Men In Big Hats
20 October 2017
As I mentioned earlier, our cruising buddies thought we were crackers when, after only a few days in New Caledonia, a destination some people save for years and pay bucket loads to visit, we upped and off'd to Australia. Our plan was that we'd get here in time to explore the far north of Queensland before the rainy season, aka "The Wet" washed away all the tourists. And the roads.
We almost made it. After a week and a half on the road, living out our tin box, we finally stopped going north and west and turned for Cairns to drop off Booty Call and pick up our next deal of the century on Sunday. Wait 'till you see this one!!
Just before we turned for the coast we stopped at a roadhouse for petrol and a coffee. You tend to find these places about 180kms from the sign you saw that said "Last Fuel For 180kms". In between there's just bush populated by Mr & Mrs Rancher and their hundreds or probably thousands of cattle on their cattle stations the size of Belgium. And about as interesting. Our stop at the roadhouse coincided with the arrival of the grocery truck. It was deja vu. Or at least, we thought we'd seen it before. The truck is the equivalent of the islands' supply ship and turns up once every two weeks. The locals drive off their stations for a bit of a get together and to pick up fruit, veg and other sundries to last them through the coming weeks. It really was just like being back in the islands.
We reached Cairns after driving 1700kms north then west and north again. We exchanged live, working coal mines and their vibrant, albeit temporary looking towns for silent, long closed tin and gold mines and towns built on wood. Meaning they once had a logging industry as opposed to them being built on wood. If you get my drift. These towns, having lost their industries are now dependent on passing tourist income. And there aren't many tourists let alone income. Slowly we made our way back to the coast where, unlike in the bush, tourists were spending like drunken sailors. A large part of that was because, in the great outdoors it was tipping down so the bars were packed.
And man, has it rained. FNQ, Far North Queensland as its called locally gets three metres of rain a year. That's three times more than the west coast of Scotland. And most of it falls in the four months of The Wet. No wonder the locals all wear big hats.
17 October 2017 | Slag heap horizons
"What's that Skippy? They went to the mine. But they didn't fall in?"
No. But we could have. For what seemed like hours, and it may well have been, we drove past the spoil mountains or slag heaps as we used to call them, of Queensland's many coal mines. We've grown up around mines. Anne's grandfather was a miner. We've lived through Margaret Thatcher's miners strike. We live close to the now, silent mines of central Scotland. We've watched ships unload Australian coal and washed its dust of our decks. We've watched Billy Elliot many times. As a consequence we believe we have something of an affinity with mines and miners. OK, something of a remote connection, but a connection nonetheless.
In a bold attempt to get a closer look at Queensland mining we naively drove into one of the big mines thinking we might brass neck our way in for a look. We knew it was a big mine because we'd been driving past it's slag heaps for quite a long time. At some point we stopped to take a pic of the spoil heaps and honestly, it stretched from horizon to horizon, that makes it what? Six to eight miles? Unfortunately, if not reassuringly, the closest we got was Security where, unable to stare down the guard, we turned around Booty Call, and headed back out to the main road. However, the risk of falling down a mine might be the least of our concerns. In the last week, not that far from where we are now, one poor old lady has been taken by a 3.4m croc and a shark has given similar treatment to a swimmer. I told you this was a scary place.
Committed to land cruising we continued on our merry way, heading for Moranbah to meet up with Johann and Henriette, cruisers we'd spent a full 72 hours or so with in the Azores way back in 2012. Such are the bonds cruisers make! The Schultz, for that's their surname, are prominent citizens of the small community that is Moranbah. We were a bit concerned that Booty Call might be a bit of an embarrassment to them. (It is to us). Our bucket of bolts camper is called a Budgie. It's got more rattles than Toys r Us. The windscreen seal is missing, it's scratched from one end to the other but it's got cool graphics pasted on all over it. The occupants of like sized vans give us friendly waves. The teenage youth of various villages, when we're parked in town, give us high fives, and say, "cool, dude". However, after six days and nights on board our tiny Budgie we now look enviously at passing large, commodious RV's bearing inspiring names such as Discovery, Intrepid and Outback and momentarily fantasise about life onboard something in which you could at least, swing a cat.
