Yanks and other yachties

It’s been so long since we’ve been in a boatyard I’d forgotten how social the environment is. Maybe it’s because there are so many boats thrown together for a brief period of high energy, maybe it’s because at the end of a day of hard physical labor you want to kick back with a coldie and bellyache about the long list of repairs, or maybe it’s just watching the bank balance drop precipitously and not caring anymore, who knows? In any case we end up having some fine times in the company of other cruisers whenever we pull in to get some much needed work done.

Our first boatyard experience in St. Augustine brought us together with the Boyer family, previous owners of Anything Goes. Then it was Moana Roa and the Haynes clan in Trinidad, and the Jameson/Fitzgerald troublemakers of Toucan in Whangarei. All memorable experiences that took the hurt out of hard work and draining pocketbooks.

This time, with two side-by-side boatyards and hundreds of boats coming and going every week, we had some fun meet-ups at one marina or the other. Most of the boaters were long-distance cruisers like us, but everyone was welcome at our potlucks at the barbie and often included local folks as well. It’s the kind of international social mix we’ve come to love about this life.

One Sunday we took the day off and spent the afternoon in clean clothes enjoying outdoor music and inexplicable stiltwalkers at an nearby plaza.

Inbetween the happy hours and potlucks we not only got our engine woes banished, we also fixed our tired freezer, replaced a broken watermaker pressure gauge, and ticked off a bunch of other small projects that had been cluttering up the list. The only think we couldn’t get fixed was the generator which has been low priority since we rely completely on solar power for battery charging. We don’t like having something onboard that doesn’t work even if we don’t use it, but the consensus seems to be that it’s stuffed and we’re looking at a complete replacement. So for now, it’ll stay on the list, to be dealt with after we win the lottery.

Meanwhile, the boats come and go. And we’re definitely ready to go.

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Getting down and dirty in Coomera

We woke up in Southport rocking to the wakes of frenetic Aussies determined to have a good time at seven on a Saturday morning, sounding for all the world like a plague of giant mozzies screaming around on their colorful but annoying jet skis. We decided to head up the Coomera River to the famous Boat Works Marina which we’ve been hearing about since we arrived in Oz. We’d been warned that it’s particularly crowded and without a reservation it might be tough but we’ve always believed in special dispensation for spunky fools, so we upped anchor and ran right into a healthy two plus knot current. Without the services of the “Evil Twin” (the starboard diesel) this may take a little longer than anticipated.

We eventually wiggled our anchor into an unoccupied spot just off Boat Works and slowly it dawned on us that they are closed for the weekend. Marce busied herself ordering a replacement clothes washer that she’s spent months researching. We are not fooling around here, and they deliver! The watery details of the delivery we’ll leave to personal charm, charisma and a positive attitude, or just refer to the spunky fools paragraph.

We dinghied over to the dock determined to hit the ground running, and immediately ran into friends from Sea Wolf whose advice on a good diesel mechanic is to talk to someone named Craig who Grant says is the only one he trusts with his engines. Fortunate because this is a vast complex with multiples of each trade and getting a personal recommendation is golden.

By Tuesday the women in the office, after a lot of boat jockeying, found dock space for Escape Velocity at, let’s just call it slip 9 3/4. It’s not an actual slip, just a walkway, and there’s no access to water and no electricity, just 3 cleats we can tie up to. I’d be embarrassed to tell you what those three cleats cost per week but that’s cruising. In the meantime plan A with the washer worked when a small but wiry guy showed up at the marina and we lugged the thing down the ramp, down the dock, and up onto the deck of EV. This has been a long time coming.

Later I charmed a soon to be ex-friend, using beer, into carefully manhandling the washer down four steps, through three doorways with doors removed, twisting, turning, tilting, straining everything, but we did it. I didn’t mention that the complicating factor with replacing the washer was that our boat is wired for North American electricity, 120v, and we are in the 240v part of the world. Our new 240v washer required me to install a 240v inverter. This is a pretty common solution among the North American boats we meet on this side of the globe. I think this means we are now truly international.

