Antidote to the downsideb

We are budget cruisers, as you all know. We can’t afford to make yearly trips back to the States to visit family and friends, especially now that we’re on the other side of the world from most of them. To add to the complication, our peeps aren’t all in the same place and most of them don’t have room for overnight guests, making any visit an exercise in couch-surfing imposition at best, or an expensive tour of motels at worst. Add to that the distances we have to cover to see everyone and you understand why we just stay on board and keep in touch via phone and social media. And thank goodness for that! My family and most friends are closely connected and I don’t often feel out of touch. Like most people, we have a few holdout friends who “don’t do” social media for some reason, and who consequently complain they never hear from us, but by and large we’re grateful to be traveling in the modern age of instantaneous communications.

That’s especially true of my immediate family. In any given week I can chat with my sister or my son and know what they’re up to on a day to day basis, and they know what’s on our minds and what we’re doing. This kind of close communication was unthinkable even ten years ago.

But the truth is, it’s not the same as being together and while I’m never “homesick” because my home is here on Escape Velocity with Jack, I do miss Sunday dinners with our son and daughter in law, long weekends with my sister and brother in law, Thanksgivings with cousins, bike rides with friends and the easy conversations you have when you’ve no place to go and all the time in the world to be with the people you love.

Last year my sister and brother in law came to Sydney and we had a glorious visit just being together, not doing much of anything special except being in each other’s company. They are the best boat guests, understanding when the watermaker won’t cooperate and we have to go into conservation mode, patient when any activity involves a dinghy ride ashore, and appreciative of the different kind of life we choose to live.

This week we’re thrilled that our son and daughter in law managed to carve out enough time in their unwieldy and demanding schedules to travel halfway around the world to see us. They couldn’t take too much time from their work but we’re grateful for even this short visit just to be together and share the kind of deeper conversation that doesn’t happen in chat or email. We haven’t over-planned or scheduled and we’re just taking each day as if comes, wandering the city together, spending time in cafes and markets, letting weather and serendipity be our guide. And since Drew and Ericka are struggling with jet lag, and Jack and I are generally on the cruisers’ rhythm of up-with-the-sun/down-with-the-sun, they have plenty of time in the evenings to go off and have their own Aussie experience.

It’s great to have them here. We’re so happy!

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From then to now

We’re adding posts in date order so scroll down to see what we’ve been up to. We have a lot to share and we’ll try to bring this party up to date as soon as we can. 

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Bali bound

This is exciting stuff. We live at sea level and a speed of six knots is a good day. It’s not that we haven’t taken our ride. As a matter of fact we used to fly a lot for work but lately it’s been strictly sea level at six. So after what seems like months of frustrating torturous planning by Marce, the day arrived. Not for nothing, this has been an ordeal, for Marce and for anyone closer than forty feet from her. 

First of all, those rumors about dirt cheap flights to Bali are apparently “Fake News,” and our journey to Bali, some 2,300 nm to the North West, will expensively start with a nine am, 250 nm flight South East to Brisbane. Not too bad but the next leg, continuing in the wrong direction, was 380 nm to Sydney where our plane to Bali was not to be found. On the plus side, on the way South we passed right over Barren Joey, the iconic headland into Pittwater Bay where we waved to the Toucans still moored off Royal Prince Albert Yacht Club. 

An hour later a plane showed up and it was Bali Ho for the Escapees. Our tour of Australian airport cuisine was put on hold while we shuffled our way into an aluminum tube that was soon rending the air at some 600mph crossing three time zones in an afternoon when, at sea, it’s a red letter day when we get to change the clocks one hour during a weeks-long passage. 

Landing in the dark after 15 hours of travel we disembarked into another world. We prefer to wing it when traveling but it was quite late so Marce, our activities director, pre-booked a driver to deliver us through the dark streets of Bali to our guest house in Ubud. For an hour and a half we stared out the front wind screen as our headlights swept across an otherworldly scene, like search lights in the movie Blade Runner. An urban scene dissolved into suburban sprawl where each hut was a different business. Wood carvers, take out food, paintings of fabulously proportioned Asian women, stone carvers, t-shirts, birds in cages, pets or meat? I didn’t ask. 

Finally, well past one o’clock am, after wending our way through a rabbit warren of narrow lanes, our driver abruptly stopped. I think we’re here. 