Talking of budgies, while we've not actually seen any in the wild, we've seen plenty parrots and cockatoos. The latter gathering in hordes above my lilo bed and screeching all bloody night.
David Attenborough never said anything about that.
Tch, Tch, Tch
16 October 2017
What's that Skippy? The Lettons have gone into the bush in a clunker van. And they've fallen down a mine shaft.
Well, the first is certainly true.
Those that know me well, or to be honest, even just passing acquaintances, will know I just can't resist a bargain. A month or so ago our cruising buddy Florian, he of the 600,000 blog followers, told me about a great scheme here in Australia - campervan relocations. Now, Anne has always liked the idea of touring in a campervan so, having been told by Florian of the simply amazing deals to be had "relocating" campervans, we jumped online for a look. The idea is that paying customers enjoy their holiday driving their van from A to B, or indeed, A back to A only for the rental company to find out that the next rental is in C. So, they have two options, pay to stick it on a transporter which means big bucks, or, make a deal to have someone drive it to C for them.
To my joy and astonishment, there, splashed right across the screen was the deal of the century. A two berth camper that we could have for ten fun filled days and do what we had planned to pay to do all along, drive from Brisbane to Cairns and all for the princely sum of.........$0.00. Zip. Nada. Nothin'. AND on top of that, they'd give you two tanks of petrol absolutely FREE!
Haud me back!
Unable to resist such a bargain and equally unable to contain our excitement we snatched the online booking, tied up Time Bandit and summoned the marina staff to book a lift to the City Cat ferry terminal and from there into town to pick up our ride.
Crack of dawn last Wednesday we collared Grant, the ever helpful Rivergate marina attendant and got a twenty minute lift to the ferry. The City Cat then whisked us up river to downtown Brisbane in a mere fifteen minutes where we jumped off and took the ten minute walk to the bus stop for the one hour ride to the van rental location......... a whole eleven minutes away, across the bridge from the marina. Oops.
Now, a couple of blog posts ago I mentioned that I thought Time Bandit was a bit small. That was before I experienced Travellers Autobarn. Anne's idea of a camper van is definitely in the "RV" category. This was more of a Wendy House on wheels. Very old wheels. Wheels that have noisily whirled around for 482,536 kilometres. While I now realise that I was somewhat unkind, not to mention inaccurate when I said Time Bandit was small, it's the Tardis in comparison to "Booty Call" In fact, the van is the Tardis in reverse. When we looked at it, Booty Call had the essential two seats up front, one with a wheel, pedals and such like while in the back, in the saloon so to speak, there were two bench seats, a table and at the very back, accessed by lifting the tail gate, was the galley, complete with sink and pumped water.
What we didn't realise immediately was that when you put the bed in place, the interior suddenly shrunk, the walls compressing inwards and the floor rising. "Cosy" I said. But it wasn't anywhere near enough to warm the icy look I was getting. But hey. It was free.
And so, off we set, into "The Bush". That's what the Aussies call the bit of land between the beach and, their other geographic wonder, the "Outback". The "Bush" extends inland anywhere from a few metres past the coastal towns' last garden fence to one or two hundred miles inland, where "Bush" turns into "Outback". We haven't gone far enough inland to cross that divide but we have seen a lot of "Bush".
Our plan was to use the present locations of some friends as the basis of a route. That led us north to Scarborough where we met up with Dave and Jean on Eliana and enjoyed a night at the yacht club and had our first introduction to Pokies. Slot machines to you and I. From what we've read and heard, the income from the Pokies is what's keeping the pubs and restaurants in business. On average, the Pokies take $2 BILLION a year, generate $500 million in state taxes and keep food off the tables in many households. The papers say that the gross takings are the equivalent of $2,000 for EVERY Australian!!!
