21 November 2017
We've been away nearly six years now, and Fiona, the last of the family lodgers who all took turns over that time staying in our rent, rates and apparently, maintenance free house has left home, emigrating to Canada. Consequently, we're going to rent the house from the New Year.
Anne therefore headed home yesterday to start preparing the house to rent, finally winning back the day of our lives we lost at the Date Line - and at our age, one day is a lot.
I'm left, as they say, fixing up the boat somewhere nice. Not much wrong with that other than, as John on Marilyn says, three weeks of eating lunch and dinner over the kitchen sink.
Red Cross parcels can be sent to Time Bandit, Blackwattle Bay, Sydney.
18 November 2017
Arriving in and finding your way through the maze of rules, regulations and culture in a new country is part of the fun and part of the stress of cruising.
Take for example navigating your way into Sydney Harbour. The route is quite clear. That's not the problem. It's the ferry traffic, all of whom have absolute power. Working out who's going where, at what speed and if you're going to scrape ahead or duck behind is a real challenge when they're coming at you from ten different directions all while you're trying to get the ultimate shot of the opera house.
Add to that, one of the ferry companies runs the biggest ferries and they are totally symmetrical. Two bows!
You're trying to keep an eye on six different ferries all charging about, glancing from one to the other getting increasingly confused 'cause, look, one of them has two bows and you can't tell which way it's going.
Another weird thing is the bus queues. At home in the UK the first bod to arrive stands beside the bus stop. The next stands facing his or her back and so on. Not only does this help form an orderly British queue but it avoids the need for eye contact or conversation. Here in Australia, folk stand shoulder to shoulder, looking out into the street and it's a challenge to work out which end is the front especially when there's a stop at each end of the line.
As for Australian Rules Football.
14 November 2017 | Blackwattle Bay, Sydney
Did you ever see E.T.?
Remember the bit, towards the end, when Elliot and E.T. are side by side in clear plastic isolation tents?
Well, that's us.
Maybe after another season in the tropics we've gone soft or something but our "clears" are almost a permanent fixture now. Years ago, you wouldn't have seen me dead in a boat with roller reefing let alone a bimini. Now look at us, tucked up in a cube of plastic both at sea and at anchor.
But then, there's something weird about the weather here Down Under.
The sun will burn the skin off you in half an hour and dermatologists do a roaring trade, but there's a chill in the breeze. Step into shadow and you can feel it. During the day that's just grand. A pleasant cooling draft. At night, after dusk, sitting in the cockpit it would freeze the balls off a brass monkey*.
Not yet the "Sizzling, Summer, Christmas" that's being advertised, an oxymoron if ever you heard one, but in the interests of keeping our Blog readers well informed of the realities of the cruising lifestyle we'll continue to tough it out on your behalf and report back.
Meanwhile, its brekkie time in our oxygen tent, Sydney rising above us.
*Time Bandit Trivia
In days of old, His Majesty's fleet would form a pyramid of cannon balls beside each gun, stacked on a triangle form made of brass. Just like the triangle used to set snooker balls.
When it got really cold, the brass would contract faster than the cannon balls which would then fall off. Hence the expression.
11 November 2017 | Bimbadgen Winery, Hunter Valley
You want how much
"Time for an anti-pie-effect walk" says I and off we go.
Our podiatrist.....or is it our pedometer, says we need to walk 10,000 steps a day so that's our goal. Anytime we're on terra firma we try and hit the goal.
So, we're a couple of thou in, back beginning to ache, when I spot a sign up ahead, here on the promenade in Newcastle. "That'll ease my back pain" I think and in we go. WHAT???? Twenty two bucks an hour? I can rent a car for that. Slightly let down at having had the prospect of whizzing along whisked away from us, off we went again.
Fifteen minutes later. Whoa. What's that in that coffee shop? FREE bike hire. In we go for another try. "Yes. Entirely free, courtesy of Hits 103.9 until December. But not today. But you can book for Sunday."
Duly booked we sat down for a coffee for which we paid much of the price of a bike hire, but there you go.
Just across from us, sitting on the waterfront is a bare footed, hairy bloke checking out something on his skateboard. (Just an aside but what is it with adults, I mean, seriously grown men, riding skateboards?)
I notice skateboarder dude is wearing a Fleetwood Mac T-shirt and it springs to mind that a couple of weeks ago I saw a poster promoting Stevie Nicks' Australian tour. A quick check online and yes, she's live on Saturday night in the Bimbadgen Winery, wherever that was. Bit it surely couldn't be far. "Best of two worlds" thinks I. Wine and music.
