30 November 2018
So what's next? Locusts? Really? Months of drought. A monumental dust storm covering the eastern states, and our new WHITE boat in red dust. Then, force nines storming through the anchorage causing no end of lost sleep, then, hard on its heels, a months worth of rain in two hours. Spring in Sydney. You gotta love it.........but at least all the dust got washed off and shaping us up for a couple of weeks in Scotland.
We've yet to hear Noddy Holder screaming, "It's Christmas!!!" but you can sense it coming. Wonky, tattered white and green plastic Christmas trees have been hauled out from the basement and are now adorning all the stores. Wreaths adorn the shop fronts so, as it's still only November you're not entirely sure whether it's to mark the recent passing of a loved one or an over eager attempt to bring forward the Christmas spending spirit and have the punters spend an additional few dollars for a gingerbread flavoured Coffee. (Why not just have a big slice of gingerbread with your coffee. Never quite got that one). Big street signs in Avalon are telling everyone that "Carols on the Beach" next Saturday. Avalon is a stones throw from the set of Home & Away, so maybe Carol is one of the stars.
While all this is going on we've managed, with a lot of heavy lifting from Paddy and Carolyn, to move our cardboard mountain from their garage to Time Bandit. Somehow, we've managed to make it all disappear in cupboards, lockers, under the floors and charity shops and assorted dumpsters. It's not too bad, our back steps aren't quite awash but we do need another week or so to thin out the stuff and discretely fill more dumpsters with the absolutely essential crap we've hauled half way round the world and haven't seen, let alone used for the last ten years.
But there's time for that. Meanwhile, moored off Sydney Zoo, awaiting the nighttime growls of the big cats we choke down another Pinot with the sun setting behind the Opera House.
Dust storms. Rain. Force nines. In the end, it's all worth it.
22 November 2018
Anne loves her museums. She's had some of her best days in them. I've had some of my best afternoon snoozes outside them.
Her last was the shipwreck museum in Fremantle where all manner of old stuff was on view. Anchors, windlasses, Tom the cabin boy's patched breeches and of course, some broken plates dredged up from some unfortunate's last dinner.
Amongst such collections you'll invariably find ancient old, rusty bits of metal, testament to the ravages of sea and time. Just like the one in the picture.
The thing is, that rusty bit of old shit is what, right up until about one o'clock today was connecting us to terra firma, eight metres down in the mud of Pittwater Bay. I was, wait for it girls, half stripped, ready to step into a shower when a bigger than usual gust blew through. In as close to an impersonation of Pierce Brosnan as you'll get, I stepped into the cockpit just in time to hear a "pop" and feel a tremor through the soles of my feet.
As we took off sideways it was pretty clear what had happened. The anchor chain I had told the bloody surveyor back in New Cal to condemn, "Oh no. Eez good. Rust eez eight times the volume of sound metal. Pas de probleme" says Oooberr. I'll give him a pas de bleedin' probleme if I ever see him again. Thirteen hundred euros and the one thing I told him was knackered......... Friggin' amateurs.
Anybody finds an anchor with about fifty metres of chain, keep the chain but do please send back the anchor.
15 November 2018 | Illuka. NSW
Plan A had been to hit Brisbane, clear in with the assorted Polis, see a few friends then take a short cut down the sheltered inside channels from Brissie to Southport, just as we did last year in Beige Bandit. That was the plan until Anne reminded me of a conversation back at early morning coffee time in Noumea when Paw Paw told us to watch out for low slung wires. Now, we didn't remember seeing any wires last year let alone some suffering from dropsy and I guess it slipped our minds - probably a filter in there somewhere so as not to screw up our perfectly prepared, and imagined, passage plan where we conjured up a leisurely cruise through the islands, sunshine, calm seas and fifteen knots from just aft the beam. Faced with the reality that we are now three or so metres taller than Beige Bandit, as old Time Bandit will now be known, we had to retrace our wake and head back north around Moreton Island, forty or fifty miles around the world's largest sand dune ....or some other claim to fame. Despite all this sand, you wouldn't want to sunbathe there. You won't get just get sand kicked in your eye. Judging by the number of 4WD vehicles thrashing along the beach you'll either get tyre tracks across your sun tan cream or buried in the output of spinning wheels.
Overnight we've ticked off the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast. Both aptly named for their golden sands and year long, sunshine. We got the calm seas and the wind from back aft. We also got the full rays. As my aching head will testify, this is no country for bald men.