Next morning, after a night grinding our hip bones on the plywood bed through the pitifully thin bunk cushions, we headed north looking for a camping store to buy an inflatable bed. We also grabbed two camping chairs which were on offer for just $5 each. Extra wide and certified to 100kgs. Plenty room to put on a few pounds then.
Next up, Bundaberg where we met Ray on Lionheart and gate crashed the marina BBQ. And to the relief of many, the showers. Bundaberg had originally been our first choice of landfall in Australia but in the end, we opted to aim farther south, targeting Brisbane....... and mighty glad we did. There's not much to Bundaberg. Less to the marina, pleasant and clean as it is. And so, after a night of sheer, bloody looxury on our newly acquired lilo, we finally turned west leaving the coast behind and venturing boldly into the Bush and in the next exciting instalment I'll tell you all about that.
Did they fall down a mine?????
Brisbane - Home and Away
10 October 2017 | Rivergate Marina, Brisbane
There's an absolute delight in making landfall and getting ashore. Room to move.
We've spent our first day trotting around Brisbane racking up the "Steps" on our pedometer app. It's a lovely city. All new and shiny bright with some really impressive New York style skyscrapers. This us how normal people live. Their trendy apartments and stylish villas running down to the river front. Room to breathe. Room to move - outside and in.
I just measured our living quarters. Down below it's six modest paces by two. Modest paces note. Not strides. There's prisoners in cells in countries run by despotic regimes that get more space. Sure, we've a couple of nooks and crannies, the bog and the kitchen for example but you're not actually going to stretch your legs getting there. So, to prove the point to ourselves that in fact Time Bandit is sheer bloody looxury, we've hired a campervan for ten days. A "Budgie". Report to follow.
But anyway, here we are Down Under. Australia. Convicts to cappacino in a couple of centuries. And a couple of surprises and reminders of home. First, we end up in a marina parked right next door to a Jeanneau 53........ Largs Bay; where we spent our formative sailing years. Second up is that Brisbane is named after Sir Thomas Brisbane, born in Anne's and our (boat's) home town of Largs. He died their as well and is buried in Skelmorlie Aisle. Just behind Jim's drinking den, the George.
So, there's close ties between
Now, Australia and Sydney in particular, features in Letton lore. Consequently I'm not sure how it will shape up and to a degree, I've a bone to pick with it.
Many moons ago, no one knows exactly when but certainly long before the last unpleasantness, perhaps during the '20's or '30's my grandfather, Captain Fred Letton who, unlike us yotties with an RYA certificate or such like, was a real captain. (When marina staff or officials refer to me as "captain" I'm sure I can hear Captain Fred groan.)
On arrival in Sydney these moons ago Cap'n Fred looked up the phone book and to his surprise found a Letton listed. Ours is an unusual name (and so is Letton) and Fred thought this Letton was somehow related. So off he trekked up into the Sydney suburbs where he finally arrived at the Letton address. Fred knocked on the door and, when it was opened said something to the effect of " Hello, my name's
Fred. Fred Letton. It's possible we're related".
"So what mate" was the curt response as the door was loudly and rudely slammed in his face.
So, my expectations of Australia are somewhat confused. We'll see how it goes but I don't think we'll be looking up any Lettons.
Notice to Mariners
06 October 2017
Just a quick update as we near the Australian coast. 200 miles to go to Rivergate Marina, Brisbane. After a great start with record matching mileages we are now running out of wind. The good news is, that suits us nicely as at earlier speeds we were going to arrive on Saturday or Sunday which means overtime rates for the Customs, Immigration and Bio Polis. Given they already charge $45 per 15 minutes, PER FIFTEEN BLOODY MINUTES!!!!!!!!, and that this exorbitant amount rises to $95 in weekend overtime, we don't mind taking our time out here 'till Monday.
