30 June 2020 | Tregoning is in Lemon Tree Passage Marina, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia
29 June 2020 | Tregoning is in Lemon Tree Passage Marina, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia
20 June 2020 | Pindimar Bay, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
31 May 2020 | West Salamander Bay, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australi
13 May 2020 | Lemon Tree Passage Marina, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
24 April 2020 | North Arm Cove, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
10 April 2020 | Salamander Bay, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
28 March 2020 | Fame Cove, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
19 March 2020 | Snug Cove, Eden, New South Wales, Australia
14 March 2020 | Off Shelly Beach, Prosser Bay, east Tasmania, Australia
13 March 2020 | Bay between Carlton Bluff and Renard Point, southeast Tasmania, Australia
11 March 2020 | Prince of Wales Bay Marina, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
02 March 2020 | Duck Pond, Barnes Bay, North Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia
22 February 2020 | Prince of Wales Bay Marina, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
15 February 2020 | Prince of Wales Bay Marina, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
13 February 2020 | Prince of Wales Bay Marina, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
11 February 2020 | Prince of Wales Bay Marina, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
05 February 2020 | Prince of Wales Bay Marina, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
02 February 2020 | Geilston Bay, off Derwent River, Hobart, Tasmania Australia
30 January 2020 | Dru Point, North West Bay, North of Bruny Island, Tasmania Australia

Hurrah! I (only) have a stinking cold

30 June 2020 | Tregoning is in Lemon Tree Passage Marina, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Dawn beyond Bulls Island as seen from Lemon Tree Passage Marina
After less than 24 hours, my Covid-19 test result has come back as negative for the virus. Not a surprise but a big relief and never have I been so happy to have a cold...or, at least, just a cold. Also, as Vandy and Eric correctly noted, this may be the first time I am truly happy to have failed a test! I am no longer banished to the back bedroom in Hillary's house, although, of course, I am being careful about not spreading this annoying but less threatening virus to Randall and Hillary.

Thankfully this has been a very brief episode of anxiety and I am grateful to those who had time to send messages of sympathy. Despite having been fairly confident of a negative result, this episode has made me much more empathetic with people in areas with rampant Covid-19 but with a largely non-compliant population concerning the use of masks and social-distancing. Thank you, Jan, for directing me to the following website about the value of masks in this pandemic:
Even if they are not as effective for colds and 'flu and if mask-wearers are in the vast minority here, we will certainly be wearing our masks on the public transportation on the way back to Port Stephens.

Now, I will sit down with Hillary (not too close and with plenty of hand-sanitizer) to identify some of the plants in the photographs that I took on our Cascades walk...for the next blog.

The strange road to a Covid-19 test

29 June 2020 | Tregoning is in Lemon Tree Passage Marina, Port Stephens, NSW, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: The Cascades in Garigal National Park, Sydney, where Hillary and I walked
Because of an old driver for the modem for our single-side-band radio, I just had a throat and nasal swab test for Covid-19 and must stay isolated for 48 to 72 hours until we get the results back.

What, you may well ask, is the link here?

Of course, it is a bit of a convoluted story...

As concluded in the last blog-post, Randall has recently bought a new hp laptop and while he had to transfer data and programs to it from his old laptop, and to download some updated programs, we decided to treat ourselves to a week in the marina at Lemon Tree Passage starting on Saturday (20th June). Although it was good to have a reliable supply of electricity, the internet connection via our cellphone was not very fast so some of the downloading took all night to be completed which was a bit frustrating. But nothing like as maddening as the Windows blue-screen-of-death that greeted Randall on Wednesday morning.

The last thing that Randall had loaded on the laptop before turning it off the previous night had been the driver for an old modem that we use with our SSB radio to get emails and weather forecasts when we are at sea. He suspects that somehow that driver had corrupted something rather basic in the Windows operating system because none of the resets or self-help options could even be started, much less work.

It took an hour on the phone to the hp Helpline to conclude that something had seriously gone wrong with the operating system and the laptop would have to be wiped-clean and Windows 10 would have to be reloaded. Since that operating system had been already loaded on new the laptop, which could no longer recognize our external disc drive, and the internet connection was too slow to download such a massive program, Randall had to return the laptop to the Harvey Norman store where we had bought it. Computer sale associate, Steve, had kindly agreed on the phone to reload Windows 10 for us, if that was necessary.

A trip to the store was no longer a quick row ashore and walk up the road from the Salamander Bay anchorage. Taking Tregoning back there from Lemon Tree Passage Marina would have probably been quicker than the trip by bus except that we would have had to wait for the appropriate high tides. So, feeling emboldened by the low number of Coivid-19 cases in NSW, we took one bus from Lemon Tree Passage to Salt Ash and another from there to the Salamander Bay Shopping Center, a 37-km (23-mile) trip that, with detours and wait between buses, took about two hours. We were very relieved that the buses were not busy and we were able to keep well-separated from the driver and other passengers. The buses had signs showing passenger limits far below their normal capacity, and green stickers showed which seats should be used, so that passengers were socially distanced. Like most people, we did not wear masks (not required) but we did use plenty of hand-sanitizer after we touched anything.

We dropped off the laptop and had a nice Thai lunch before shopping for some groceries and a few other things. Fortunately, Steve had been able to reload the Windows OS so Randall could reclaim the same laptop. If it had been a hardware fault, we would have either have to wait for weeks for the new order of that model to arrive, or to settle for another model...probably at unnecessarily greater cost. We were also thankful that Steve complete the task before the last buses left for Lemon Tree Passage because the idea of making the slow bus trip on two consecutive days was not appealing.

The downside to this rescue of the laptop was that Randall now had to reload all of his data and programs, excluding the dodgy SSB-modem driver. After each major addition, he would take extra precautions to update the "system restore points" and would record the time and order of loading so that if something else was the problem, he could restore the operating system to before the corrupted material had been loaded, without losing everything loaded before that time. Of course, this was going to involve plenty of downloads from the internet again and Randall could not bear the idea of having to struggle with the slow progress of this using our phone data.

So, encouraged by our relatively stress-free experience on public transportation, Randall proposed that we make a trip to see Hillary in Forestville, northern Sydney. When we had briefly seen Hillary and Glen at the beginning of the month, Hillary had suggested that we come to visit because Glen was leaving for six weeks to go to Perisher in the Snowy Mountains (southeast NSW) to work at the fire station, and snow-board on his time off, and she would enjoy some company at the house. Now her offer seemed particularly enticing because not only could we enjoy time with Hillary but Randall could use the fast WiFi at her house. It would also be a familiar but lovely change of scene after three months in Port Stephens.

Randall had an appointment with the dermatologist in Lemon Tree Passage on Friday to have a biopsy from a mole on his chest, so we postponed our trip to Forestville to Saturday, after requesting to leave Tregoning at the Marina for another week. Taking advantage of the trip, we also made appointments for cleaning and check-ups with Hillary's dentist in Forestville, who we had visited before. Both feeling healthy, we were very excited by the adventure of a trip after three months with little travel and still no sign of the Queensland border being opened. We had hoped that the interstate travel restrictions would be lifted in early July, but with a sudden spike in Covid-19 cases in Melbourne (e.g., 75 new cases today versus 7 in NSW: and 598 active cases in Australia as a whole), our optimism about this was slipping away.

News of an infected pupil in southwestern Sydney, who had many contacts in their school, made me a little more nervous about going towards the big city. Making our trip on a Saturday rather than a school day, however, now looked sensible. Also, a look at the map of cases by health district: showed no cases in the last 30 days in areas adjacent to Forestville. Although very few people routinely wear masks on the street in Australia, we did buy a few N95 masks in the local pharmacy (where they assured us that they had plenty for sale) so that if we found ourselves in a crowded vehicle or station we could put them on.