11 November 2018
I took a while. A good few days in fact and at one point I even resorted to reading the instructions. The good news for Time Bandit AIS followers on Marine Traffic or Find Ship is that I seem to have cracked it.
Just look for MMSI 232 018 514
10 November 2018
There's a rally from New Caledonia to Bundaberg, Australia, the Go West Rally. One if its prime selling points is that the organisation has tamed the local Bundaberg bio-security and are able to guarantee and cap the fees for inspection and clearance. If you've a boat, especially an older boat with lots of wood, at $50 per inspector per fifteen minutes, double that at weekends, your bio bill can soon mount up to an eye watering sum. To a degree, I feel the organisers play on this Cruiser fear and this year, something like seventy boats signed up. I mean, Bundaberg is quite nice but it's in the middle of nowhere Queensland. It can also produce some quite exciting electrical storms. Exciting as in will the insurance cover the result of a spectacular lightning strike to ones masthead.
However, as old hands, we knew Brisbane bio was fine and, doing it ourselves, we could save a few dollars and more importantly, get a good few hundred miles closer to Sydney. And, we like Brisbane, we know the marina and we know the way in, especially if we arrive in the dark......"
Jeepers creepers. What a different experience this year. All weather entrance it says in the book! Yeah, if your in an RNLI lifeboat. As we crossed from ocean to estuary, from thousands and hundreds of metres to less than the deep end at your local swimming pool, we had roaring breakers right up our chuff and left and right as we threaded our way through the lights marking the sand banks. "Come more left. You're too close to that green."
Left, on Anne's side from what I could see was just a wall of breakers. "No way Jose. I'd prefer ploughing up the sandbank rather than go surfing at this time of night"
And, Moreton Bay is huge. It's miles and miles from the entrance to the marina. I think it was six hours of picking out lights and leading lines weaving through the shoals while seagulls stood up to their knobbly knees on the banks watching us go past a few metres away.
Once into the Brisbane river we had another couple of nerve wracking hours working the blue flashing lights of the leading lines of the narrow channel. It was all quite intense and easily justified an extremely large gin and tonic.
Then, next morning an ear splitting PAAAAAARRRRRPPP has us once again doing the sprint from bed to cockpit to find what the heck is going on. It's our nemesis from last year's exit of the lagoon in New Cal. That's what's going on. The P&O Pacific Dawn pilot has his elbow on the horn as he or she ploughs down, what to us, had seemed like an impossibly tight channel.
Maybe it wasn't so narrow after all. It did leave us feeling like a pair of nervous ninnies.
Stresses and Strains
08 November 2018 | Somewhere in the Coral Sea
"Dad. Tell them about the coffee pot".
That was from one of Russ and Greer's kids on the day I was doing one of my, knock-on-the-hull, "Hi. I'm Stuart", invite myself aboard routines when I was researching catamarans over the last few years.
The Tika family were en route to Australia from Panama in their Outremer 55 and what they were referring to was the time their coffee pot leapt two inches in the air when waves came together under the bridge deck and slammed upwards momentarily freeing the pot from gravity. We didn't have the coffee pot but we did have some resounding bangs.
We left New Cal in the usual forecast of 18-20 which of course was 25-30. And naturally, peaking in the pitch black. But....didn't we do well finding the right ropes to pull and getting it all tamed and under control?
There seems to be a consensus in the cruising cat world or perhaps it's mostly from pundits in the yachting press that, as there's no "feel" in cruising cats you have to sail "by the numbers". Cats don't heel and really don't fly a hull so supposedly, you can crash on in blissful ignorance, oblivious to stresses and strains, piling on more and more pressure.........until your mast falls down around your ears, the shrouds parting like "a fuse" thus ensuring the boat won't flip........or so the marketing goes. Hmmmm. I'm not entirely sure what you have to smoke, or indeed how much you have to drink such that you're oblivious to what's going on in the boat. From our immediate and very limited experience it was pretty bloody obvious when we needed to slide open the patio doors, poke our noses outside and decide a sail change was in order. The first sign was when the TV shot out its housing like a flat screen cuckoo clock. The second was the dreadful inconvenience of spray coming aboard. The third was the racket. At times you'd think WW III had kicked off under the bridge deck. Helpfully, the Owners Manual gives a step-by-step guide to what sails to have up in what wind strengths, so, come the day I'm sailing completely hammered, I can simply check the manual and, "sail by the numbers."
But it was brilliant. Its like sailing a fast floating apartment. We even baked my birthday cake. Well, Anne did.
