficulty with wheel traction -didn't even want to ask what that meant! But there was lots of room and we could move about. We didn't get into Bundaberg until 11:00pm. Jimmy, a taxi driver, took us under his wing and said he knew of several hotels outside of town that likely had spots and he would drive us around until we got a room. The first hotel had a cancellation and one room available for the night. Lucky us! After travelling for what we estimated was about 32 hours, we slept well. Jimmy came back early the next morning to take us over to the marina.
Libertad had been moved from dry storage to the working yard so that we could live on it and do some boat projects. Given that we have to climb a 14 foot vertical ladder to get on the boat, Dennis rigged up a harness for Virginia to use so that if she lost her footing she wouldn't fall all the way to the ground, but dangle on the end of the line about three feet from the concrete. When she complained that it was awkward and the line was getting underfoot, she was reminded that she had made Dennis promise to wear similar gear each time he left the cockpit at night to adjust sails on the forward deck; her complaining ended quickly as she didn't want him to go back on that promise. The boat is not located very close to the restroom (especially when they lock the vehicle gate) and the fact that we must scale a ladder each trip is a combination that we hope we do not have to endure long -those late night and early morning runs to the restroom are quite tedious. We just hope that there will be a slip for us when we are ready to go back into the water. Every day another boat is being hauled back from being washed down the river and either put into the marina or hauled out and put in dry storage.
Our friends Brian and Juliet on SeaWings are still here. They stayed in the marina through the cyclone and had a wild ride. They saw houses, boats, and lots of debris floating downriver with the 40 knot current. The Mid-Town Marina further up the river, near downtown Bundaberg, was totally demolished in the flooding. It was located on the riverside with a rail system for hauling boats, so when the river rose 15 feet, everything there was washed away. We had considered leaving our boat there because the cost would have been significantly less, but worried because it didn't look as secure as the Port Marina. When we asked about the possibility of a flood, they tried to assure us that they adequately secured boats by tying them to trees -hmmm. In the end, when we provided specs on our boat, they said Libertad was too big for them to handle. Lucky us! When we walked down to the slips to visit SeaWings our first day back we were surprised to see that the marina had lost a few slips on the end of the last finger - and one of those spots was where we had been before we decided it would be safer to haul the boat out to dry storage. We were stunned to see a sunken sailboat in the spot where we had been housed (see photo above). Again, lucky us! While we hated to miss Thanksgiving in the US with family, we are so glad we took the time first to wait out a good weather window to get to Australia and then to research the best place to leave the boat.
SeaWings bought a car and have really gotten to know the area. They have been generously driving us around and are a wealth of local information. Our first outing was a sight-seeing tour to show the areas hardest hit by the flooding and all the damage done to the residents. Of course with similar flooding only a few years ago, no one has been able to get flood insurance and it's heart-wrenching to see the loss. But many businesses are getting back on their feet and we've been able to go out to dinner several times allowing us to catch up on our separate adventures, where we went home to the US to visit family and they had family visiting here. Juliet has now left to go back to the UK for a few months to visit family and friends. Brian is working so he stayed behind. He's a boat builder so he'll be a good consultant for some of our projects and we'll enjoy having a friend here.
Boat projects are proceeding, though slowly. Dennis has started removing the rigging, which we need to do in stages so that we continue to support the masts and have a reference for tuning the new rigging. It's another part of the boat that he will soon know intimately. The boatyard could not recommend a rigger in Bundaberg, so we have to send our old rigging to Brisbane where the rigger will measure it and swage fittings onto new wire to match and send it back. Fortunately Dennis had planned on removing and installing the rigging himself, so that has balanced the extra cost of shipping it to Brisbane. We want to get the bow pulpit and swim step that was damaged in the Marquesas repaired but there seems to be only one stainless steel welder in Bundaberg and with all the damage caused by the flood, he is booked up for weeks. With the flood waters, mosquitos and other nasty flying creatures have become a real nuisance. So securing the boat from mosquitos quickly rose to the top of the project list (and we purchased a bug zapper to assist). We also need to send our liferaft to Brisbane to be serviced (need to do that every two years). Virginia has taken measurements of the salon seating and started her search for fabric locally to do her reupholstering project. The original 1982 harvest gold upholstery is finally giving out after two years of constant liveaboard use. It's exciting shopping for new fabric but we can tell it's going to be quite a large project. The boot stripe (the waterline stripe) and the bottom needs repainting and Dennis wants to do much of that work himself for future reference. And the list goes on.
It's windy and raining today so Dennis won't be going up the mast to continue the rigging project. We'll take the bus into town to check on fabric options and work off our growing list of pieces and parts we need to purchase. We hope to get our projects done this month so that we can spend March doing some land travel in Australia and/or New Zealand. Virginia is spending time researching routes we can take in eastern Australia to see the most in the shortest amount of time.
