Update from Queensland, AU
17 May 2008 | Lat 27 48'S; Long 153 26'E
When last I wrote Silkie was on the water about half way between Noumea, New Caledonia and Bundaberg, Australia. We arrived in Bundaberg on Monday morning, October 29, after a very relaxing sail with several other boats. We were part of the Port 2 Port Rally organized by the Bundaberg sailing club with support from various local merchants and local government. Fifty-seven boats were in the rally, leaving from four different locations: two in Vanuatu and two in New Caledonia. We were to time our departure so that we would arrive in Bundaberg between 29 and 31 October. Most of us arrived in fine shape. Unfortunately, a single-handed cat went aground on a reef off northern New Caledonia and was lost. Her owner got off with help from the local marine rescue and was not injured.
This was a very nicely run rally. We got good information from them regarding customs and immigration regulations and while in transit kept in touch with them via twice a day radio contacts. Australia is very wary of activity on its coast. You MUST have a visa before you come to AUS. Customs confiscates lots of stuff but goes to great lengths to warn you about want is allowed and what is not before you get here so you can prepare. (e.g. no fresh/frozen/cooked meat of any kind (anything canned is OK), no fresh veggies or fruit, no honey, no shells, no eggs, no live plants, no animals, no plant bark, no bug infested wood, and the list goes on and on). They try hard to educate you as to the reasons for these rules and what they are trying to protect and why. You must give them at least 96 hours notice of your arrival and must arrive at an official port of entry. NO contact (phone or physical) with land based people until you have been cleared in, etc. The Rally people helped in all this with information and advice and by notifying customs and immigration and arranging for them to be at the marina for all rally boats. The officials were polite and welcoming and did their jobs quickly and efficiently. We were prepared, met them with a smile and had no problems. One customs man told us about a boat (not a rally boat) from which Customs took 10 large sacks of frozen meat and other things, the owner said he knew of the regulations but had heard that customs really didn't care. Wrong!
The Rally was based at Bundaberg Port Marina, a new marina, nicely protected from waves, floating docks, wide fairways, great facilities, very reasonable prices. It's located several miles downriver from Bundaberg but has good marina mini-van and city bus transportation back and forth. This is the home of Bundaberg Rum, made from locally grown sugar cane, of which there is a gracious plenty. It has a very distinctive taste and is quite expensive, as is all hard liquor here. Turns out 97% of Bundy rum is sold in AUS, 2% sold in NZ, leaving 1% for the rest of the world. If you drank some you would know why (no, that is not really a compliment). A 700 ml bottle of the cheapest Bundaberg Rum sells for about $30 AUD. On the other hand, beer is not far from US prices and wine about the same as in the US. Alcohol plays a very large part in the social life around here and DWI is a big problem, just like the US.
Rally activities went on for a week and included about one meal a day, lots of social activities and various contests one of which was for the best story about the trip. John's story (see below) about the talking head won us a night at a local B&B which we enjoyed very much.
All good things must come to an end and after nine days of socializing we were ready to move on but high winds on the nose and steep waves in shallow Hervey Bay kept us at the dock until we were finally able to leave on the 14th for points south. Garrett Shook, who had been with us since American Samoa, saw us off at the dock and then left the boat to travel inland and see AUS and the rest of the world from the land side. Being "alone" on the boat for the first time in 8 weeks took some adjustment!
The trip south to the Coomera River and Gold Coast City Marina, recommended by several local boaters, took us over Wide Bar Bay at the south end of Fraser Island. Crossing this area requires care and planning as the bar can be quite dangerous. Prior to approaching the bar we contacted the Tin Can Bay Coast Guard to get the most recent GPS coordinates for the crossing. We followed those closely and got across with "no drama" (as they say down here), reporting to the CG as we reached each of the three waypoints (all these waypoints being within about 1 nm of each other). Tin Can Bay CG then automatically passed us on to the Mooloolaba VMR (volunteer marine rescue) who followed us down the coast to Mooloolaba. When the Mooloolaba breakwater came in sight I called them up, told them we were in sight of the breakwater, thanks for your help, good-by. NO, not quite. We were instructed to report back once we were actually up in the river. We get the impression that these folks are very serious about their marine rescue duties. While in Bundaberg we followed a situation on the VHF where a small sail boat was sailing south along the coast toward Bundaberg, against the wind, crew exhausted, no engine, no progress, night coming on. The local VMR launched a boat, towed him in (a long way) and charged him only the cost of the fuel they used. Quite a welcome service.
