First Dates Can Be Awkward
17 October 2018
Maybe it was growing up during the war but my dear old dad was a bit of a worrier. I guess that came with his generation given the trouble and strife of the last unpleasantness. Despite all the hardships, black-outs, rationing, a father on the war-torn high seas, despite his worrisome inclination he was remarkably comfortable with change, at least as far as boats were concerned. In his time, my dear old dad bought and sold thirteen sail boats. From Kismet his fourteen foot, gaff rigged, clinker built dinghy to the sheer bloody looxury of the Hurley 18, the Galleon, the Mystere, and on the list goes but none larger than twenty nine feet. Cosy and manageable dad called them. "Hell Ships" mother called them. So, quite what they'd be thinking if they clapped eyes on Time Bandit ll, our new steed, I don't know.
I outlined in a previous post how this catamaran "demon" came to find itself buried in my brain lurking somewhere between motorbikes and mountaineering so I won't repeat it here but I do have some great excuses all prepared. All ready for when we meet folk on "proper" boats, "it's just a phase he's going through"; "had to try it before the hips go"; "his sense of balance was going", etc... although, we're still not entirely sure if they'll talk to us traitors at all.
We flew up to New Caledonia last Friday last to meet Drop Dead Gorgeous, have a final sea-trial, haul for survey and finally, have a final go-around with the world's banking system and bingo, we'd done it, whooshed to the dark side faster than Harry Potter up a chimney. For any readers who haven't closely followed the plot, Time Bandit ll (from now, we'll drop the "ll") is an Outremer 51. A French fusion of style, practicality and substance. Like Brie. She was parked up in Port de Sud marina ready for us to head out on our maiden voyage, well at least, over the other side of the bay to get fuel. Now, we've never been in charge of a catamaran with engines before and definitely not one larger than eighteen feet, unless it was at anchor and serving copious amounts of gin and tonic. "Manoeuvring wiz two engeens eez une doddle" said all the Outremer owners when we visited the Outremer Cup in May. All of whom I'm now convinced can easily rub their tummies while patting their heads and singing the Marseillaise. However, more by luck than skill we managed to extricate ourselves without embarrassment or clunking anything hard and off we went, filled the tanks, opened up the genoa and off down the lagoon to a quiet anchorage to take some time to work out what strings to pull. Self taught, newly born catamaran sailors, forty eight hours later we whizzed back up the lagoon at ten knots, maxing at eleven point five at forty five apparent for a night of fine dining and a bevvy with Trev and Jan.
You've got to have some constants in life.
Going on Holiday?
05 October 2018
"Going on holiday?" This was the polite greeting from the friendly bus driver this morning as we humphed a hundred kilos of wheely bags and rucksacks aboard the express bus to Sydney. It had been a fractious morning. A fractious few weeks in fact, dealing with idjits the length and breadth of the Bank of Scotland trying to extract OUR money from their grasping, inefficient and rule bound systems, when they were available, and so yours truly wasn't really in the mood for pleasantries. A number of sarcastic responses flew through my head, "Naw. Just going to the shops", "No, I'm taking them to get the wheels serviced" but fortunately good breeding pulled through and I equally politely replied with some nonsense about the weather. Which has well and truly broken. New South Wales has been drought stricken for many, many months so the hundred mil of rain in the last two days is as wildly welcomed by the farming community as it is hated by us splashing our bags into Sydney and out to the airport through the deluge.
I counted up last night and it's seven years since we left gainful employment for the first time in forty odd years and sailed out of Largs marina on Scotland's beautiful west coast and headed out over the far horizon, well Lochranza actually, to begin our new life as "live-aboards", cheek by jowl in forty five feet by fourteen, twenty four - seven, with only time off for good behaviour and Christmas. And so, when people ask if you're off on holiday, it's difficult and a bit sometimes, such is my work ethic, embarrassing to answer as, no actually, this is our life. It just looks like a holiday.