The whole 4-hour 50-minute journey by bus, bus, train, train, and bus went very smoothly with us making all of our connections on time and arriving to greet Hillary (with elbow bumps, no hugs) mid-afternoon. On the first bus and both trains, the passengers had been reasonably well-spaced and we had felt pretty comfortable, again using copious hand-sanitizer. The last bus had more passengers than the supposed limit but, it was easy to see how the drivers could keep letting people on as long as there were plenty of empty seats still visible.

The worst, however, was the bus from Salt Ash to Newcastle where we were not too crowded but we had to sit near the back and in the last rows were four teenage girls. They were talking loudly and were clearly excited about a trip to the shopping mall which would have all been fine, but we could soon hear that one of them had a streaming cold. They were even talking about Covid-19 symptoms of which this girl undoubtedly had some but her sniffles and sneezing did sound exactly like a common cold. We did not see whether she was covering her mouth when she sneezed but it did not sound particularly stifled. After so much isolation, this was the first obvious person with a cold we had seen in months and it occurred to us that schools were the most likely place where they would spread after the lockdown.

In retrospect we should have moved further forward in the bus or put on our masks as soon as we heard the sneezes but it seemed as though we were far enough away from her...if she was covering her mouth. Maybe she was the source, or maybe it was somewhere else but despite all the hand-sanitizing, I woke up on Sunday morning with a slightly scratchy throat and sniffles. I felt pretty good, however, and while Randall merrily loaded-up his laptop, I went for a 9-km run in the morning and joined Hillary for a walk to The Cascades in Garigal National Park with much bird-watching and plant identification (Hillary is a very skilled botanist) in the afternoon. Stephanie had come over for dinner on Saturday evening (again only elbow bumps and no hugs) and joined us again on Sunday evening at a favorite local Thai restaurant where, luckily I did not sit near anyone other than Randall and Hillary. By that time, I had convinced myself that I was as likely to be suffering from hay-fever (Hillary had pointed-out a huge number of flowering species even though it was mid-winter) or a sudden-onset of a cold.

A Banksia flower seen on my walk with Hillary

Waking in the middle of the night and lying there with a sore-throat and headache, I was convinced that I had caught a cold (I have always been particularly susceptible to them) but all I could think about was the responsibility of ensuring that it was not Covid-19. With no fever, no cough, no breathing difficulties, no body-aches or lethargy, and with my appetite and senses of smell and taste in fine order (despite the nasal congestion), I was not worried that I was sick with the coronavirus. However, I realized that it was a heavy burden to have a few of the potential symptoms and to try to ignore this fact. With his history of heart surgery, I am absolutely terrified of Randall becoming infected with Covid-19 and especially of me being the carrier that gives it to him. I would also be mortified if I had brought it to such dear friends Hillary and Stephanie.

During the night, it is easy to feel overly sensational about things and I pondered whether the headache was induced by tension. Was I simply imagining that minor hay-fever or common cold sniffles might be something more melodramatic? Earlier in the day, I had discussed with Sarah in Victoria and Sue in Florida the fact that none of us knew anyone who had actually had a Covid-19 test (although Sue now knows of positive cases in her neighborhood). Was I being a drama-queen in thinking that I should get tested when it was highly unlikely that I had been exposed to the coronavirus? On the other hand, and adding to my tension, surely if there was ever a time to be cautious, wasn't this it? What mayhem could I spread if I went to the dentist and took public transportation back to Port Stephens while unknowingly carrying a potentially deadly disease...never mind, leaving Randall, Hillary, and Stephanie unwarned?

Caution won the night.

Regretting that I had not isolated myself immediately on Sunday morning, I finally fell asleep again but resolved that I should go and get a Covid-19 test as soon as possible. Hillary gave us helpful advice about where to go and loaned us her car. So once the school-rush was over on Monday morning, Randall drove me to the shiny (relatively) new Northern Beaches Hospital, a place that I had passed during my run the previous morning. As we drove there, it did not escape me that there was a certain irony that I, who had been so happy to be spending the pandemic in Australia and had bragged about the ease of self-isolation on a boat, might be one of the first of our friends and relations to be tested for Covid-19.

Directed by signs and masked security personnel to a car-park at the back of the hospital, we were checked-in by a masked person who took my name and phone number. He also handed out masks to people who did not arrive with one (as we did) and a page of information. We were then sent back to sit in our car until they called us, which they did about 30 minutes later. I then checked-in with a gowned, gloved, and masked nurse who took my name, date of birth, and symptoms. Randall was advised that they were not testing people who were not showing any symptoms and so went back to the car. I waited in a socially distanced line for a couple more minutes then was called in by another nurse in gown, gloves, mask, and face-shield. After checking my name and DOB on the sample tube, she swabbed each side of the back of my tongue for 4 seconds (I almost gagged on the second one) and then poked the same long swab deep into each nostril and rotated it there for 7 seconds. That was that and I was sent away, with the expectation of a text message with the results within 48 to 72 hours and a phone call if the result is positive.

There is no denying that the nasal swab was uncomfortable and I was quite surprised that it did not make my nose bleed. But it was done professionally and was over quickly so I would not hesitate to have it done again if needed. There were news reports of people in parts of Australia undergoing 14 days of quarantine who were refusing to have the test at the end of that period. If they refused the test, they were being held in mandatory quarantine for a further 10 seems as though you would have to really be test-adverse to take that consequence.

This is only a test for active cases in which the virus is present and is not an antibody test that would be needed to see if a person had been exposed to the virus in the past (to understand the differences see: Rather than being terrified that I was potentially exposing myself to other people who might have positive test results, I was strangely reassured that most of the people that I saw being tested looked fairly healthy or had the same sort of sniffles that I had. In many countries (such as the US), a doctor's prescription is needed for testing but at this time in Australia, that was not the case and at least one, self-reported symptom was the only requirement.

Under normal circumstances I would be concerned that I was being unnecessarily precautionary and was wasting a test-kit and the time of the administering personnel. In the case of this pandemic, however, not only is caution vital but negative results are very useful in tracking the true incidence of a disease that may be unreported in asymptomatic carriers or can be confused for other illnesses when the symptoms do not rise to the level of needing medical care.

After the test I had to phone the hospital's reception desk to register details such as my address (after explaining about living on a boat, I gave Hillary's) and national health coverage (or insurance in my case). As I understand it, there is no charge for test but presumably this is in case of a positive result and subsequent treatment. The sheet of paper then instructed me to go home and self-isolate until a negative result is received. Obviously, in the event of a positive result, quarantine is extended beyond the resolution of a symptoms and I would be panicking about Randall, Hillary, and Stephanie.

So here I am, in Hillary's back bedroom, nursing my cold and being nursed by Randall who is marvelously attentive. We will have to postpone or cancel our dental appointments and I called Stephanie to explain what had happened and to let her know that we would be in touch as soon as the result came. We will certainly be wearing our masks and being even more paranoid about hand-cleaning when we eventually return to Port Stephens, assuming that the results come back negative. In the unlikely event that the result is positive, then a whole new stream of anxiety and remorse will ensue but there is no point in anticipating that yet. Either way on the test results, I will let you know.

New Perspectives in Port Stephens

20 June 2020 | Pindimar Bay, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: South from Yacaaba Head to Mount Stephens (behind the grasstrees) and Tomaree Head to the rig
A few hours after posting the last blog entry, we received an email telling us that the Sail2Indonesia Rally had been postponed until July 2021. With the uncertainty of when the international border would be open, the Ministry of Tourism was no longer offering the various cultural events that were an integral part of the rally. Within a few days of this decision, there was an announcement from the Indonesian government that the border would be opened within a few weeks despite having 1,226 new cases of Covid-19 in the country on 20th June. We were thankful that the rally had been postponed as we had no intention of going under the conditions likely to persist in Indonesia into the foreseeable future. Whether we will need, and be able, to leave and return to Australia before July 2021 remains to be seen.