Our plans for getting to the Med are getting a bit firmer. The Seven Seas freighter that we thought was our best bet is leaving from Phuket, Thailand May 15. Since we can't leave here until April 1, we were worried we wouldn't have enough time to get there. Turns out that they have a pickup in Singapore, which is a little closer to Australia, and it's at a little later date, May 20. There are rules in Singapore harbor that require us to hire a pilot to steer our boat in the commercial side of the port, but it may be a more doable timeframe.
New wildlife sightings on our first day back in Oz. As we were driving to dinner with Brian and Juliet, we saw the sky darken with what we at first thought was a migration of thousands of birds. There was a solid stream of them crossing over from the other side of the river. We pulled the car over to watch. There was no end in sight and upon closer inspection we saw that they were flying foxes, aka fruit bats. For about fifteen minutes we watched the estimated population of between 100,000 - 200,000 fill the sky. After an Internet search we discovered that the bats originally took up residence in Gayndah at Christmas time (a township further up the Burnett River) but have since moved down river here to Bundaberg in search of food. They are somewhat controversial as the local fruit farmers want to guard their crops but the bats are a protected species, being an important environmental element as pollinators.
Our son and his family enjoy the song of frogs each spring as rain fills the marshy preserve near their home. We don't have frogs here but rather a variety of toads that are quiet, but quite bold and do not flee upon approach. We have seen bright green ones and brown ones (or maybe they can turn colors for camouflage). They come out at dusk and in the morning you'll find several on the road that didn't make it back home.
Dec 3 we arrived in California. Since we crossed the dateline from west to east on our trip 'home', we experienced Dec 3 twice (Home is hard to characterize as we become even more nomadic than when we are on the boat). From LAX, we shuttled to Long Beach where Virginia's mother graciously stores our van and offers us a base for further excursions to visit family & friends. We divided our time between Long Beach (Virginia's siblings all live in that general area), La Mirada (to visit Dennis' mother), Santa Barbara (to visit our son, his family, and other friends) - generously housed by Tom and Deanna Robbins, with a quick trip up north to see Dennis' siblings and additional family & friends. Highlights included:
Frequent trips up to Santa Barbara to see Darren, Carrie and our granddaughters Kira and Devin, including attending their jogathon, watching them receive academic awards, a trip for all of us to the Santa Barbara zoo and a special 8th birthday celebration where Devin spent the morning with Grandpa J and Grandma J bowling, winning tickets in the arcade, and lunching. It was a bright, sunny, warm winter day, so then we were joined by her 10 yr old sister Kira for enjoying the remote control cars they had gotten for Christmas. Grandpa brought along his own car (a present to himself)....so you can guess who lobbied for that particular gift for the girls. We were happy that Kathleen (Grandma P) was doing so well after her ordeal with breast cancer and joined us several times.
We were disappointed that weather prevented us from arriving in Australia in time to fly back to spend Thanksgiving with family but end-of-the-year holidays were soon upon us and our time was well spent with family during Dec. We went out to dinner in early December with Dennis' mother for her 92nd birthday then were in Long Beach with Virginia's extended family for Christmas Day. We celebrated with our son's family the following weekend and took a trip up to northern California around New Year's to see Dennis' sisters, with his brother accompanying us. We experienced the full gamut of California winter weather on this trip; from freezing daytime temperatures forcing us into our ski parkas in Placerville, to an outrageously warm day in San Francisco wishing we had shorts on, to finally running the gauntlet of snow and sleet on the Hwy 5 Grapevine as we slipped back into LA before they closed the route behind us.
Schedules magically fell together and we were also able to catch up with our multitude of friends at the various holiday parties for our boating club, Dennis' Rotary club, and Virginia's former office/staff.
Dennis' knee surgery. Weather having kept us in New Caledonia longer than planned, we missed the pre-op appointments for Dennis' knee surgery that were scheduled in June before we left to resume our voyage from Tahiti. In addition, what was wrong then was not wrong now. The loose tissue that was floating around his knee had lodged itself somewhere so that his normal walk would become occasionally so painful he'd have to stop and sort out the knee to continue. Missing those appointments provided an opportunity for a new consultation with the surgeon to discuss the best new course of action. The earliest the surgery could be rescheduled was late in January, not providing much time for recovery before the scheduled flight back to Australia. He had an arthroscopic treatment, so it is possible that recovery will be quick and we can return to Australia on Feb 5 as originally planned. But if not, we will just postpone our flights. The boat will be in the work yard when we return, ready for us to start our projects such as re-rigging, in which Dennis will be ascending the masts in addition to just walking up a ladder to get on and off the boat. Kathleen joined Virginia for the 2 hour wait in the surgery family waiting room and they had a great chat. A gentleman, John Wiley, was waiting for his wife and joined in on the conversation as he found it interesting that he and his wife were on a retirement adventure that was similar in some ways to ours. He is a pilot. They bought a plane and have been visiting all the states in the US, all territories in Canada, and are deciding on the next area to tackle. We exchanged blog addresses. It is now 4 days post-surgery and Dennis is doing well. His mom took good care of him those first days! He's anxious for his appointment later this week where the decision will be made....to travel or not to travel on the 5th.