Our next stop was Mooloolaba, a great place to visit on a boat. There are two good marinas available, the area close to the marinas is filled with shops, restaurants, and a beautiful beach. This is where we first really noticed the coffee bars. They are everywhere! We have yet to see ANY food establishment that BREWS coffee. Instead, each and every one has an espresso machine and can make you any one of at least 20 different coffee concoctions: flat white, caffe latte, cappuccino, caramelised cappuccino, caffe breve, caffe mocha, white chocolate mocha, caramelized mocha, Americano, espresso, macchiato, espresso con panna, iced americano, iced latte, iced mocha, latte float, mocha float, affogato, to name a few. This is similar to Starbucks (of which there are a few in AUS) only better since they don't over-roast (read "burn") their beans. We have developed a taste for espresso. An espresso machine is clearly in our future.
Our next stop was Scarborough, a short hop down the coast, where we visited Chris and Erin on Barefeet and Tom and Suzie on Priscilla, then on to the Coomera River and the Gold Coast City Marina for minor repairs, bottom paint and several upgrades.
Gold Coast City Marina opened in 2004, a $50M marine district project, complete with 50 independent contractors on site, with two travel lifts (40 tonnes and 150 tonnes) and more support services then you can shake a stick at. We were hauled out on November 22 by the 150 tonne machine (because of our 28 ft width, certainly not our puny weight) and put on the hard stand where we stayed, living aboard, until we went back in the water on February 7, 2008 . This (long) stay in the yard included three weeks in Dec-Jan when the entire yard (and a lot of the rest of AU) shut down for Christmas and their summer school vacation. With the help of a fellow cruiser on Ef-Jay (who just happens to own a fair number of the Australian Holden car dealerships) we bought a Toyota Camry with minimal drama and so spent some of that time driving around the Gold Coast and nearby Tamborine Mountain. While on the hard we did the following (and this is the short list): major engine service on both engines; replaced SD40 sail drives with SD50s; replaced 18 x 16 blades on props with 18 x 12.5; repaired small dent on port topsides; replaced non-water proof locker lids on foredeck with waterproof lids; replaced two escape hatches in inner hulls; replaced inverter; remodeled galley by removing the old "fall in it and get lost" freezer and frig with a stand-up model gaining considerable storage space and counter space in the process; rebuilt and improved upon the table in the main salon; replaced several lights with LEDs (now we can see in the head, wonder of wonders); added AIS transponder so we now transmit and receive (very neat); added a generator (still a work in progress); added a screecher on a furler to improve our down-ish wind sailing; enclosed the back of the bimini; and replaced the window sunscreens; painted/urethaned all the floors; cleaned and urethaned almost all the wood trim in the boat . The list goes on, but I bore you.
We splashed Silkie on February 7 and boy were we happy to be back in the water. We then moved all of about ¼ mile across the river to Hope Island Resort Marina and that's where we sit this day, tied to a face dock within a 3 minute walk of a Bi-Lo supermarket, three nice restaurants, a beauty salon, a magazine/newspaper store, a DVD rental store, a super butcher, a bakery, a delightful shower and double load washing machine, with internet connections. All that and several boaters in neighboring slips whom we have gotten to know and enjoy. Is this Heaven or what?
On March 18 we flew to New Zealand for a too short 10 day visit during which we visited the Arthur's Pass area followed by John spending three days fly fishing with a guide while I investigated Christchurch and the east coast between Christchurch and Nelson (all on the South Island). NZ is absolutely beautiful and very friendly. The weather was cool and dry, the sky clear, the mountains and rivers spectacular, just like the pictures (heck, just like Lord of the Rings!). We plan to return for a longer visit early next year.
On April 1 we flew to Tampa, via Brisbane and Los Angeles, to kiss the grandkids and visit with family and friends back home. We flew back to AUS on May 10 after putting 8700+ miles on the Hertz rental car, driving from Tampa north to Philly, then south to Key West, then back to Tampa with numerous stops all along the route. Thanks to the generosity of friends and family we spent all of 3 nights in Hampton Inns during the whole five weeks. It was a truly wonderful visit. As I write this, we are back on the boat (which survived our absence in fine fiddle), decompressing, re-adjusting to AUS life and getting ready to leave for the Whitsunday Islands to the north for the winter cruising season. It has been a busy, productive and thoroughly enjoyable several months. The adventure continues.