The pandemic situation in Australia is remarkably encouraging, with national numbers of active cases of Covid-19 reduced to 214 with only 20 new cases on 19th June (7 in NSW, 13 in Victoria, and none in the other states and territories). While this has allowed considerable relaxation of the restrictions on activities and, we hope, will result in all interstate borders being reopened within weeks, the thorny issue will be when to allow routine international arrivals. After three weeks with no new cases in New Zealand, it was discovered in mid-June that two New Zealand citizens who had been in a quarantine facility in Auckland after arriving from the UK were allowed to drive to Wellington half-way through their quarantine to visit a dying parent. Strangely, they were not tested before leaving the facility but when tested in Wellington they were both shown to have the virus. With 320 contacts identified from their flight, quarantine hotel, and their trip to Wellington, it is shocking how quickly a potentially virus-free country can be set-back by errors and omissions in quarantining arrivals from overseas:

Despite this set-back, being caught in New Zealand or Australia has been very fortuitous for many cruisers. As Vandy on SV Scoots succinctly put it, we won the lockdown lottery. We worry for our family and friends in the UK and US, especially in states such as Florida where the rush to re-open many businesses has resulted in increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases.

Total Population 2020 in Florida = 21.48 million
Total Population 2020 in Australia = 25.50 million

Total Covid-19 cases to 19 June in Florida = 93,797
Total Covid-19 cases to 19 June in Australia = 7,436

Total Covid-19 deaths to 19 June in Florida = 3,144
Total Covid-19 deaths to 19 June in Australia = 102

New cases on the day of 19 June in Florida = 4,061
New cases on the day of 19 June in Australia = 20

I couldn't manage to make a table in Sailblogs format. Data from:

One of the few bits of encouraging news from the US is that the demonstrations sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a police-officer, although not necessarily good from a Covid-19 standpoint, do seem to be precipitating some serious reviews and changes concerning racism and inappropriate police-practices in the US. Maybe not at all of the levels needed, and it remains to be seen how long the outrage lasts, but it is an important start in addressing racial injustice.

In view of the low number of Covid-19 cases in Australia now, we have even had a few social "dates". We ate at a restaurant for the first time since 10th March, being suitably distanced from other patrons and required to give names and phone number for contact tracing. We tried to download the contract-tracing app that the Australian government was promoting but, as seems to be a problem in many nations, our phone was too old for the app to work.

Randall watches while Sally tries to soak Glen and Connor splashes over to help

Hillary and Glen stopped by for a few hours one afternoon. They were returning to Sydney after visiting friends further north in NSW and we had a very pleasant time sitting at picnic tables in Roy Wood Reserve (the dog-friendly beach park in east Salamander Bay). They had brought Conner and Sally with them and the dogs thoroughly enjoyed an excuse to play in the water and get soaked. A walk around the Corlett Headland dried them enough to get back into Glen's shiny, brand-new SUV. On the way, Hillary spotted a yellow-faced honeyeater, which was a new species of bird for Randall and me.

Glen and Hillary with Sally and Connor - Is that Santa in the background? No, it's Randall with his lockdown beard and uncut hair...

A few days later, while I was running at North Arm Cove, Randall chatted with a local resident, Robert, who has a trimaran moored in the bay. He had spent a year aboard his boat in Tasmania, so they had plenty to talk about. We had met Robert a few weeks earlier when he and his partner Jennie stopped by Tregoning in in their kayaks. Jennie was away in Sydney but Robert suggested that the three of us go for a hike up Yacaaba Headland. There are hills on either side of the entrance to Port Stephens, the higher Yacaaba Headland to the north and Tomaree to the south. Anita and Mike had kindly taken us to climb Tomaree last year so I was quite keen to visit Yacaaba.

Looking out of the entrance to Port Stephen from Nelson Head with Yacaaba Headland to the left, Tomaree to the right and Boondelbah Island in the middle

The only problem at North Arm Cove was that it was only about mid-tide when we went ashore to meet Robert. Consequently, there was about 50 m (about 150 feet) to pull the dinghy across mud to reach the little boat-ramp where we wanted to pull the dinghy up above the shore. With our big dinghy wheels, the dinghy was actually not as difficult to pull through the mud as I expected and I managed to wade ashore without getting stuck in the mud. Randall was not quite as fortunate and he was in great jeopardy of losing one or both of his Crocs in the deep mud. At one point, as I was trying to hold him up while he pulled on his Croc-clad foot, I was sure that we were both going to fall over in the mud and water and would have to abandon our hike, in addition to providing great entertainment to anyone watching. Luckily, after much struggle we did both get ashore without loss of footwear or too much dignity. Much to our relief, it was high tide by the time we returned and it was easy to launch the dinghy from the bottom of the ramp without having to venture far through the mud.

Robert kindly drove us to Tea Gardens (which we had visited last year by boat), across the Singing Bridge to Hawks Nest, and then parked at the end of the road at Bennetts Beach. As we crossed the dune to the beach, I realized that we had not been on, or seen, the ocean since 27th March. It was good to see the ocean and with the neatly peeling waves and Caribbean colors it looked positively inviting.

Robert and Randall walk down to Bennetts Beach with Cabbage Tree Island beyond

We had a very pleasant walk along the beach for about 1 km (0.6 mile) before reaching the base of Yacaaba Headland. At 220 m high (722 feet), Yacaaba Head is not particularly high but it lies at the end of a flat, narrow peninsular so it is an isolated and imposing hill.

Looking northwest from Yacaaba to the narrow isthmus that connects it the mainland with Bennetts Beach on ocean to its right and Jimmys Beach inside Port Stephens on the left side

Unlike the paved track and fenced lookout points on Tomaree Head, the route up Yacaaba is an unpaved trail, the last 0.5 km (0.3 mile) of which is quite steep. We had been warned that the last section was rocky and required the use of hands and feet so Randall suggested that Robert and I go ahead when we reached that section. In fact, it was steep and rocky but not particularly difficult so just before Robert and I started our descent, Randall appeared at the summit.

Randall carefully descending part of the steep trail from the top of Yacaaba Head

It was evident that the recent period of heavy rain had resulted in water pouring down the trail cutting quite a deep channel in places, so we were thankful that the rain that we could see across the Port at Nelson Bay did not reach us. Instead, we were treated to excellent views from the summit including Tomaree Head across the Port Stephens' entrance channel, and south to Mount Stephens (with its historic lighthouse) which is separated from the mainland by the tidal channel/sandbar at the north end of Fingal Bay. To the north we could see the long sweep of Bennetts Beach, the Broughton Islands in the distance, and nearby the John Gould Nature Reserve, a.k.a. Cabbage Tree Island.

No visitors are allowed on the latter island as "it is the principal breeding site of the nominate subspecies of the threatened Gould's petrel" (Wikipedia). The breeding population of this ground-nesting petrel was in decline until active management, starting in 1992, resulted in the eradication of rabbits from the island. The over-grazing of these non-native mammals had exposed the petrel nests to excessive predation by native pied currawongs and Australian ravens. A small secondary nesting population has also been expanded on the neighboring Boondelbah Island. By 2005, the breeding population of Gould's petrel had quadrupled, with 50% of pairs producing fledglings compared to a previous value of just 20%. A rather satisfying conservation story.

Robert and Randall on Bennetts Beach at the base of Yacaaba Headland

We enjoyed our picnic lunch halfway down the headland and, after another bracing walk along the beach, Robert took us to the fish cooperative in Tea Gardens where I bought some fish and shrimp for dinner. We were very appreciative that Robert had been willing to drive us around and show us the trail. He likes to climb the Headland fairly regularly to make sure that he can still do it. Judging by the rapid speed that he walked up the trail, he does not seem to have much to worry about yet!