Relocating the dogs. We have had two great friends care for the dogs to date. Bill Abel took them the first year. April and Jeff Reeves had them this past year. In our search for a new home we were approached by one of Dennis' fellow Rotarians who is the Executive Director of a senior living community. They had been in communication with the local shelters, searching for some house dogs that were older, calm, friendly, healthy, etc. -hmmm sounds like Coco and Kiwi! That type of situation hadn't crossed our minds. When we visited Garden Court it seemed like it could be a wonderful situation for both the dogs and the residents. We have spent a lot of time transitioning the dogs, taking them to the vet for their routine shots, getting teeth cleaned, purchasing a supply of food and supplements, etc. And the dogs have been at Garden Court since January 9th as a trial. The residents voted yesterday to keep the dogs. There are a couple concerns that we need to address - keeping them out of the dining room and keeping them from running out the front doors and into the street. Since we aren't living there we can't provide the consistent training needed so we decided to hire a professional trainer. We are all optimistic that things can work out. They seem very happy there; they get lots of attention!
On our trip to northern California we toured Sutter's Mill near Placerville, went to the Science museum in Golden Gate Park, walked the Mission District of San Francisco to see some of the more than 500 murals that adorn walls/fences/garage doors, went to Punchline Comedy Club downtown SF, visited Dennis' niece and family on their new ranch (they are so happy to have the horses with them instead of boarded elsewhere), and visited our friends Elaine and Michael in Atwood to see their new house.
Of course the needs of the boat have been on the backs of our minds during our stay in CA. Before leaving the boat, Dennis dismantled the steering gear at the helm which had been showing some wear and turned it over to a machine shop in Santa Barbara for some refitting. He's also been procuring a variety of parts easier to obtain here (watermaker filters, autopilot drive motor, sailing hardware, etc.) that we will have to figure out how to bundle up in our baggage for the flight back. He's also purchased over 60 dvd movies to add to our already handsome collection.
Cyclone Oswald has hit eastern Australia, including Bundaberg where we have our boat stored. We heard from the marina that our boat is fine. None of the boats in storage have had any major damage; a couple (not ours) just had some tarps and covers damaged in the high winds. We have some friends there who are staying on their boat in the marina and say it has been a wild ride. The marina is on a river and the river is flowing at 40 knots. They saw a house float by one day and were told that a pig farm was flooded and they might soon see about 2000 pigs floating by, sadly. They may be asked to get off the boat if the water gets any higher. Our plan is to do some boat projects when we return....may be doing a bit of land travel first and projects later - have to assess that when we get there.
We arrived at Bundaberg Port in Australia in the late afternoon, just in time to check in. We finally got wind our last day and so sailed into the harbor. We were battling it a bit as it was directly out of the west, the direction we were heading. But we welcomed the wind. We'd had enough of motoring. Going to give up on the marina internet and go into town on the bus and get some connectivity so we can connect with family and friends and get our flights home! We spent our first day here, yesterday, going around to various boatyards and finding a place to put Libertad 'on the hard' while we are gone. This marina is very nice, but isolated and not even close enough to use our bikes for most things. More later when we get internet.
We are still motoring....the longest we have motored ever. Fortunately our Perkins engine is humming right along. We stopped it this evening just to check oil level and add a bit more, but otherwise it has had no rest for about 50 hours now. 241 miles to go to the head of Burnett River . Bundaberg is down the river about 1 nautical mile. At our current speed of 5.5 knots that would put us there on Tuesday, our one-week mark....but we still have several days to go and if we get some wind we'll turn off the engine even if it means slowing down.
All is well aboard. Strategically eating up the items we have aboard which are on the Ausrtalian customs list of things they will confiscate at check-in.
today we hit the halfway point on our passage from New Caledonia to Australia. We had to turn on the engine yesterday afternoon when we didn't have any wind and it is still on. The seas are entirely flat so it is a comfortable ride, but would like to be sailing. We have enough fuel that we could motor the whole way, but that would be a bummer.
Caught several fish today - bonita again, that seems to be our speciality. But we returned them all safely to the sea - hoping to catch something else for a change of pace.
About to start our fourth night of watches. All is well aboard.
We are headed into our third night at sea. Winds died a bit today we had to turn on engine this evening when we were only making about 1-2 knots of progress (felt like we were standing still!). all is well aboard.