We opened the van door facing an ancient looking intricately carved gateway. Our driver smiled, nodded and drove away. We hauled our luggage through a small courtyard and into the foyer, startling the clerk who had valiantly tried to stay awake for us. He showed us his list and we pointed to our names, then we followed him up the stone staircase to our second floor room, where we promptly fell asleep with the exotic floral scents of Indonesia.

So Bali, hide the silver. The Escapees are among you.

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Out of thin water into a pancake

Our goal is the marina in Gladstone where we can stash Escape Velocity while resetting our visas by leaving Australia and getting another 12 months on the clock when we return. After much worry and research Marce and I decided that we’d rather Bali than Kiwi again, even though those rumors of dirt cheap flights to Bali turned out, like most rumors, to be rubbish. This is going to hurt. But first you have to get there, which means taking some distance out of the passage to Gladstone so we can avoid running through the humpback whale migration at night. 

Twenty miles up the coast is an anchorage called Pancake Creek. Not as shallow as 1770 but still we were provided with some heart stopping moments as we zig-zagged across the harbor following the markers into a shallow but protected anchorage with a nice beach. We never left the boat but we like Pancake and think we’d like to spend some time here, but we’re on a mission. 

It’s a long slog up to Gladstone against the wind and waves but we at least we began to see pods of whales with “whale minders” following along in little tinnies. 

We pulled into Gladstone at dusk and smiled at each other as the marina crew had stayed late to take our lines. We made it with a couple of days to spare and even had time to walk around town and found a yacht club with a happy hour by the river. Not a moment to lose. It’s time to fly to Bali.

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On the beach

During our time in 1770 I’m spending part of every day planning our trip to Bali. That includes finding a safe place to leave Escape Velocity somewhere close to an airport. We settled on Gladstone, a big shipping port for coal (a very big minus because an industrial port will be noisy and dirty, and this one particularly with coal dust) but with a cruiser friendly marina not far from a regional airport and with a free shopping shuttle for reprovisioning when we return. Once we made that decision we could book flights and hotels. Normally we travel without firm plans but the only one-day flight combination we could find puts us in Bali very late at night after 15 hours of travel and we want to maximize our time in Ubud, our ultimate destination, instead of spending the first night at a hotel near the airport and half the next day getting to Ubud. I booked a driver to get us to Ubud and found a guesthouse that will wait up for us to arrive about 1 a.m. Done. Now it’s time to enjoy more of this odd place called 1770.

As Jack says, it’s mighty shallow in here, and at low tide a huge sandbar dries out. We’re keen to explore. 

We’re still amazed that Cook poked his nose into this little corner of Australia but that’s its claim to fame. That and a good surfing beach, a big campground, hiking trails and as much territory for kayaking, fishing, paddle boarding and other water activities as you need. Plus these deserted sandbars at low tide. 

What looks to us like piles of poo are egg casings for sand worms or something. You can see the piles all over the bar. 

Omnipresent around here are soldier crabs, looking for all the world like scurrying blue marbles. They march in the hundreds of thousands and are hard to photograph because as soon as you get within ten feet of them they dig into the sand and within seconds they’ve all disappeared. 

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The view from the back porch

Moonrise at the Town of 1770


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In the pocket

One of the locals in 1770 told us about the Horizons Kangaroo Sanctuary, and given that we haven’t managed to come across any kangaroos in the wild on our own, we thought we’d give this a try. For $10 per person, plus an additional $10 for them to pick us up and drop us off at the dinghy dock, I thought this was worth it. Jack was skeptical and we both hoped this wouldn’t be some sad petting zoo enclosure with captive animals living a dreary life. It turned out to be not that at all, and it’s one of our favorite things we’ve done in Australia so far.

You may remember I wrote about our disappointment that New Zealand has so few animals, and even fewer that they don’t consider invasive pests marked for extermination. The variety and abundance of wildlife is one of the things we miss about our own country, and a delight in some of the countries we’ve visited, like Panama, Costa Rica and the Galapagos. We’ve looked forward to seeing the indigenous species of Australia but without a car, and spending most of our time along the watery edges of the land, we’ve seen mostly marine and bird wildlife but not the land creatures.

The caretakers at Horizons have been rescuing and reintroducing Joeys for years, and to help pay for the food and medical care they run a campground and offer a kangaroo “experience.” Denise picked us up and drove us to the Santuary, a beautiful hilly piece of land dotted with campsites. Just to be in such a lovely place on a sunny afternoon was itself a treat. We don’t get around much.