The trip to Yacaaba made a welcome change from entertaining ourselves on Tregoning in the various bays of Port Stephens. With several days of cloud and light winds, we found ourselves a bit short of electricity at times which nixed our movie-viewing and prolonged sessions on our laptops but on the whole we are not suffering much from cabin-fever. The light winds also make it easier to row ashore to exercise so that is something of a useful trade-off.

Calm cloudy conditions in North Arm Cove - looking north from where Tregoning in anchored in the middle of the bay (Robert lives just to the left of the picture)

We goofed-up a couple of times when in Salamander Bay (our refuge in southerly winds and when we need faster internet connection than at North Arm Cove). On time we locked ourselves out of Tregoning after going to shore to exercise. Luckily, we were able to get into the cabin eventually but Randall cut his finger quite deeply when a handle broke. Still, our pride stayed somewhat intact as we did not have to row over to a neighboring boat to borrow tools or call a locksmith. The other incident was when we picked-up the public mooring while having the anchor hanging off the bow just below the water level (where the clay-mud from North Arm Cove had been washing-off during our transit across Port Stephens). There was quite a stiff breeze blowing so we had been lucky to catch the mooring first time but in remarkably short-order, the mooring line became entangled with the anchor-rode. Releasing the mooring line, raising the anchor, and picking-up the mooring again would have seemed like the obvious solution. However, the lines had become entwined under tension (the wind blowing on Tregoning's bow) such that Randall was afraid that when trying to release the mooring loop from the cleat it might snag the anchor and make matters worse. It took about 20 minutes of lassoing the anchor with another rope and maneuvering it to untangle the mess. Luckily it did not start raining until we had finished, and we were far enough from shore that it is unlikely that many people could work out what we trying to do.

Still, it was worth the effort to spend some time in Salamander Bay because Pete, who was staying on his boat SV Havachat in the nearby Corlette marina very kindly gave us a ride to the hardware store one morning. On the way back, after a quick trip to the supermarket, we stopped at the Harvey Norman appliances store where Randall looked at new laptops. His nine-year old laptop was running very slowly and had developed an ominous permanent line across the screen. So after much deliberation, we walked back to the store that afternoon and he bought a new HP laptop. He will have to use an adapter on the Australian plug to connect to our US outlets on Tregoning but otherwise he is very a kid in a candy store! It was the last, display unit of that model in the store so it was on sale and they did not know how long a new order would take to arrive. With everyone working at home, laptop sales had tripled over the last couple of months.

To ensure that we have plenty of power while Randall uploads software and data to his new laptop, we decided to treat ourselves to a week in Lemon Tree Passage Marina. It would not hurt to thoroughly charge-up Tregoning's batteries and we have about five weeks' worth of laundry to do. But we needed to wait for a day until the high tides (needed to get into Lemon Tree Passage) were at a reasonable time in the morning. With light northerly winds forecast, we decided to leave Salamander Bay (exposed to the north) and go northeast to Pindimar Bay, at the mouth of the Myall River. Although not far from Winda Woppa (where we anchored to visit Tea Gardens last year), we had not taken Tregoning into Pindimar Bay before so we wanted to see whether it was a good alternative to North Arm Cove. Although more exposed to the south and with more boat traffic going up the river, including the ferry from Nelson Bay to Tea Gardens, it was a pleasant anchorage. We would have to put the outboard on the dinghy to go upriver to Hawks Nest or Tea Gardens and it was not obvious that there was any shore access in the small community of Pindimar. Thus, it did not really have any advantages over North Arm Cove, especially now that Robert is kind enough to take us hiking, but it was very pleasant to explore a new location. There are not many places left in Port Stephens that we have not visited, so perhaps after we leave Lemon Tree Passage, we will explore the northwest corner, at the mouth of the Karuah River. Until the Queensland border is open (maybe mid-July) this is as exciting as our explorations are likely to be. But we are healthy and safe and exceptionally grateful for that.

A good time to reminisce

31 May 2020 | West Salamander Bay, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australi
Alison Stocker | Photo: Looking east at dusk in Salamander Bay
There is not much news to report from here so I will also offer a few online items that we have found interesting and explain my "time-travel" project.

After leaving the Lemon Tree Passage Marina on 13th May, we spent just over two weeks on the public mooring in Salamander Bay. Nobody else appeared to be wanting to use the mooring or to anchor in the area so we took advantage of the current relaxation of the usual 24-hour time-limit on these moorings. During the first week, we again tried to patch some air-leaks in the dinghy using the last of the expensive glue for hypalon. Wanting to give it the best chance to be effective, we decided not to use the dinghy for a week (the glue takes seven days to fully harden) which was a bit frustrating with the shore relatively close and some really calm days.

By the end of that week when I was very much ready to go ashore to exercise, the wind kicked-up and it was either raining or windy for another week. Surely the rain must be good for filling reservoirs and aquifers in this drought-prone nation but the constant dampness did make life aboard a little less pleasant. Still, we were thankful that there was no lightning, and the strong breezes (we recorded gusts up to 38 knots) provided us with plenty of electricity so we could use our laptops as much as we wanted, watch movies every night, and even listen to music most days...woohoo!

Finally, the winds started to ease on 27th May so I rowed myself ashore to work off a bit of cabin-fever by running. The following day, we went over to the public dock and moorings at Nelson Bay to use the pump-out station, top-up the water tanks, dump garbage, do a bit grocery shopping, and even share an ice-cream...we were positively giddy with the excitement of if all! The cafés and almost all other businesses appeared to be open. Social-distancing is still required, of course, but some businesses are implementing this much more effectively than others.

As of 1st June, the New South Wales state border is open and vacation-travel is now being allowed both within the state and from other states.
The Queensland border is still closed, however, and the State Premiers seem to be indulging in a bit of hair-pulling about this. The massive part of Queensland's economy that depends on tourism would benefit from opening the state's border and there is certainly no talk yet of allowing international visitors. However, there would be a massive influx of snowbirds (yes, they use the same term here as in North America), particularly from Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. With no new cases in Queensland and only five active cases, is a bit understandable that the state is reluctant to open the flood-gates until all of the other states are "clean". Currently, there are no plans to open the border before the end of June.

If it is hard enough to decide when to open state borders with only 11 new cases in the whole of Australia today, goodness knows when and how international arrivals will be permitted. The current talk is of a "bubble" with New Zealand (only one active case there today) and possibly some South Pacific nations such as Fiji. At the moment such movement appears to be limited to citizens of the countries involved (supposedly to simplify immigration procedures and hence limit the risk to immigration officers of exposure although much of it is done by machine now).

So this current plan would not help us to renew our visas from outside Australia (the cheapest, simplest option) while ensuring that we could get back to our boat. However, it would be a relief to many citizens who have families spread throughout these nations.

We watch with some concern the easing of restrictions in the US where some states seem to be suffering from a secondary increase in Covid-19 cases. So far all of our family and friends there are generally doing well but the overall situation is not encouraging. Randall gets most of his US news from the New York Times which is biased to the liberal perspective. Reports about the US in the Australian press are a little less partisan but are incredulous at some of the leadership issues. A recent article by the international (UK-based) weekly, The Economist, potentially paints a slightly more optimistic perspective of how Covid-19 has been handled at the local-level in the US. If you read to the end, the article does not, however, absolve the President of exhibiting poor leadership in a time of international crisis.

After our day out in Nelson Bay, we returned to Salamander Bay where conditions were quieter and our internet connection is optimal. Another rainy windy day kept us onboard and then yesterday I enjoyed a morning run combined with a quick trip to a few stores. After that we moved Tregoning to the west side of Salamander Bay so we could go ashore for me to ride my bike to get a propane tank filled and for Randall to get some electrical switches at the nearby Jaycar store.