The last four months has been different, effectively kicking our heels between boats and it's been an entirely new experience for us. Living in a confined space for so long set us up for the 4WD tour of Western Australia which was great. Silver beaches stretching for miles. Vast empty horizons where the arrow straight gravel roads disappear into a distant pin prick. The "bush", with miles of carpets of wildflowers, (weeds I'd call them) towering rocks where for tens of thousands of years the aborigines walked around the precipice looking out into the bush, where, with the advantage of height, they could spot game and enemy, but where now, stainless steel barriers line those same cliff tops in case some dumb tourist walks too close to the edge, despite having been reminded every few steps of the risk of potential and really painful death by countless "Danger! Cliff Edge" signs. That's evolution for you.
We climbed deep down into the gorges carved out of the barren plateaux, watched wallabies, camels and eagles the size of small adults and clunked and rattled for miles in choking red bull dust - if you were following. The dust I'm still picking out what's left of my my hair. However, as far as camping is concerned, or at least our version of it, fifty plus days and nights in the back of a tiny Land Cruiser was....., well, just plenty. "I'm just off to the loo", armed with a shovel. All very outback and billabong but, after a while, usually about three in the morning, it wears a bit thin. We wouldn't have missed off-road WA but after a while, you miss your comforts, or indeed, some basics.
And so, road trip over we immensely enjoyed three weeks intensive rehabilitation of daily showers, full size bed, sofa, tele and eating at a table in P & C's apartment. But again we must press on, answering the call of the sea, heading for New Caledonia for a date with Tall, Slim and Drop Dead Gorgeous. And Trevor.
Look out liver.
Surfing in Avalon
23 September 2018
We went to the local library here in Avalon, Sydney this morning. We scuttled along dodging under the shops' sun shades to avail ourselves of the free wifi. As someone once said, the only thing worse than no wifi, is slow wifi. You see, that's the problem with all this Silver Surfer stuff. Teaching old foggies how to use the Interweb. How to SnapChat with their grandweans. How to gobble up the bandwidth while silver surfing their days away.
That was us.
It's absolutely chucking it down here as a "southerly buster" whacks its way across the south east of Australia so we've donned the mantle and joined in the surfers, sitting at our little bench, gazing into the screen watching that little clock image go round, and round, and round, and round, and round. Now I know what it feels like to be ninety. The shortbread and cups of tea should be here shortly.
02 September 2018
Aren't Australians a cheery lot? Perhaps it's the perpetual sunshine. Or the outdoor living, barbies, surfing and all that. Or the Vegimite perhaps but there's no way, we as a tourists, readily identifiable by our inappropriate clothes, backpacks and bewildered look, that in an Australian city we'll ever be lost for long.
We've been in a few cities, towns and hamlets now and I can assure you, stand on any street corner fighting the folds of your street map and within minutes, a friendly local will stop and ask if they can help.
When we arrived in Sydney a few weeks ago, we got on the bus to the Northern Beaches and David, the driver, who left Peebles, Scotland thirty years ago, chatted for the full hour and a half ride out to Avalon where we were due to stay with more friendly Aussies, Paddy and Caroline, cruising buddies we met in the Galapagos two years ago.
At night, we went our for dinner at the RSL, the Returned Services League, the Australian equivalent of the British Legion. You will find an RSL club in most Australian towns serving good food at reasonable prices in clean and comfortable surroundings. While we'd visited and eaten in a few RSLs on our travels it was mostly for lunch and we were caught a bit unawares when, at 18:00 the lights dimmed. Not a power surge as I initially thought, but a signal for all diners, as one, with the exception of us unknowing Muppets, to stand up, look west and say a silent prayer to remember the fallen of two world and many other wars, ending, with a collective murmuring of "Lest We Forget".