'Till next time
Susan and John
Tale from the Coral Sea
The following tale is true although very few details have been changed to protect the reputations of the parties involved. Whereas most sea stories recount terrible encounters with monsters, storms and or mermaids, our tale centers on a talking head. To be specific, the head in the port hull, the personal throne of our erstwhile mate, LCDR Garrett W. Shook, USN, retired.
We first became suspicious that something was amiss when we noticed that the previously mentioned mate was making far too many trips to the facility than one would normally assume under normal gastronomical conditions. When asked, the mate assured both the Capt. and Admiral that all was well and that there was no need to initiate an alternate diet or provide prophylactic supplements. How then could we account for the frequent visits to the private chamber?
This mystery continued until by chance the Admiral, in the course of her weekly inspection, had occasion to flush said head. Imagine her surprise when the devise spoke to her. Yes indeed, this was a true talking head. What you ask did it say? Well, believe it or not, as the handle was stroked, the bowl let out a soft, soothing cry of "Yes". In fact, if you pulled the handle at an easy rhythm one could not mistake hearing "Yes, Yes, Yes". So, it seems that Mr. Shook was making the frequent visits to the altar merely to hear (no doubt less heard otherwise) the cry of a very contented damsel.
But what to do? We certainly could not have the mate in frequent dereliction of duty. A cure for the talking head was needed. The Admiral, calling upon her vast experience in the matter of heads, immediately suggested that all that was needed was a good dose of vinegar. For those of you unfamiliar with marine toilets, vinegar is the single most useful treatment. Well, as fate would have it, we last restocked this potent cure-all in French Polynesia. Man the ramparts, French vinegar to the rescue! But wait, after a goodly dose of said ointment, we once again pulled the handle. "Oui, Oui, Oui" was the cry. This was no fix at all, merely a translation. Perhaps, though we will never know for sure, we were now hearing the head in her native tongue.
What next? The Admiral, never one to be out done by a mere porcelain object for the collection of waste, next tried lubricant. Strange you say, is a lubricant really the cure for contentment? But then, you forget we are really talking about a marine toilet, and marine toilets need frequent application of a soothing lubricant, preferably a slippery mineral oil. Well, after a good dose of said oil, the head was once again given a few strong stokes. We can not be sure, but it seemed that the cry had changed, and what was now heard was "Almost, Almost, Almost". This would never do. We could not have the mate making frequent trips below in a vain attempt to recapture the earlier rapture. Something had to be done.
The cure my friend is the joker. Yes, the joker valve. If you know your heads, then you know that the key to a good flush is a properly working joker valve. This nasty little devise decides what goes which way, when. To be more specific, the joker valve, a rubber device of truly demonic origins, will let the bad stuff flow out without letting the ocean flow in. Why you ask is it called a joker valve? While there is a great deal of controversy in the head literature regarding the entomology of this name, most experts agree that the name derives from the unavoidable mess that occurs on the occasion of changing this rubber valve. This ungodly mess can only be the result of a terrible joke being played on the changer by some long gone, sorry-ass, head designer, laughing uncontrollably somewhere off in the distance. This dim witted excuse for a toilet engineer is in all probability jealous of the fact that you (and most assuredly, not him) actually have a boat big enough to have a head in the first place, and in retaliation, has designed this devise to ruin your day. But I digress.
We did indeed change the joker valve, and low and behold, the cry was vanquished. No more was Mr. Shook beguiled below to coax out the plaintive cry of the contented head-mate. No longer was he lured down to the throne of his fantasies to give her a few strokes. No, for now, when he pulled the handle, all that was heard was the customary "gurgle, gurgle, gurgle". And this, my friends, in spite of what you may have personally experienced, is not the same as "Yes, Yes, Yes."
But what you ask became of the extraordinary joker? The valve with the voice of an Angel. The rubber device whose mere presence on board caused mayhem amongst the crew. Fear not. Mr. Shook has kept the object of his fantasy and no doubt, at some time in the future, she will be once again be engaged in her lustful moan on some future vessel of his choosing.
I contacted the manufacturer to complain about the distracting device only to be told that we received this valve by mistake. It was a prototype that was under development and should never have left the factory. They asked us to return her, but I declined, saying that it had been tossed overboard. Keep you eye on the next West Marine catalog. Perhaps there will be a talking head in your future.