We’ve spent serious “boat units” on our starboard Volvo over the last year. (1BU = $1k) The mechanics we hired did everything but fix the problem, persistent smoking and running hotter than the port engine. I’ve been managing this thing since day one and we’ve decided that we will leave here with a permanent solution. Our new best friend Craig said he’s got the right guy who can start on the Evil Twin the next day. You can see how this works…this “spunky fools” thing. I admit now that I have great foreboding about where this Evil Twin fix is going.

Ok, the new guy is very young but he soon gains cachet with me by finding smoke coming out of the small coolant overflow tube. There aren’t many ways for that to happen, none of them cheap. Within a half hour we were looking at a shocking crack in the cylinder head. Well at least it’s just the head and not the whole engine. Volvo being Volvo, a new head shipped from Sweden costs double what a new Chevy V8 costs and will require us to cool our heels for weeks waiting for it to arrive. Turns out it’ll be cheaper and faster to buy a whole used D1-30 Volvo and my new best friend “J-Rod the kid mechanic” found two right here in Boat Works, with working alternators which is more than you can say about our engine. Now we start to imagine what this project will mean. J-Rod went over the two available engines and chose his favorite which has only 2,300 hours on it and he compared our old engine with the new engine, using the best bits from both.

With incredible energy and resourcefulness we somehow exorcized the Evil Twin from Escape Velocity and even more remarkably installed the very smooth running “new” engine. Of course this level of spending has to stop and with both engines we can actually maneuver well enough to leave the dock and stanch the financial hemorrhage.

Bobbing at anchor again off Boat Works we accepted that several important projects like a haul out and bottom job will have to wait for South East Aisa. In the meantime I’m really going to enjoy having two reliable engines.

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The view from the back porch

Look closely. There’s a kangaroo on the beach to the right of the plane.

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Monumental days

Life in Coffs Harbor was relatively easy after we negotiated a protected T-berth inside the marina. We must be getting soft, nevertheless we still unfolded the bikes and saw a little of the town. The seas were impressive and pounded the exposed massive granite blocks that make up the jetty wall, vibrating Escape Velocity and the marina water all around us. Sometimes spray would even shoot up over the jetty walls. Ten or twelve times a day huge trucks lumber down the jetty access road, wait until you’re not paying any attention and then, when you least expect it, tip the truck bed filled with those monumental stone blocks making a sound straight outa hell, scaring the bejesus out of Yours Truly every time.

So where was I? Oh yeah, several times a day we’d ride along the beautiful surf beach on the other side of those giant blocks and marvel at the very large waves curling in towards shore and, under our breath saying, “Glad we’re not out there.” Because that’s what we really are doing here. Waiting. Waiting for the North wind to switch to South and whatever’s causing all those combers to just cut it out. It helps that there are a lot of boats waiting for the same thing.

Marce, who feels compelled to read every sign and flyer pasted to every light pole, found a concert and foodie festival in a park near the marina. Just because you’re waiting out a Norther doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun.

We really need two good days of South wind and reasonable sea state to make it up to Southport where we will see to some long deferred maintenance on EV. Southport Bar has a bad reputation for wrecking boats trying to enter the bar in anything but benign conditions. Trying to sneak through in deteriorating conditions would not be wise. Finally our singlehanded berth mate, Mr. Mojito, dropped lines at 04:00 with a planned stop at Yamba and we followed suit at a more respectable 08:00, favoring an overnight to Southport. Clearing Coffs jetty we found a decent SE wind so with all the laundry full and by we shaped a course north.

All and all we were having a good sail and at dusk our ETA at Southport, all things considered, would be quite early. Not an option against the tide. We reefed the mainsail for night running and when I came on watch at midnight the breeze was getting fluky. By dawn we were motor sailing and running into the stiff East Australia current further reducing our progress to barely 3 kts. With conditions deteriorating at Southport and precious little progress against the current, our ETA, barring some kind of miracle, would be well after optimum tide and in the middle of the night. We began to cast about for a plan B.