Having been reading earlier in the day on the BBC News app about Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator giving Britain yet another kick in the nuts, primarily in my opinion, to both punish the Brits and set an example to others lest they should dare think about leaving their cosy club, I couldn't help thinking perhaps many in the EU could also do well to remember. Ungrateful bastards.
Anyway, back to the Aussies, they are all jolly nice but one thing they do need help with is overtaking.
On roads as straight as an arrow, with the vanishing point a pin prick on a distant horizon they will sit behind you for five or ten minutes, weaving in and out, straining to look for on-coming traffic, heads craned over to the right before finally plucking up the courage to indicate and pass.
Or maybe it's just because nearly every driver out here is a "grey nomad" and their eyes just ain't what they used to be.
How long 'till we get afloat? I think it's all getting to me.
Mugs For Marketing
24 August 2018
Mugs for Marketing
You have to love marketing.
Like it or not, admit it or not, a good piece of marketing will make you stop and buy. Sure, not long after said purchase you might be wondering exactly what temporary mental breakdown caused you to buy Product XX, but you did. And that's the power of great marketing.
I mean, who, in their right mind even with their taste buds only partially working, would walk into a pub and say, "Oooh look. Ice cold Guinness. I'll have one of them please"? Yet many of us do, even when we don't like the stuff.
How many of us forty, or is it fifty years on can clearly picture the Cadbury's Smash "Martians" all giggling away at how humans peel their potatoes "with their little knives"?
Or doing something nice, "All because the lady loves Milk Tray"? I'm wracking my brains for an up-to-date equivalent for younger readers, but I've a feeling that just like music, there's been nothing good since the seventies. However, there was one stunner today. Maybe not the overwhelming global success of Guinness or Smash but it hit its target right between the eyes this morning....... a simple roadside "Swinger" (remember kids, don't Google that) ..... "Fresh Cream Scones and Jam" only five kilometres up this dirt road to the Ellenbrae Homestead.
Impulse buy? If tyres would screech on a dirt road you'd have heard them for miles around as we spun off the road onto the farm track. It was actually quite hard to tell the farm track from the road other than one was grey and the other red. But what an oasis. Lush green lawns surrounded the Homestead with a very comfortable sun patio off the servery where the fresh scones were dished out to everyone who bought the advert. Over seventeen thousand last year. Their record! When the two permanent staff are not making scones they're looking after the station, all nine hundred and sixty thousand acres. You wouldn't want to be the one who has to mow the lawn. These acres and acres of scrub, bush and gorge are home to the station's four thousand or so cattle. They don't know how many exactly as the coos just wander around year after year while the owners, who live in and presumably wander around Melbourne, keep an eye on the price of beef. When it hits a high the contract cowboys are called in to round up a couple of truck loads and that keeps the coffers full. That and the scones.
So remember folks. Be warned about the power of marketing. It might make you buy stuff you don't really need.
Now. How long till we get that Outremer?
22 August 2018
Firstly, in case you've forgotten or are perhaps a new visitor to the Time Bandit blog, I should like to confirm that yes, this is really a sailing blog and normal content will be resumed as soon as we get back afloat mid October. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the road blog as we kill some time touring Western Australia.
And so, continuing our story, we are this evening in yet another Station in the Outback. Fifty kilometres in off the main Gibb River Road. I've mentioned it previously, the fact that farmers are filling their vacation piggy banks with tourist dollars by opening up their yards to passing tourists. Many extract a premium by putting the word "Eco" in the name of their campground, ie: Billabong Eco Camp or better, The Coolibah Eco Retreat. I'm not sure what criteria are required to qualify for Eco status, a few solar panels perhaps, whether plugged in or not, solar hot water showers or just "long drop" loos. Whatever it is, it's actually becoming quite difficult to find somewhere that isn't Eco friendly, no matter how thin the veneer.