As soon as the car was parked we saw the kangaroos. There is no enclosure and they are all free to roam at will. Most were rescued as very young joeys when their mothers were killed, usually in road accidents. We weren’t allowed to see the very young ones as they’re still bottle fed and housed in a separate place, cared for night and day by Denise and whatever volunteers they can get. The older more ambulatory ones take refuge in quilted pouches hanging on the shaded porch of Gary and Denise’s house.

As other visitors arrived, Gary passed out slices of sweet potato for us to hand feed the joeys, encouraging us to get down to their level for their comfort. Feeding them, touching them, looking into their soft eyes was an incredible experience, as it always is when communing with another animal.

These creatures are gentle and friendly, but lively and full of personality, unlike zoo animals, who always make me sad.
Gary told us they’re free to move on if they want to and if a local wild group will accept them. Some have left forever, some go for a while and come back to visit, some continue to hang around the area.

In small groups Gary told us all about kangaroos, how they live, what they eat, and about the sanctuary and their mission. Both he and Denise seemed exhausted, and he admitted they work day and night to care for their rescues. He’d like to have more volunteers but they don’t get many, I suppose because of the relative remoteness of the location.

Gary drove us back to the dinghy dock, and the bird that hung out on his shoulder apparently didn’t want to be left alone so he rode on the hood of the car until Gary stopped and opened the window for him to fly in. He spent the rest of the trip as a passenger.

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Sightseeing in 1770

We decided to wake up some long dormant muscles and bike to what the Lonely Planet guide book calls the Paperbark Tea Tree Forest. Apparently it’s what one does in 1770. The folding bicycles were loaded into Cat Nip and we set off through the shallows for the dinghy dock. It’s a balancing act, unfolding two folding bicycles on a bouncing floating dock while scratching ones head, trying to imagine what sort of bizarre Chinese puzzle each latch, lock, and do-hicky is supposed to accomplish. And you’ve got to get it right. We know several cruisers that have been seriously injured by having a folding bicycle re-fold while riding.

Off we Escapees flew like the wind. Well…a little wobbly at first, but it soon came back to us. It’s like…driving a car! Ya know if you can send men to the moon, well, if you used to send men to the moon, surely by now they could conceive of a bicycle seat that didn’t expect that tenderest of body parts to support your entire body weight! Ok, one last complaint. Who goes all the way to Australia and never sees a kangaroo? We do! Here we see a warning sign mocking us as we peddle past on our way to see Paperbark trees. 

So, Lonely Planet isn’t so good with maps in terms of scale at least. Some of us needed encouragement after we left Agnes Waters far behind, still on sealed road we seemed to enter the outback all alone. It’s hard to feel more alone than you can feel alone in Australia, mate. We did well, but we were definitely flagging when the Paperbark Tea Tree Forest slowly rolled into view. 

On the return ride we took a side trip to a beautiful beach we’d heard about and found a surf school class in progress. There are so many incredible beaches in Australia they don’t have enough people to fill them up.
Still no Kangaroos!

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Where do we go from here?

Another reason we had to leave the tranquility of Lady Musgrave Island, aside from restocking our fresh food supply, is that we need to make a plan to “reset” our visas by leaving the country and re-entering, and for that we require reliable internet. Visa regulations — whether or not we need them before we arrive, how much they cost, how long we’re allowed to stay, whether we can renew and if so how and for how long, etc. — are one of the sometimes challenging bureaucratic annoyances of longterm travel that vacationers don’t often have to worry about. In the case of Australia, a country of immigrants and a long-distance destination for nearly everyone who visits, there are pages of types of visas and regulations on the official website, which we miraculously navigated well enough before we arrived last December to get a 12-month, multi-entry visa, allowing us another 12 months on each re-entry up to the date of issue. It’s odd they use the date of issue for the start date and not the date of entry into the country, but that’s the rule, and since ours were issued in early September 2016, we need to leave Australia and return by that date this year to renew for another 12 months. 

Why are we staying so long? Cyclone season! Most cruisers on a “fast” circumnavigation, or who have more cash and stamina than we do, arrive in Australia before the beginning of cyclone season, cruise or land travel until the end of cyclone season 6-8 months later, then move westward into the Indian Ocean. We knew we wanted to stay longer and slow down for a while but that means waiting until the end of another cyclone season before we can venture north again, then west to Indonesia. And that means a total of 18-20 months Down Under, and a different, longer, visa. All we have to do to stay legal is leave and come back. Ha!