We've been spending the days productively though, polishing the stainless, cleaning the windows and a general spring cleaning of all the cupboards. There's a list of foodstuff the Bio Polis don't want to see on board. Consequently, we're eating like starved dogs. (Domesticated pets, not the North Korean kind) However, as we can't eat everything, there's some ship's stores going overboard namely eggs, flour, oil and honey. Therefore, here's our Notice to Mariners; "Mariners are advised to keep a good look out for a large cake floating somewhere around 26 00S 156 13E."
04 October 2017
Fell for it again.
Oooohh! Wooopeee. Look a us go. At this speed we'll be in by Saturday.
Then, like a deflating balloon the wind disappears and the slamming, slapping and sleep deprivation starts. At this speed we'll be in by November.
The Pastry's Over
02 October 2017
And so, after four months in the islands, the party's over. And so's the pastry. Leaving New Cal
You know how some days in winter you look out the window from the comfort of your centrally heated living room and think, "Oh, its nice out today. I'll go for the papers". Clad in your smartest, man-about-town cardy and slacks you step out the front door to find its effin' freezing. Making a quick about turn you head swiftly back indoors to the comfort of the tele and a cup of cocoa knowing that's the smart thing to do.
Well, yesterday, from the comfort of our sunny marina berth in Port Moselle, New Caledonia, we checked all the forecasts, timings and decided that in true Time Bandit fashion; having given New Cal a full 72 hours, we'd "Press On". The Outback was calling. Australia. Not the steak house. It was a bit breezy in the marina so to help us out and man the warps, we lined up a few friends and press ganged a few more folk who were just waiting around, gawping, kidding on they were tying their shoelaces or such like, but in reality, waiting for the fun as we suffered the likely end result in leaving in a gusting 20 knots of cross wind in a long keel, bow thruster free beige battleship.
However, to the gawpers' dismay and my relief all went to plan and we slipped out beautifully and motored off into the bay........where indeed, it was a bit breezy. Undeterred we hoisted sail, with a couple of reefs in the big one at the back (this for non-nautical readers) and the staysail (the wee one at the front inside the big one at the front). By the time we got into the lagoon the locally forecast 25 knots gusting 30 was putting green water across the deck. And we were still in the lagoon. "It'll settle down once we're clear of land", says I. And off we went across the lagoon at top speed heading for the pass through the reef and the open ocean. Approaching the pass at full tilt in now a full 30+ knots we spot on the AIS P&O's Pacific Dawn approaching at 15 knots. We quickly ran the math to see whether at 7.3 knots and 2.25 miles to go we would get their before him at 14.7 knots and 8 miles off but gave up when we both got headaches. We watched for a while and like two cars heading for the last parking spot we approached the boiling pass, head on, at full speed.
Still struggling with the math (one reason I never became a fighter pilot), I called them up on the radio to tell them we were coming out the pass in 16 minutes. His reply was that we should turn around. While my initial thought was to tell him something else, I politely explained that in the conditions and constraints of the pass that would be quite a challenge. He said turning for him would be quite a challenge...and so continued a childish verbal chest pushing match. Might looked like being right but hey, I was the underdog, in the marked channel, under sail and I was "pressing on". Silence was the curt reply.
All this happened while the port pilot was climbing aboard and in the end, they did what they needed to do in the first place which was just take their foot off the gas for five minutes. All so he could get his block of flats tied up in time for Tiffin and Quoits or whatever it is you do on these things. Tosser! A strongly worded letter will soon be winging its way to Southampton.
Anyway, back to the analogy, or is it a metaphor? I always get these confused.
Once out the pass sneaking under the bows of Pacific Dawn and into the ocean we realise we've only got a cardy on and its freezing. Bad News. Unlike at home, we couldn't just turnaround. One - there was a queue of anchored boats back in town waiting for marina berths and we knew there was no room at the inn and Two - no way were we going to flog our way back upwind for 6 miles across the lagoon. Not even the thought of having another few rounds of this French colony's pastry's could drag us back. And so, parties and pastries over we headed on out to the wild and wooly; Australia bound.