Oddly, now that toilet paper and paper towels are no longer in short supply here, two items that I could not find in any of the four supermarkets that I tried were: whole-wheat flour and frozen strawberries. Strange! The shortage of whole-wheat flour seems to fit the pattern of increased baking by people sheltering-in-place with, presumably supplies of whole-wheat flour being less reliable than for the available white flour. The run on frozen fruit is a little less obvious unless, like us, others are making their own jam. Randall makes (thanks to a recipe from our late friend Wendy) a reduced-sugar strawberry jam that is stored in the freezer. Instead of strawberries, we are now having to tolerate a black-cherry jam that he made which is not quite as tangy but is still pretty yummy.

Unlike me who is anxious to exercise off the boat whenever possible (sit-ups, skipping, arm-exercises, etc. only go so far), Randall has been a bit more tentative about rowing and walking long distances. The back-pain he had been experiencing is gradually disappearing but it seems that in certain positions (particular motions of knee-separation, bending, and slouching) the muscles do not hesitate to remind him that it could get worse again. Having to stop slouching, especially when watching movies, is a bit of a sacrifice but it all seems to be helping him recover so that is encouraging.

And what have we been doing all this time while confined on the boat?
Katie, Jan, and Michael have dragged us into the 2020's by finally getting us to participate in a couple of Zoom get-togethers. Not work meetings, of course, but social gatherings.

Zoom meeting with some friends from the University of Florida

Like many other people we have been enjoying some of the amazing talent on display on the internet. I am impressed by the creativity of groups and individuals to find the humor in the pandemic. A couple of favorites are:

A musical interlude on social distancing by the Phoenix Chamber Choir with a quarantine adaptation of "For the Longest Time" by Billy Joel
Gotta love the percussion using the anti-bacterial wipes dispenser!

I am particularly amazed by how cleverly people can use the video medium, for example, the Coronavirus Rhapsody (adapted from the original Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen) it a great example of the artist performing multiple parts:

There are also many inspiring examples of huge groups of isolated singers and/or musicians using video to illustrate classical brilliance. Studying the uninhibited performances and interesting back-drops is particularly fun. For example, Maurice Ravel's Boléro performed by the isolated National Orchestra of France:

As you know, there are many more pandemic-inspired examples of arts as well as plenty of suggestions for things to do and attitudes to adopt. In the latter category, I was directed to the following article written by an astronaut who was offering advice about coping with social-isolation, based on having spent many months in space. His suggestion for preserving good mental health was to dwell less upon the difficulties and limitations of the present but to include mental time-travel by anticipating what you would like to do in the future and remembering both happy things from the past and difficulties that were overcome.

So now that I seem to have the time, and if nudging memories is helpful, I have gone back to the start of my account on in October 2013 when we were in San Francisco Bay. My blog for the preceding five years was on but that free program eventually stopped working.

Join us for a slow stroll down Memory Lane (in this case, Randall on the dock in Nootka, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in July 2013) as I add retrospective posts to the beginning of our blog

So I am now working backwards on Sailblogs to add the "prequel" blog entries in batches. I started with 20th and 27th September 2013 in San Leandro and Aquatic Park, San Francisco adding all the pictures I had used before but soon realized that with another 412 entries, this would take far too long. So I am trying to limit myself to one or two photographs per post (but I am about as successful at sticking to that limit that as I am at reducing my long-winded text). It is fun for me to reread the posts which, so far, are from the west coast of USA and British Columbia - e.g., see and "newer". Maybe one day, someone planning to visit these areas, when safe to do so, might find them helpful.

Global birds and a search for koalas

13 May 2020 | Lemon Tree Passage Marina, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Eastern rosella (to 30 cm or 12 inches) seen on Global Big Day
Did you know that Saturday 9th May was Global Big Day?

In the current Covid-19 climate you might be forgiven for assuming that this refers to something like the world's worst day so far of deaths from coronavirus.

But instead it is about something much more uplifting and enjoyable. For the last five years, it has been a day when birders all around the world go out to count birds. By submitting their checklists online to: this provides a snapshot of the global bird populations. Typical of citizen science, each year there is much variation in terms of effort and results but the overall project is useful in showing some trends. We did this with Vandy and Eric in New Zealand in 2018 but for some reason we missed it while we were in Port Stephens last year.

Of course, this year was bound to be different as many people could not travel or gather as they might in normal years. The effort was still impressive 6,469 species recorded on 118,256 checklists submitted by 49,461 people. As usual, the USA had the most checklists submitted, but the greatest number of 1,431 species, was seen in Colombia. Compared to 2018, the global number of species was reduced from 6,899 (including a reduction in Colombia from 1,546 species) but the number of participants and checklists had increased by more than 40%. Whether this is an actual sign of reduced global bird diversity, or of the limitations due to Covid-19 on this year's activities, will probably not be evident until next year. Still, it was encouraging to know that so many people were participating.

A willy wagtail (to 20 cm or 8 inches) a rather curious and friendly type of fantail included in our Big Day's 36 species - gotta love the rather stern-looking white eyebrow

Tregoning was in the channel called Lemon Tree Passage so after eating breakfast before dawn, Randall and I set-off along the shoreline, first to the north and then to the south of the small community of Lemon Tree Passage which hugs the east end of the Tilligerry Peninsula. We then roamed inland through an old quarry and uphill through a eucalypt forest to the water tanks and weather-radar tower on top of the highest hill in the area. From there, we dropped down on the hill's west side to the Mallabula Sports Complex. Instead of being crowded with athletes as it usually would be on a Saturday morning, it had been left to the birds. The fields were still being mowed but perhaps not quite as frequently as usual so there were many seed-eating birds having a feast such as the eastern rosella (introductory photo). We walked more than 10 km (6 miles) over a period of about six hours. That is a slow average speed but with many periods of standing as we watched or identified species, it was quite tiring and we were both ready to sit-down once we returned to Tregoning.

Sunrise at the beginning of our first checklist seen over Lemon Tree Passage

Luckily for me, Randall is willing to record our sightings as we walk and then submit them online when we have finished. He is very good at spotting birds while I concentrate on species identification so we make a good team. We completed six checklists, dividing our total route by dominant habitats. Despite being fairly low tide, I was a little surprised that we did not see more waders and shoreline birds. Much of our shoreline trail meandered under large flowering eucalypts which were alive with noisy miners and three species of lorikeets; rainbow (very common), scaly breasted, and musk.

A musk lorikeet (to 22 cm or 9 inches) hanging upside-down to feed on eucalypt flowers

During the morning we identified 36 species which was satisfactory but not outstanding and no species that were new to us. We saw and heard very few birds during the long walk through the woods and our return walk along the main road from the sports complex. We were able to include a few gems, however, such as superb fairy wrens, red-browed firetails, a brahminy kite, and an osprey. Perhaps the most exciting species was seen fairly early and was only noticed because we were looking at a kookaburra sitting on a branch not far above the shoreline trail.

A laughing kookaburra (to 46 cm or 18 inches) on the right end of a branch...with a surprise friend at the far left end

Perched on the same branch, but right next to the tree's trunk, we spotted a tawny frogmouth! It was well camouflaged and I am sure that we would have never have noticed it had we not been admiring the kookaburra.

The tawny frogmouth (32 - 46 cm or 13 to 18 inches) sleeping-off the night's hunting activity

Randall was particularly excited that we were named in the e-bird database for two Australian "records". One was the first sighting of the day of pied oystercatchers (3) and the other was for the largest number of magpie larks (50), which we counted at the sports complex. I thought that we might get a mention for most little corellas (150) but someone had recorded! Vandy made a couple of New Zealand "records" for the first sighting of, and most (3), brown teal.