Today we've rattled our way east up the Gibb River Road which runs for about seven hundred kilometres through the remote Kimberleys. It's strange. You drive for hours hardly seeing any other traffic then like magic, come sunset, a good ten or twenty "rigs" will have joined us in whatever OK Coral Eco Campsite there is each seeking out the farthest extremity of the site so that, having been alone in the car all day, they can continue their monastic solitude in the evenings. One thing's for sure - Grey Nomads have a lot to learn about socialising compared to yotties.
I think I may have to start holding evening classes.
P.S. If you'd like to get a feel for where we are, download and while away an evening watching Red Dog. Australia's answer to Grey Friars Bobby.
15 August 2018 | Tom Price Mine
As we pulled into another looxurious roadside overnight rest area, complete with long drop loos, we spotted a sign for Cheela Plains Station and its bi-weekly campfire sausage sizzle and sing-a-long. Now, me, always one for a bit of live music and Anne, always one for loos that flush, decided that would be a good choice for that night.
Along with many of the other cattle stations we've passed, Cheela Plains has seen a business opportunity to augment their beef income by opening up their front yards and empty buildings in order to relieve passing nomads of some ready cash. Cheela Plains is in fact a bit ahead of the curve with their live music and sausage sizzles and the clincher, offering "Coffee and a Cake".
And so, quite a few years on from my last sausage sizzle with the Boy Scouts, I found myself sitting around the campfire listening to Waltzing Matilda under a canopy of stars. It would have been romantic but for the after effects of too much cake or perhaps a banger that hadn't quite sizzled enough. (Sorry, a bit of an over- share there).
Our route has taken us to Tom Price where we stumbled on their annual Nameless Festival. Tom price is a bit like Cumbernauld or Milton Keynes. A purpose built town from the sixties. Built after the discovery of what is said to have been and maybe still is, the world's richest iron ore deposits. It's purely a mining town in the outback, once said to be a drinking town with a mining problem. These days, it's all very civilised and the local population is well under the age demographic of the Grey Nomads that considerably swelled the visitors to the festivities, both in girth and numbers.
Great music, BBQ's and sunshine all courtesy of Rio Tinto, the mining company.
Now, here is Australia you'll read in the papers an undercurrent of concern about the rapidly emerging dominance of the Chinese both worldwide and locally to Oz. We've seen TV documentaries about how Chinese immigration might be an undercover strategy to take over the country by stealth. I think they've got that all wrong. Rio Tinto process ore from fourteen different nearby mines, one point six billion dollars worth of conveyor belts transporting it across the plains to Tom Price for processing and finally shipping three hundred and fifty million tons per annum.
Unsuspectingly, Australia seems to be slowly digging up and shipping the whole continent to China.
Flying Around Australia
08 August 2018 | Cheela Station
Standing around campfire and to paraphrase the Eagles, a million stars are all around. And during the day, a million flies.
These flies aren't like any others we've experienced. These are the ones you see on tele, usually when some BBC reporter is showing film of the latest refugee crisis in the Sudan. The flies that crawl undisturbed around the open sores, eyes and orifices of the poor inhabitants of these God forsaken places. At home, flies are a pest and the buzzing would drive you nuts but these Australian jobs, they have no sense of personal space. They will land on any bit of exposed flesh and poke around up your nose, in your ears and around your mouth. Inhaling through anything other than clenched teeth is s high risk business. You can get a good workout just flicking the little buggers away for hours on end.
When my mum used to lie out in the garden to top up her summer tan she would put a nearly empty jam jar with water in it nearby to give the wasps somewhere better to visit than her. I'm thinking of doing something similar here for the flies but can you find a dog turd when you need one?
Meanwhile, much to Anne's embarrassment and the amusement of other campers I'm walking around wearing a Scottish midgie net hood looking something like a cross between a bank robber and a bee keeper. The only problem is, if this fine weather keeps up going to look like I've been sunbathing with my face in a sieve.
The caricature of an Aussie wearing a cowboy hat with corks all around suddenly seems pretty darn clever.