Finally we decided to turn around and tuck into Byron Bay, seven miles astern, where with any luck at all we might avoid the worst of the wind and building waves. As we sailed closer to the beach we could see five fishing trawlers anchored on the 30 foot depth contour. Good news or bad, we did the same. These two days we spent at anchor, waiting out the blow in rising seas were not restful. We’ll just leave it at that, but someone posted this photo on line asking who was this anchored off Byron Beach. Yeah, that was us.

We’d had enough of Byron Bay and Southport tower said “maybe” on the entrance to the bar. We said close enough, and we were off at dawn. Once again, as the day wore on, the tower said the entrance was iffy so try for late afternoon, closer to slack tide. By the time we arrived the tower was non-committal and no one was going in or out, but the later the better. Yours Truly has found that there are times in this life when you just gotta say fuck it, and jump in with both feet. One of my chief concerns was that the evil twin Volvo was not behaving and would only be available to the cause for brief emergency duty and there were breaking waves arriving at the entrance from several different directions. On the plus side we’d gone over the bar at Bahia del Sol, El Salvador and lived.

The tower gave us the southern vector approach which meant making a 50 degree turn after clearing the jetty wall. That’s about when I saw a breaking rogue wave coming across from the north. I was able to kick the stern around into the breaker avoiding broaching and manhandled EV the rest of the way in. As we turned to find the channel markers the tower called up and said, “That was a very nice crossing!” I actually got an atta-boy from the tower! Maybe I should retire. It’s always such a relief to glide into protected water and splash the anchor in peace and quiet with a “coldie” in hand, it’s hard to remember what you just went through. Which is probably a good thing.

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Northern hopscotch

Our first couple of days on a southerly breeze took us first to Lake Macquarie for a quiet overnight rest on a public mooring, then a pretty good overnight sail to Coffs Harbour with a few hours of frustrating struggle against the East Australia current thrown in for good measure. The southerly was predicted to continue and another day and night of sailing would get us as far as Southport but I wasn’t feeling well and wanted a break. I assumed the culprit was mal de mer but despite a preventive tablet I had symptoms that went beyond my usual first-day-out nausea and lethargy and I concluded I’d actually caught a bug somewhere. Thinking back it may also have been ill effects from a different medication I picked up for seasickness, as my tried and true remedy isn’t available here in Australia. In any case, we contacted Coffs Harbour Marina and they gave us the same good price on a slip as last time and I was happy to be tied to a dock and recover for a few days.

Unfortunately, those couple of days saw the end of our southerly and the beginning of a long period of north wind and building seas. Boats heading south happily left the harbor, while those of us wanting to go north had to content ourselves with boat chores and the patience we all learn when Mother Nature throws a spanner in our plans.

One day we got a call from Bruce on Toucan who told us to find a boat called Lukim Yu. They’re right near you, he said, and they’re good people.

This is not unheard of in our world. Every once in a while we get a call or an email from a friend pointing us to a boat nearby, urging us to make contact. “You’d love these guys,” they say, or “You’re anchored right near old friends of ours!”

At this point you might be wondering how they know where we are and where their friends are. Modern satellite technology is the culprit, often through Marine Traffic, an amazing website that tracks the movement of ships of all kinds all over the world. All commercial vessels are required to have a device onboard that sends and receives automatic position signals. Many privately owned vessels, like ours, also have the devices. We’ve learned that in the Atlantic and Caribbean, most yachts have AIS transceivers but the farther afield we sail the fewer vessels do. Luckily the practice is gaining as the cost of the technology comes down.

If you don’t mind falling down the rabbit hole of the internet for a while, check out the site (or download the app.) You can choose any place in the world and see what ships are there. Click on the symbol and get details on the ship and its destination, even the weather conditions where they are, a useful feature for us. You can also search for a specific vessel, say maybe Escape Velocity, and see not only our position but our most recent track. Often the data on private vessels is not quite up to date, owing to the fact that our devices are less powerful than the ones on big ships, but you’ll get the idea anyway. You may have to sign up for an account but its free and it’s fun. We track our friends this way, and also check sailing areas we’re headed for to gain helpful information like the correct line to follow when entering a reef, or whether any boats are crossing a river bar in current conditions. It’s great stuff and reminds me almost daily how much we value cruising in the era of modern communications and how much we admire the folks who did it with only a radio, a sextant, a good timepiece and paper charts. Hats off to them, but I prefer living in the future.