The only slight disappointment of the expedition was that I had really hoped to see a koala while we tramped through the forest. The Tilligerry Peninsula is well-known for its koala populations, with many signs informing people about their possible presence in the area. Several people seeing us peering into a tree with our binoculars assumed that we had found a koala, and one helpful chap showed us the size and type of tree that they find easiest to climb. During our bird surveys, I thought there would be a good chance that we would see a koala since we were walking slowly and looking up on the tree canopy with binoculars. Although I have been similarly unsuccessful during various runs through the local woods, it is not possible to look up at the canopy very thoroughly while running along rough trails.

In the evening, however, we did get to see an unexpected mammal. Looking across Lemon Tree Passage at low tide, I noticed what I took to be a tabby cat walking under the mangroves. Annoyed that a non-native predator was sauntering around on the uninhabited Bulls Island, I took a closer look and found that it was actually a red fox.

A red fox walking the shoreline by the mangroves of Bull's Island

Given my family-name of Fox, I do have rather soft-spot for red foxes but only in their native habitats which are spread across much of the northern hemisphere. It was fascinating to watch this specimen sniff its way along the muddy shoreline before turning inland. Like feral cats, these mammalian predators that are alien to Australia decimate populations of ground-nesting birds and small marsupials. We wondered how common they are in this area and if there is an active management program for them.

Why, you might be wondering, were we doing so much on the Tilligerry Peninsula?

After the excitement of trips to Nelson Bay and Salamander Bay around 22nd April, we spent almost two weeks anchored in North Arm Cove. Initially, the weather was mostly pleasant and relatively calm so we could get some exercise by rowing and going to shore to walk or run around the attractive residential community of North Arm Cove. Rather surprisingly, the layout of the community was designed by Walter Burley Griffin, who planned the streets of Canberra. This was because in 1918, Port Stephens was being considered as the main seaport for NSW, and the peninsula at North Arm Cove was a potential site for the nation's capital. Obviously, the full plans would have had much more complex infrastructure than was actually initiated, including a business district, factory area, and two railway stations. Only the roads of the city-style subdivision were carved-out before it became evident that the capital was going be relocated from Melbourne to the new city of Canberra in 1927. Most of the land from the 1918 subdivision is now zoned "non-urban" meaning that, other than on the residential blocks around the shoreline of the peninsula, construction of buildings is not permitted. The result is a large wooded area of privately owned but undeveloped lots with plenty of public dirt roads weaving between them, providing extensive forested walking and running tracks.

By the end of April two things changed:
Randall pulled a muscle in his back
It became windy

My own back had been sore a couple of weeks earlier but had now recovered so we were lucky not to both be semi-incapacitated at the same time. Being anchored in North Arm Cove with no need to move, was not a bad time for Randall to be resting. The wind kicked-up from the west for several days which eliminated the option of rowing to shore, in fact, we strapped the dinghy down on the deck so that we did not have to worry about it. We saw gusts up to 41 knots, while Pete on SV Havachat in a marina on the south side of Port Stephens saw 51 knots. Trapped aboard, I did some inside cleaning jobs while Randall rested his back but some walking is generally good for back pain so we needed to get to shore when things calmed down.

Thus, by Wednesday, (6th May), when the time came for a holding-tank pump-out, instead of going to the public dock in Nelson Bay, we went to the one in Lemon Tree Passage. Because of some shallow areas on the approach, we had to wait for high tide around 8 am. It was an interesting passage across the bay because there was fog with only 1/8 nm visibility. Fortunately, there were few other boats moving around and the chart was very accurate...until we got into Lemon Tree Passage itself. But by that time we could easily see the shoreline on either side as well as all the moored boats. In addition to the pump-out, we planned to spend a few nights in the neighboring Lemon Tree Passage Marina (a.k.a. Albatross Marina). We had stayed there for a few nights a year ago when we had to unload our old house-bank batteries (four large golf-cart 6v batteries) and get news ones from Sydney. Part of the marina looked a mess, as if a hurricane or tsunami had passed through but there was plenty of room for us on the newer-looking, long face-dock. Apparently the old docks are slowly being replaced with cast-offs from The Anchorage Marina at Corlette (where SV Havachat is located). It was these replacement pieces needing to be cut into the necessary shapes that were floating near us.

Tregoning (right) alongside the relatively "new" face-dock with the older dock construction to left and floating pieces of replacement dock in the center.

We originally planned to stay for just a couple of days but, inevitably, this has extended to a week (after five days, the weekly rate is cheaper). Having not been in a marina since leaving Hobart on the 12th March, it felt quite luxurious to be able to walk on and off the boat, to have long hot showers, and to use water and electricity without having to worry about how quickly they could be replaced. It was also good to get rid of two month's accumulation of recycling, which was clean but the big sack of it was getting in the way.

Other excitements included being able to use the marina's launderette and having good weather to hang much of the washing on boat to dry. Having only done a little hand-washing before I hurt my back, there was plenty to do. It is just over 4 km each way to cycle to Tanilba Bay so I made several trips there to buy groceries and to fill two of our three propane tanks (a rather heavy load in my back-packs on the return journey). We have both been able to enjoy walking (and me running) without having to row ashore first or wait for a calm day. And without needing the dinghy, Randall has been able to patch some leaks and scratches on it.

Of course, no longer being isolated at anchor we have to be very careful about potential Covid-19 exposure. This a small marina but there are quite a few live-aboard boats so we are very careful about touching handles on the dock-gate and bathrooms. Most people seem to be pretty good about social-distancing so we do not feel too endangered by this temporary return to civilization. A great bonus as far as I am concerned is that there are a couple of take-away restaurants in the small community so I have enjoyed a few evenings without having to prepare dinner...woohoo!

In general, Australia has fared relatively well in the Covid-19 pandemic. Having closed its international borders relatively early (and especially early with China) there has not been a huge influx of cases. Other than hot-spots associated with the Ruby Princess cruise-ship debacle in Sydney, a party at a medical-facility in northern Tasmania, an elder-care facility in Sydney, and a meat-packing plant in Victoria, the overall situation has been controlled well and most people have been fairly compliant with social-distancing, etc., (with the exception for a while of young beach-users). The rate of downloading of the tracking app that the government had hoped would reach 40% is lagging at only about half that rate. Part of the problem is that some people, like us, do not change their smartphone often enough to have an operating system that can run the app. We suspect that we will by buying a new phone soon...

As with many other places in the world, the focus in Australia is now very much on how to relax some restrictions without precipitating an increase in Covid-19 cases. Each state's administration is developing its own guidelines and schedules but in consultation with neighboring and national governments. This means that it requires some online searching to learn when and what local regulations may be changed. Of course, for most people the key questions will be when schools fully reopen, additional businesses can open (many stores are open around here), and what size of groups can socialize together. Training in professional sports is already underway, with strict regulations, for matches to be played without spectators.

The following are three further websites by Tomas Pueyo (we cited some of his earlier) that focus on the priorities for reopening countries and economies, particularly based on the data collected from countries that have, and have not, been successful in keeping the infection-rate low:

For us, the critical questions are when we can cross the border into Queensland and if we can freely move along the coast once there. We think that the latter is already possible and we could even enter the state if we requested special permission and quarantined for two weeks. We are probably going to wait until the border officially opens...unless it starts getting much colder here. The situation in Indonesia is not looking good so we are very doubtful that we will go there any time this year or, quite frankly, before a widespread vaccine is available. We are especially thankful that we did not leave for Indonesia last year, as originally planned, because we would either be stuck in Malaysia or Thailand, or might have started westward and could have found ourselves caught in the Maldives. Friends of Vandy and Eric are trapped in the Maldives on their boat but fear that they are going to be thrown out soon with nowhere obvious to go. This is one of several cruising blogs from that stricken nation:

So far, our friends Clare and Andy on SV Tintamarre are being allowed to stay in the Galapagos Islands. But they are also trying to decide what their best strategy would be (e.g. go to New Zealand, French Polynesia, Hawaii, Mexico, Panama, or mainland Ecuador) if they want, or need, to leave.