02 November 2018
A number of firsts today. First of November, or it was when I drafted this. First time being sixty three - how the heck did that happen? First ocean crossing in a cat. First impressions? Well, for starters, like the Shearwater cat in which I served my apprenticeship fifty plus years ago, its got two hulls. It's stable plus or minus four or five degrees and its fast; squeeze in the sails or point up a bit and whoosh - you're off. Quite a number of people have told me to keep a lid on things. For example, not going to windward at eleven plus knots when the Outremer Owners Manual clearly says in ze bold text, "We strongly advise against exceeding nine knots when close hauled." In my defence, it was our first outing, it was flat water.....and I had Endorphin B behind me..... Colin and Izzy from Largs, not the wee beasties that flood your system when you're having fun, and I've a suspicion the nine knots to windward rule is probably more to do with increasing the chances of spilling red wine and letting the foie gras slip to the floor.
Before heading out for Australia we stopped for the night at Ilot Amedee, the last atoll on the left as you exit the New Caledonia lagoon. It's famous for its lighthouse which towers above the beach, the bars and deck chairs with their little cocktail stick umbrellas under which the visiting bleached tourists burn themselves sunset red during the first days of their holidays. The lighthouse scared the pants off me that night. I was woken from a deep sleep , if you can deep sleep at anchor when sober, by the sound of knocking on the hull. Now, Time Bandit has two large "picture windows" in each hull so that while having a wiz up front or lying in your pit, you can enjoy looking out at the scenery, the passers by and with the latter, wondering if they can see in, ones embarrassment sheltered only by the open pages of an old Yachting Monthly. Anyway, woken from my dreams I opened my eyes, looked out the window and wham, right in front of me, only about twenty metres away was the lighthouse. It should have been half a mile away. Now, I might be in my sixties but physically, when your new boat is about to land on the reef, I've the reactions of a first fifteen scrum half loaded with Red Bull. I was out of bed and on deck faster than Maggie Reilly could say, "Moonlight Shadow".......'cause that's all it was. The shadow of the moon beams were creating the illusion the illusion of the lighthouse on the water, stretching right across the reef to my bleary, and I suppose, ageing eyes.
A few hours more kip and we were up at the crack of dawn to take our new toy out into the wild and wooly ocean for the first time. "We'll keep it conservative" says I putting in the first reef even before we'd left the lagoon. The forecast was OK, eighteen to twenty but I've learnt to distrust these GRIB thingys. Sure enough, come afternoon and all night its blowing twenty five to thirty. We've done our first pitch black second reef, rolled away a few turns on the solent and we're still conservatively thrashing along at ten to twelve surfing to fifteen and sixteen. See! I'm keeping it conservative. As for the ride, compared to the Island Packet, our "beige battleship" its all a bit jumpy. It reminds me of one of these little cars you see the circus clowns driving around the big top. The ones where the hub of each wheel is mounted off-centre and when its underway, every corner is moving in a different direction. When you're inside, that as opposed to outside playing ping-pong out on the patio, at fifteen knots its like one of these YouTube clips you see of Japanese or Californian shops and offices during an earthquake when PC's shoogle off the edge of desks, plates smash to the floor and folk hide under the tables screaming. Onboard, it seems similar. No.......that's an exaggeration. We're not screaming and we're not under the table but the movement and the noise does seem vaguely familiar. When we surf and a wave crashes under and between the hulls its like a piano being thrown down the stairs but man........it's a truck load of fun!
Stamp, Stamp and We're Gone
28 October 2018
Oh! That delicious sound of an official's inked stamp on your Permis de Depart.
After the apparently essential six kilometre walk to visit Immigration, Customs and Capitiniere all inconveniently housed in different office blocks miles apart, we finally got the All Clear and a fully stamped Permis de Depart so, after fueling up wi tax free diesel, we're outta here. Not far, as we've three days or so to poke around the islets in the lagoon and three days to kill to ensure we don't arrive in Australia at weekend, ninety five bucks every fifteen minutes for yer man from Biosecurity to poke his nose around our bilges looking for a bug or two.........while, half a mile away, manky containers from around the world, probably crawling with all kinds of wiggly things are unloaded onto Australian soil.
And so, with a parting chocolate croissant and a black coffee that would put hair on your chest we will haul up our equally manky chain, hose off the pound of rust that will be strewn across the deck and head off into the wide blue yonder. Time Bandit is immaculate.........but for the chain which seems to have left a trail of zinc along its thirty seven thousand mile track.
Eight hundred miles to Brisbane. What's that at fifteen knots?