We found the crew of Lukim Yu and hit it off immediately as we knew we would. Bruce’s Seal of Approval hasn’t steered us wrong yet! Denise and Jamie are beginning cruisers but planning their first offshore passage to Lord Howe island, and that made me quite envious. We tossed around the idea of Lord Howe when we first arrived in Australia but got sucked into the city life of Sydney and never made it. Now we can follow their adventures vicariously, and you can too here.

The Lukims had a car and they took us for a road tour around the Coffs area, and they joined us to watch Formula 1 on EV. I know you can imagine how happy Jack was to find fellow fans to indulge in gear head chatter for a weekend.

For me, the best part of meeting Lukim Yu was Denise cooking Sri Lankan curry for us. Yum-O! We sure hope we meet up with them again some day, and to our cruising friends, if you find yourself sharing an anchorage with Lukim Yu, a Lagoon 380, pop over and say hello. They’re good people.

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The view from the back porch

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Leaving Sydney

After six years and some hard travelin’ Escape Velocity needs a little love and attention. We’ve been keeping up with normal maintenance but we’ve got some bigger jobs to take care of and now’s the time while we’re still in an easy-access country. We came to Pittwater thinking there’d be the right services for the jobs we have to do, but we learned quickly that local mechanics have their hands full maintaining the huge local fleet and couldn’t really fit transients into their schedules. We did get the dinghy outboard serviced but the mechanic told us it might be six weeks before he could look at our recalcitrant starboard engine. That’s not gonna fly. On to plan B. Go north.

Leaving Sydney means leaving dear friends and it’s so hard to drag ourselves away. A couple of last hurrahs made us nostalgic for all the life-changing experiences, memorable adventures, and hours and hours of conversations over good food and fine drink in some of the most beautiful anchorages in the world. When you’ve made memories with people, they become part of your history and we hate to say goodbye.

Di and I on a girl’s day out; a little gazing at the horizon, a little shopping, lunch. Ahhhhh!

Di and I enjoyed a girl’s day out, starting with a pilgrimage to West Head Lookout to marvel at the fact that nearly 18 months ago we both sailed past Barrenjoey, a homecoming for them, a huge milestone for us. We both agreed that sometimes when we gaze out at the ocean we can’t believe we’ve crossed that big water in our boats. From shore it can look quite intimidating but once we’re out there it’s home.

We followed the lookout with a little shopping and lunch, all in all a nice break from routine for both of us.

On our last Sunday in Pittwater Sherm and Mia invited the crew to their new abode, a comfy house within walking distance to the yacht club, and with a private and beautifully landscaped garden. When you live on a boat it’s always a privilege to be invited into people’s homes, sit in real chairs and pass an afternoon in good company.

We couldn’t leave Sydney without a last visit to the home of Diana and Alex, late of Enki II. They offered to drive up to Escape Velocity but we wanted a last journey to the Big Smoke, which involved a long dinghy ride, a one-hour bus ride to downtown, and another bus that took us to within about a kilometer of their house. It was an odyssey that made us nostalgic for Sydney before we’d even said goodbye.

Walking to our second bus stop we were lured into the ornate Queen Victoria Building and how we missed it on every other city visit I’ll never know. It’s a beautiful gallery of exclusive shops and we couldn’t resist a box of pastries for our hosts.

Chez Enki we did nothing special but watch the Oscars, ruminate about EV’s options for the coming cruising seasons, and eat Diana’s gorgeous food. We all avoided the topic of goodbyes because we know in our hearts we’ll remain friends no matter where we are.

And then it was time to raise the sails and set a course for Queensland. Goodbye to Sydney. Goodbye for now to good friends. New adventures await us soon!

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The view from the back porch

Little Lovett Bay, rain on the way.

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The best laid plans


As passages go this one took longer than it ought. The wind direction was typically diametrically opposed to prediction and of course on the nose (OTN.) Instead of a nice southerly breeze pushing us up north to Pittwater we had north north Easterly punching us in the face. This was unfortunate on several levels. Rose Bay is no place to try to scrape your hull, even though I knew EV was handling rather sluggish. Peering down from the surface I’d seen it worse so I thought the props must be pretty foul, but we were going to sail down wind for a couple of hours…right? So no need to add a lot of fuel to the equation…right? Just under a quarter tank should be plenty…right?