Having been royally ripped off by Viagogo when we bought tickets for Bruce Springsteen we went in search of the town ticket agency. This establishment fortunately is also a travel agency. So, not only did we get tickets but we got directions to both the car hire and Bimbadgen.
We checked the route map ticket-travel girl had kindly printed. Almost two hours to Bimbadgen, just on the outskirts of Sydney. So, it was an early start to pick up our wheels and head for the Scenic Route down the coast towards Sydney. Scenic it was. And pretty damn slow with every man and his surfboard heading for the beach. Two thirds of the way to Sydney and not entirely sure where we were we stopped for lunch deciding to go all high tech and check the route on Google Maps. Directions please from "My Location" wherever that was, to Bimbadgen. Now, I guess we should have realised that it might be a bit unusual to have a vineyard near the set of Home and Away but that's what the agent's route map said. So we double checked and what it actually said was, Bimbadgen Avenue, Sydney.
Which is nowhere near Bimbadgen Winery. In fact, the Winery is about a half hour from the boat. But it was a nice drive and we got to see more of Australia. Which is the objective after all.
So, there we were. Continuing our unbroken record of many decades in going to see '70's rock bands, none of whom have a band member younger than us. By a long shot. All the old folks dancing like their dads or perhaps just having a seizure.
Nicks was rubbish.
Saucy Sue. Where Are You
08 November 2017
Fancy this. We're on our way to Newcastle. Should have had a bag of coal on board. We should also have just stayed in Port Stephens as there's hee haw wind.
As we left the bay, we were being watched! You could almost feel the eyes on you as here in sunny Australia, at least on the east coast, there's a volunteer coastal watch cum rescue service. And.....,,,we're not registered!
It's like the UK's RNLI but apparently run by retirees, in their blue, badged uniforms and presumably and hopefully ex sailors. They also have some "tinnies", small, considering the size of the seas, twenty to twenty five foot aluminium speedboats with an outboard or two off the back. I'm not entirely sure what situation I'd have to be in to get off Time Bandit into one of these.
The deal is, you call up at the start of your passage, say Brisbane to Sydney and as you pass down the coast you report in at a scheduled time. As the miles tick by along your voyage you are handed from one station to the next. It's all very efficient and the locals seem to use it widely, calling in and reporting regularly. If you don't check in, I guess they have a look out the window or maybe send a rescue boat.
On passage the other night we heard them calling a boat thrashing along somewhere out in the dark with us. "Saucy Sue, Saucy Sue, Saucy Sue. This is Marine Rescue."
After Saucy Sue had fought their way, out from whatever inadequate shelter they had, climbed down the companionway and crossed dripping wet to the VHF and replied, they got a bit of a slapping because they were "six minutes late" for their check in.
My mum never worried about me that much.
And our kids only kind of vaguely know we're in Australia somewhere. (But they do know precisely where the wills are.)
Anyway, I think we'll just stay below the radar.
Sniff 'N Go.
06 November 2017 | Calm Before The Storm, Port Stephens
Sniff 'n Go
Coffs Harbour. A pleasant, small fishing harbour and marina created by breakwaters joining the islands to the land. Just like Croabh Haven.
It had showers, laundry, small shops, restaurants and bars. And live music. It seemed like a great place to stay awhile particularly as after the next 24 hours of northerlies a week of strong southerlies is forecast.
"Right" we said, "we'll base ourselves here and tour for a week." Decision made, we went to the pub, signed onto the wifi and, no sooner than the first schooner's slipped down than, "You've Got Mail". (Has anyone other than Tom Hanks seen this?). After ploughing through the kind offers from apparently gorgeous Russian girls eager to make me happy, an email from Aussie Dave and Galley Slave Jean appears. Now, Dave is just finishing his mostly single handed circumnavigation and is on the last stretch to home in Melbourne. He's been on the last stretch for some time now.
They want to go south. The winds are going north. It's taken them maybe four weeks of hanging around to catch the rare northerlies and make ground south. Consequently, Dave's strong advice was, "If you sniff a northerly, GO"
Oh bollocks. Dave and Jean are only a couple of hundred miles ahead of us, maybe two days sailing at most but its taken them weeks to get there struggling to find the northerlies in between the fairly consistent southerlies.
And not only had we sniffed a northerly, we were sat there with a forecast of 24 hours of north 15-20 sandwiched between southerlies. I guess Dave and Billy Connelly might say its Rule #4, Don't waste a northerly.