So other than our long-term voyaging plans being completely up-in-the-air, we feel very fortunate with our situation and content with our location. We have enjoyed our week of luxury in the marina and it is time to head back out into the anchorages of Port Stephens. Just before leaving, Martina and Pete from SV Havachat came over from Newcastle and joined us for morning coffee (and tasty pastries that Martina brought) on Tregoning. Having studied the local regulations, we concluded that the four of us were not allowed to gather for a picnic in the local park until Friday, but we could have two friends join us in our home. Pete and Randall stopped at the coffee-shop by the marina before boarding Tregoning. When asked whether they were local, Randall related that we had enjoyed our week's stay there but were a little disappointed not to see a koala. In response, the coffee-server asked him if he meant that he was sorry not to see any koalas other than the one in the park not more than 50 m (160 feet) away?

Red arrow show Tregoning in the marina, blue arrow shows Pete, Martina, and Randall and the yellow circle is where the koala was sleeping

Sure enough, within sight of Tregoning, in an isolated tree in a busy park, there was a koala fast asleep. So much for spending a week pounding over miles of trails in the woods. Within a couple of hours of leaving Lemon Tree Passage, we would be directed to a koala right on our back door-step.

The sleeping koala within shouting distance of Tregoning (I do not know what the significance is of the mottled, pale fur on its bottom)

We would never have noticed this koala without being told about it. Having seen them in Victoria high in tall trees that were well away from the road, we had assumed that all the local koalas would be in the most remote parts of the woods, away from the residential areas. Apparently we were wrong and, in this koala-friendly peninsula, when people told us that they sometimes see them in their yards these were not once-in-a-lifetime events as we had imagined but were relatively common. It was wonderful to finally socialize with friends like Martina and Pete, and being able to see a koala with them, just before we left Lemon Tree Passage, was the icing on the cake!

News from a seemingly distant world

24 April 2020 | North Arm Cove, Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Mature white-breasted sea-eagle atop another boat’s mast
Despite the strangeness of life avoiding Covid-19, it is good to know that some of the world's leaders are, well, leading, still have a sense of humor, and know that children are just as involved in all of this as the adults. New Zealand's excellent Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, addressed part of one of her public announcements concerning Covid-19 to children. She reported, with great seriousness, that despite the shelter-in-place and social-distancing rules, the Easter Bunny would be allowed visit families. A mask and gloves would be worn but the Easter Bunny could still leave the traditional treats. Brilliant! We are glad to report that the Easter Bunny certainly visited us...and was quite generous.

While I am always appreciative of an excuse to eat chocolate, Randall was particularly relieved to have something to cheer him up when his face and head were very sore and itchy. While we are not socializing, this seemed to be a good time to for him to apply a two-week treatment of fluorouracil. Rubbing the cream twice a day on his face, head, hands, and forearms is intended to eliminate any small basal-cell carcinomas that might have formed in the six months since his last trip to the dermatologist. However, the red sores that develop were so irritated that they kept him awake for hours some nights so he was not a happy camper. Fortunately, the rashes disappear quickly once the treatment is over. During the treatment, it is important to keep the treated areas out of the sunlight, so while we were rowing around to get exercise, Randall was keeping his face covered with his sun-proof "buff". At least, this covering did not look quite so unusual in this time of Covid-19 face-masks.

Randall rowing in his buff (not in the buff) and broad-brimmed hat

As our life starts to revolve around the excitement of visiting a grocery store about once a fortnight, enjoying nature, and working on boat projects, this blog will likely undergo something of a role-reversal. For the last 12 years, many friends have told us that they like to live a little vicariously through the stories of our adventures from around the world aboard Tregoning. Now we are experiencing the Covid-19 world vicariously through our friends and relations. Keeping in touch, principally by email, Facebook, and phone calls, I hope that I am not breaking any confidences by sharing some of their tales (as usual, no last name).

I greatly appreciate hearing from as many of our contacts as possible. I try to focus in these posts on the stories that give us the widest perspective on how Covid-19 is affecting the lives of people that we know. Not a globally typical group, of course, but often people known to, or similar, to those who might be reading this blog. Just as when we are at sea or otherwise isolated, I am currently finding that the sense of connection that the blog provides is important to me. I hope that it provides some of that reassurance to some of you.

Nephew Tom, who works for Rolls Royce Aerospace in Birmingham has suddenly had his projects changed from designing and testing parts for aircraft engines, to testing valves for ventilators that his company is now making. Rolls Royce is part of a consortium that is challenged with the production of 20,000 ventilators for use throughout Great Britain. He has been working in his office for 12-hours days for 6 days a week designing and building test rigs for the valves. The RR staff actually building the ventilators are locked-in the factory, staying in an accommodation compound that was quickly built within the site. It is anticipated that they may be there for three months.
Tom's is the last photo on the montage of faces.

Although Tom is able to go home, he has little available time to help with eight-month old Lucas so Hannah is having to juggle coping with a crawling, slithering infant with working at home (also for Rolls Royce) on long phone calls. We wish them well.

Friends who are doctors are having a mixed time. Anesthesiologist Karen in Seattle actually has more free-time as all non-urgent surgeries have been postponed to save supplies and room for potential Covid-19 patients but she is bracing for a huge rush when restrictions are loosened and they have to deal with the enormous backlog. Meanwhile, her husband Mike, as manager of the operating rooms in a big Seattle hospital, has been having to deal with reprioritizing and reorganizing all of the scheduled surgeries and changing facilities and protocols to cope with the potential extra ICU patients on ventilators.

Dressmaker niece Calla in Montana, and others, are making surgical masks for local medical facilities.

Louise in Antigua is having to decide whether, and how much, to adapt her very hands-on business of training hospitality-personnel, to an online process. Luckily, her elderly mother was visiting her from Cornwell when the pandemic developed and, sensibly, rather than return to the UK, she has stayed with Louise. The number of cases is very low in Antigua but like all island nations dependent on tourism, the dilemma will be in deciding when to allow and encourage the return of international visitors.

The recent deaths of some of my brother, Mike's, very elderly neighbors, may have been from Covid-19 as the southern Lake District has been quite a hotbed of both cases and deaths. However, patients are only tested if they are in the hospital, so it may never been known whether Covid-19 killed these people who died at home. It is thought the virus was brought to the area by the many (often Chinese) tourists who flock to Lake Windermere and other popular Lake District tourist sites. They are currently trying to keep tourists away, including a signpost on one of the main highways (A591 near Kendal) proclaiming that "Lakes Is Closed". While it is the first time the Lake District National Park has been essentially closed (unlike in many countries, there can be towns within UK National Parks), the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001 had a very similar impact on the tourist industry there. It is a shame as the weather there has been lovely but that has allowed Mike to enjoy some long walks by himself. His is staying very well isolated including ordering groceries online and collecting them outside the supermarket, and having frozen meals delivered from the suppliers of, the currently closed, local cafés and pubs.

Doria at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington DC, is working from home and had not had to make any major change in focus yet but the organization is concerned in the long-term about reductions in individual donations (as so many are anxious about the value of their investments). Also EDF keeps a close watch on the organization's carbon-footprint so it will be very interesting to see how this is changed with everyone working at home (their DC office-building has been closed and the locks have been changed...) and, if so, whether that will lead to long-term changes in work patterns.

The eldest son of Rob on SV Zoonie, took over the family business a few years ago but they are very worried about him staying safe from Covid-19. He is a funeral director.