Headlands are always lumpy with swirling currents and accelerated winds from weird directions. I could barely make 3kts punching our way out of Sydney Harbor with both engines on but soon we’ll be sailing and both engines will be off. Wrong. With sails sheeted in tight and both engines laboring we made Barrenjoey headland as the sun was setting. That’s got to be some kind of record for a 25-mile hop. The next day we putted over to Cruisers Retreat and picked up a mooring and the next morning I was chipping away at a ball of crusty crap on both props. Mystery solved.

We’d heard that locals call this bay The Basin and that it features some nice hikes and petroglyphs so as soon as I chipped away most of the barnacles off the propellor blades, which involves holding my breath while diving down to the bottom of the sail drives, grabbing a barnacled blade with a gloved hand and chipping away with a stainless steel scraper until my brain screams out “DO YOU WANT TO DIE HERE OR DO YOU WANT TO FIND SOME AIR ASAP?” So far, air has won. We scheduled an early morning hike due to a warning that the path up to the carvings can be steep and the day would be hot.

Oh yes, it got steep and painful, reminding us of Chacachacari, Trinidad, where we were circled by vultures the entire way up, or maybe the mountain pass over Fatu Hiva.



Eventually we saw signs of…signs, and entered the petroglyphs site which was not especially well protected like others we’d seen.


Plaques described how Aboriginals used shells and rocks to hammer a line of holes 5 to 10mm deep and then scratched, using water as a lubricant, a connecting channel between them. Those who ought to know figure that they could finish about a meter and a quarter in an hour in the soft Australian sandstone.

We spent quite a while tracing the outlines of some of the figures which were familiar to us from the rock paintings we’d seen and the flat table of rock that they chose was instantly recognizable as a sacred site, almost like we’d seen it before.

Turns out that at a certain age, as hard as it is to haul one’s aging body up an incredibly steep incline for hours, the knee pain of a nasty descent is worse. By the time we eventually reached the bottom it had taken us so long that we were in full afternoon Aussie sun so we quickly diverted over to a shady spot, in beautiful basin park.

The park has an Aussie kind of collection of animals just hanging out. You should have heard the scream from a family after they discovered this beast while picnicking within a meter of it.

It typically takes us about twice as long as the Aussie brochure says it will so we find that a ratio of 1 Aussie hour equals about 2 Escape Velocities, which suffices for planning purposes, unless wind and waves interfere, but you know, the best laid plans…

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A Manly day

Manly Beach is a favorite excursion for Sydneysiders, but even after a full year in Australia we had yet to go. On one of our last days before starting our long trek north we took advantage of the low weekend ferry fares and joined the throngs of worker bees enjoying their day off. It wasn’t the best of weather; in fact it was damned windy and if we hadn’t secured EV to a public mooring we probably wouldn’t have left her at anchor for the whole day.

The trip involved two ferries, first from Rose Bay to Circular Quay, the hub of the Sydney ferry network, where we waited in a long line of passengers through two departures before finally getting onboard for the trip to Manly clear across the harbor.

There was a small weekly craft market that we checked out but we were lured by the beautiful introductory notes of a soprano sax playing “‘Round Midnight” and we followed the sound around the corner to find two young men set up in front of a restaurant.

We parked ourselves against a wall in the shade and listened to their beautiful rendition of one of Jack’s favorites. Afterward we told them we come from Pittsburgh, the home of Billy Strayhorn and we loved hearing some hometown music. They’re very talented and we wished them well.

We left the shelter of the side streets and walked to the beach. You can tell from the flags just how windy it was. It seemed half of Sydney was there and they weren’t going to let a little wind ruin their day off. We stayed long enough to take a few photos but ran back to shelter to find coffee and ice cream.

The ferry ride back was just as crowded, with long waits for both ferries. The good part was that we rode the whole day for only AUD $2.50, one of the best bargains anywhere.

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