It was about 03:00 (again for non nautical readers, that's 3am) before the wind dropped from the thirties and the seas from blocks of flats to mere apartments. But here we are now, lunchtime Tuesday, doing a lovely 7 knots, on course and Oz by Saturday.
Now, where's my boomerang?
Anything To Declare?
29 September 2017
We've just arrived on New Caledonia after a breezy 200 mile ride down from Vanuatu. Well, almost here. Geographically we're in New Caledonia but technically we're not. Unfortunately, in the Pacific, most of the Customs and Immigration offices are on "the big island" and these are invariably downwind of their outlying, more interesting islands. Fiji has the Lau Group, 180 miles back upwind. Vanuatu has their explosive, live volcanoes, 200 miles upwind and New Caledonia has their Loyalties, 80 miles straight into the teeth of the prevailing Trades.
As a consequence cruisers spend hours online and in pubs trying to work out how to get around the legal requirement to check in at the "Big Island" and visit the Wee Islands en route. You're going to sail right past the damn things anyway.
Rumours abound. "Didn't you hear about the French couple who went direct to the Wee Island and are now in the Big Island gulag husking coconuts for the next five years?"
"What? No way. We went direct to the Wee Islands for three weeks and it was no problem"
And on it goes. Well, having complied all year so far and battered upwind from Big to Wee for days on end to reach the fabled cruising waters we finally plucked up the courage to bend the rules and stopped off at the Loyalties for a few days before heading south to the "Big Island" where we are now, lying under the radar in a small anchorage, Anne Magic, just over from the ore mine and terminal on New Caledonia.
Like most frontiers, nowadays, Customs and Immigration officers have been joined by a third task force; the Bio Security polis.
Like King Canute on a bonus they are charged with stopping foreign species getting ashore in their jurisdiction. I don't get it. While container ships arrive from all around the world and unload their hundreds of 40 foot steel boxes, aircraft and cruise ships disgorge tourists in hordes to range freely about town and country, us poor yotties seem to be targeted as the modern day version of the idjit who had the grand idea of taking some rabbits to Australia so he could have a bit of sport taking pot shots from his veranda. Either that or we're easy pickings.
One of their many bio rules is that no meats should be brought into the country. Well, I've got news for them.
For our celebratory party before leaving Vanuatu we, Sven and Lisa and us, headed to the Stone Grill. Five stars on TripAdvisor!
Now, Vanuatu is on record as having some of the finest beef available in the world. All natural. No additives. Free range. So, having decided we'd better try some before we left we took to the oracle, TripAdvisor, to look for the best eatery Port Vila could offer. Ahead by a short neck, or maybe a horn, was the Stone Grill on Wharf Road.
The first clue was in the name of the road. While the veranda has one of the finest views across the wreck strewn bay, the container terminal is at the end of WHARF ROAD. Consequently, the dining experience is punctuated by lorries thundering past, romantic candles on the table blowing out in the draft of trailing diesel fumes.
The second clue was in the restaurant name. Stone Grill.
Not only does one get to enjoy the potential for a succulent, home grown, Vanuatu steak but you can get hospitalised at the same time. The deal is, they serve you chunks of raw meat and you cook it yourself, at the table, on 600 degrees of seriously hot lava. Fresh from the caldera from what I could see. Not only could you cook meat on it, you can top up your tan as well. All providing you don't get 3rd degree burns.
Now, this is a great business model. No temperamental, expensive chef. No moans about steaks not being done right. Just the opportunity to charge a premium so punters can cook their own food. No chef, no complaints. Brilliant.
Now, as I said, big Bio Rule #1, no meat should be brought into the country. Well, I've news for them. I've still got about a kilo of Vanuatu, Brammin filet digesting painfully slowly in my gut and likely to be there for a few weeks yet.