Sadly, Gill the mother of our Cousin Sarah (who lives in Victoria) died unexpectedly in the UK after a week of severe illness. She did not have Covid-19 but the travel risks and restrictions prevented Sarah from leaving Australia to see her. Thankfully good telephone and internet connections allowed Sarah to stay in touch with her mother. The hospital made an exception to the "no visitor" rules so that Sarah's brother James could be with Gill until she returned home with hospice care. Sarah's son and his wife, were able to join the vigil at Gill's house but James has had to stay there for two weeks of quarantine after leaving the hospital. It is all very sad but the family are coping admirably. No more than six people can attend the 20-minute cremation service but a live video-feed will allow Sarah and others to watch online. They will save the memorial gathering and scattering of the ashes until Sarah can safely travel to the UK and back to Australia, whenever that might be.

While there are limited options for postponing funerals, what of people who had planned to marry this April, May and beyond? Luckily, the weddings for Sarah's son Miles, and friend Hazel's daughter not only went ahead just before the Covid-19 social-distancing restrictions, but no one became ill afterwards. What has happened to all the planned weddings that were not so lucky? Have they been completely postponed or is it possible to have an official wedding with minimal witnesses and just postpone the celebrations?

On the topic of official paperwork, after several weeks of uncertainty, there seems to be some action now on extending/renewing Australian visas. This is a big issue for the nation, not in relation to the relatively few international cruisers like us, but due to the huge numbers of backpackers who spend part of their visit working on farms throughout the country, particularly harvesting fruit. Many of these, generally young people, did not go home as expected when the pandemic started but have stayed. With much of the harvesting work occurring in the summer, that is when the need for international backpackers will be greatest so the question is whether to hope that the current visa-holders will stay through that time or hope that international travel restrictions have been lifted by then. The cruising contingent had been hoping for a free visa-extension for a year, especially as no one new is arriving in the country. But the latest news is that short-term, 3 - 5 month, visas are being issued to cruisers. This implies that either expensive reapplications will need to be made several times a year until it is possible to leave or there is an expectation that it will not be too long before people can leave Australia (maybe just to go to New Zealand) and will have to reapply outside for a new visa (starting the clock again). Somehow, this money-making, short-leash approach shocks other cruisers but it does not seem very surprising to me. We are very fortunate to have the luxury of not needing to renew our visas before December so we can wait and see what travel or renewal opportunities have arisen by then.

As the worst effects of maximum daily death rate and full ICU beds have peaked in some places, such as Australia, many of us are wondering how the response to the pandemic will be managed over the next few months. Will we be released from some restrictions, then have these retightening if new cases reemerge? It seems a reasonable approach (the Hammer and the Dance alluded to in a previous post) but will populations be willing to re-isolate once they have been released?

I see some similarities in this pandemic to a big tsunami. We are not very precise at predicting when large earthquakes or emergence of new diseases will occur. However, once it is realized that tsunamis and pandemics have developed, our models can predict the timing and size of first impacts in different places fairly well. What we have limited ability to forecast is the after-effects. Tsunami can have tidal surges for hours or days later and the initiating earthquake may have aftershocks that are usually smaller but might include another big quake. Similarly, a pandemic can have resurgences. The difference is that unlike earthquakes and tsunamis, human actions can provide some control over the management of a disease. Of course, the difficult issues that guide such human actions include the gathering of sufficient accurate information to make appropriate decisions, and the agreement of what actions are medically, economically, and politically acceptable.

As parts of Australia and New Zealand are looking at data that suggest they have no Covid-19 cases, is it possible to allow people to resume work and social activities on a local basis? But how do we know if areas are really free of cases if official counts are nearly always underestimates due to insufficient testing? How can activities be restricted to local, disease-free areas? Will it be possible to reinstate unrestricted travel within countries/areas with no cases? When, and from where, will international arrivals be allowed? Will testing, quarantine, or certificates proving the presence of antibodies to Covid-19 be required? Many countries have managed to minimize the initial impact very well with the heavy-handed approach but until vaccines are developed and widespread, the end-game seems to be much less obvious and, potentially, much more political.

The Australian government is planning to adopt a contact-tracing cellphone app which people will be encouraged to download voluntarily. Despite assurances that this will be managed without invasion of privacy, it will require at least 40% of the population to comply for the app to be effective. We would get it, but for us it will certainly not replace social-distancing. A record is only kept if the proximity to another phone with the app is less than 1.5 m for more than 15 minutes (presumably related to the likelihood of viral transfer and keeping the numbers of contacts manageable).

In addition to the many unknowns about how the end-game for Covid-19 will play-out in different places, it is also interesting to speculate on whether there will be long-term changes in society as we get past this crisis. Will handshaking be replaced by bowing? Will many former-commuters argue to keep working from home? Will cities that have finally enjoyed clean air, increase restrictions on industry and traffic to reduce new pollution? For theoretical learning (not practical training), will traditional universities and colleges change their emphasis from regular attendance of lectures to online material with less frequent in-person tutorials? Who knows? But I would like to include here a piece written and posted on Facebook by our good friend Vandy from SV Scoots (currently in Whangarei, New Zealand).

A Postpandemic Path
I hope that we, as a species - having experienced the Covid-19 pandemic; having seen in vivid images the true colors of the disease and destruction caused by our unchecked actions; the true colors of our leaders (and so-called leaders); the true colors of the unsmogged sky; the true colors of unclogged waterways; the full extent of the disastrous effects that humans have had on our beautiful, unique, and life-giving planet - will emerge from this crisis so chastened and enlightened that, when it's time for us to end our separation and move forward again, we will choose a new path: a path that acknowledges our role in influencing the health of the planet; that recognizes our need to cooperate; and that affirms the value, fragility, and interconnectedness of all life on Earth.
Vandy April 2020

An immature white-breasted sea-eagle on the shoreline of Fame Cove

And in honor of her vision, I shall end with a few of our own delightful nature experiences from the last few weeks here in Port Stephens.

Laughing and howling dawn choruses of kookaburras, the loud dipping whistle and cracking calls of the eastern whip-birds, the Australian magpies' warbling, like a warming-up orchestra of flutes, and the hauntingly human, anguished moans of the Australian ravens.

The smiles and rolling dorsal fins of bottlenose dolphins escorting us from North Arm Cove to Nelson Bay, possibly wondering what has become of the daily flotilla of whale- and dolphin-watching tour boats that usually circle Port Stephens.

The black and white-flash of a pied cormorant swimming along the shoreline and diving below the surface every few seconds. The white and black plumage of an Australian pelican, usually solitary but sometimes with a mate, sedately paddling its way across the bay.

A pair of adult white-breasted sea-eagles (a.k.a. white-bellied sea-eagles) soaring over the cove. One is missing one or two of its long flight-feathers so it has to beat its wings slightly more often than its partner to stay in the same pattern of flight. Another adult flying between the wooded shore and the top of the mast of a neighboring boat (and we are glad that it is not struggling to find room between the VHF antenna, masthead light, and anemometer of top of our mast). And an immature sea-eagle with its muddy brown breast, watching for fish in the water below its shoreline perch. And, maybe, waiting a little impatiently for the molt that will provide it with its white plumage and the stature of a fine mature eagle.
Vessel Name: Tregoning
Vessel Make/Model: Morgan Classic 41
Hailing Port: Gainesville, FL
Crew: Alison and Randall
About: We cast-off from Fernandina Beach in north Florida on 1st June 2008 and we have been cruising on Tregoning ever since. Before buying Tregoning, both of us had been sailing on smaller boats for many years and had worked around boats and water throughout our careers.
Extra: “Tregoning” (rhymes with “belonging”) and is a Cornish word (meaning “homestead of Cohnan” or “farm by the ash trees”) and was Alison's mother’s middle name. Cornwall is in southwest England and is where Alison grew-up.
Tregoning's Photos - Main
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