So, Coffs based touring plan was binned and we jumped on the north 15-20 and headed out. Well, we would have if the forecast was remotely accurate. For five hours we beat south, then, as time was running against us we motor sailed until finally, about midday, the wind backed to the east. And then, what a night.
With the winds alternating between south and north there's two opposing swells running. Add to that a south setting, one to four knot East Australian Current and the sea state is what they call, "rough".
Once the north breeze arrived it got faster and faster. One slab, then two and genoa rolled away to a hanky and we were still blasting along taking green and white water from all directions. Wet 'n wild. And that was just my missus.
The all weather entrance to Port Stephens loomed early morning and by noon we were anchored and nervously sitting in the cockpit while a forty knot lightning and rain storm passed over thinking that maybe the $115 marina might not have been a bad idea.
03 November 2017
Twenty seven hours and 167 miles later we tied up in Coffs Harbour Marina.
It should have been faster but the forecast was about 18 hours and 15 knots out. Pretty annoying as we'd spent Wednesday just killing time as Thursday's forecast was supposed to be even better.
Time killer number one was to get our mobile phone fixed so a trip to Vodafone was in order.
"Excuse me " says I. "Can you remove voicemail from this phone?"
"Oh sure" says the tattooed, pierced young thing and puts her hand out for the phone. "What's your number?" she asked. For a millisecond I thought I'd scored, always an ego boost for an old git; then common sense prevailed and I replied, "I haven't a clue". And neither had Anne. The girl with the sketchy tattoo knowingly turns the phone over, as this apparently is where old gits sellotape their number, but to no avail.
In a flash of genius I spout out what I'm pretty sure is the number.
She checks it and bingo, it worked. Anne says, "Wow! That's a surprise". Tattoo girl, looking equally amazed says, "yeah" and glancing at her colleagues who've all been looking over the top of their phones at this all too typical transaction with the older generation, and says, "we're ALL surprised". Cheeky gits.
Back at the boat, a check of the forecast, 15-20 from the north, yet another look at the pilot books and advice from cruising buddies Heemskirk, showed we had the option of going into Yamba at the mouth of the Clarence River. Our first shallow bar entrance. Sand bar that is. So, off we headed and soon we were motoring in hee haw wind and sliding up and down a four or five metre swell. Despite having to motor, we had a pleasant, moonlit passage but had to skip the Clarence owing to the swell. On our right, miles and miles of golden sand and occasionally on our left, islets that bore a striking resemblance to Scotland. Other than it was sunny.
Coffs Harbour hove into view early afternoon and we quickly parked, checked in and headed for Happy Hour and some of the yacht clubs rather tempting desserts.
(Desserts....Coffs Sweet. See what I did there?!)
Mayhem On The Gold Coast
01 November 2017
Well, we abandoned Brisbane after a very pleasant stay at the Rivergate Marina, a touch of sheer blooody looxury after months on the hook. The route south was through the channels south of Brizzie, and here, you should note, Australians apparently shorten every written wo.... and, or add an, "eeee" to the end. I'm apparently Stueeee. However, they're stuck with what to do with Anne. In the spoken word, they end every sentence on a high note, raising an octave or two as if they've been goosed half way through their last sentence.
Anyway, the route south is through the channels and swamps inside the outer islands between Point Danger and probably Point You're Gonna Die Right Here. For all his attributes, I'm not sure wee Jimmy Cook was that positive in his new place naming strategies.
Fortunately our good ol' buddy, Eliana Dave, had emailed us his Navionics track from his passage south a week or two ago so we had a route to follow through the spiders web of sandbanks.
We'd been told that at the weekend it got a bit busy. BUSY! Like Sauchiehall Street on a last day before Christmas shopping afternoon. Jet skis, powerboats, Sunseekers of all shapes and sizes and, worst of all, the barbecue boats. These are basically two aluminium torpedo shaped hulls with a B&Q, shed (ex colonials should think Bunnings or Home Depot) perched precariously on top. Power and what passes for steerage comes from an 8hp outboard screaming at full revs, just a tad louder than the four out of control kids. It was one of ease that nearly caused us a few scrapes and curses. These folks can obviously take to the water without the faintest idea of the rules of the road. Add to that mix some beer, cheap plonk and no rear view mirror and you've the recipe for disaster. Which it nearly was when one we were about to pass, without notice, decidedmtomhang a right and head for another channel, turned painfully slowly, right in front of us and only just escaped having our anchors join the various items of metalwork they already had adorning their noses, tongues and earlobes. How we missed them I don't know.
Weekends is definitely not a time to be out in these waters.