Australia is far from everywhere so I’m trying to minimize the impact on our fixed income budget while maximizing the adventure. Our plan is to fly to Darwin, pick up a rental car, do some land touring either in Kakadu Park or further to the Kimberley, then make a quick and relatively inexpensive flight to Bali for a couple of days to reset our visas. All our Aussie friends assure us air travel within the country is cheap and with that in mind, and no small amount of excitement to finally be exploring some of the more far flung areas of Oz, I fired up Kayak and Google Flights to book the trip. 

That’s when I discovered that airfare is cheap if you’re flying from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide or Perth. Try originating from anywhere else and you end up flying through one of those cities anyway, and since airfares are based on air miles traveled, the fares from anywhere near where we happen to be right now are just crazy. A flight to Darwin is coming in at nearly $1000/per person. Add on a rental car, lodging and food, plus the quickie trip to Bali, and we’re right out of our budget, which you may remember took a big hit when we had to replace a lost propeller in Brisbane. Rats. 

Ok, we are nothing if not flexible and I’m determined to find a cheaper but still fun way to reset our visas. Looking at a map, the closest places to our location are New Zealand and New Caledonia. We were just in New Zealand for a fab road tour of the South Island, but hang on. What’s so bad about spending a long weekend in Auckland? We could do a little shopping, maybe rent a car and drive up to the tippy top of the North Island, a place we’d missed on our other two sojourns. It goes on the list. 

New Caledonia comes in a distant second, mostly because we weren’t so enamoured the first time we were there. A third option came to our attention when we remembered that while we sat in the marina in Brisbane getting a new propeller fitted we watched cruise ships leave port a couple times a week sailing for Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We remember these ships from Anietyum, Port Vila and Noumea. It’s a regular one-week run and consulting some last-minute booking sites we learned this is our cheapest option by far, since cruises are all-inclusive. No hotels or meals to factor in, no airport transfers to arrange, no muss no fuss and easy on the budget.

 I laid these three options out for Jack and we agreed we should be responsible adults and do the budget friendly cruise. One week on an all-inclusive ship with 2500 vacationing Aussies desperate to pack every moment of their work break with high-intensity partying and shopping couldn’t be so bad, could it? And we liked Vanuatu a lot. My finger poised over the “Book It” key for a long time before looking up at Jack. “I hate going backwards,” I said. “Me too,” he said and we both sighed. What to do?

I shared my frustration and indecision in a Facebook post and not long after a friend replied with this:

Instantly I felt the sharp slap across the face Cher administered to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck and heard, “Snap out of it!” She’s right. Tiny budget or not, we live on a yacht. We’ve been to places most people will never visit. Some of them we never even heard of before we started this adventure. What are we bellyaching about?!?

We came to our senses. We do hate to go backwards. We are on a tight budget. But good grief, you only go around once. We’re going to Bali! 

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Just like Marce says

Our time in Lady Musgrave’s beautiful lagoon was winding down. You could tell by the offerings on the nightly menu. Like Marce always says, “We’ll never starve on Escape Velocity but it can get a little weird.” It was weird. It’s time to reprovision. 

We’d heard that a country town called 1770 was charming with a good supermarket in the next town up the road called Agnes Water. It seems that Captain James Cook came ashore in May 1770. I’ve never read any kind of quote about what he said but I bet it went something like “Damn, it’s shallow in here!”

Bucking head winds and the now familiar mixed up, washing machine waves all the way across the 35 miles of Coral Sea, we came into what looks like a straight forward entrance but the charts say “Warning-caution shifting bar, obtain local information.” In Australia that means ringing up the Volunteer Marine Rescue Service and asking them for the latest condition of the bar crossing. Well, just go to the green marker and turn 90 degrees toward the red marker and Bob’s your uncle. This is nothing like the chart but, you know, when in Rome. 

We found the green marker hiding impossibly close to the overhanging cliffs at Round Hill Head. The problem was that we were traversing over a very shallow bank to get there. Things began to line up once we rounded the green marker. But, like Cook probably said, damn, it’s shallow in here. As soon as we found a couple of boats at anchor we dropped ours. A guy on the cat next to us yelled over, “You don’t want to be there, it’s a sand bank!” We felt exposed to weather here anyway so we decided to wend our way upstream past the usual collection of rusting flea market boats that haven’t moved in a long time, and see what we could see. 

Still shallow but with a more peaceful location we thought about anchoring but it was tight and with the swirling currents at change of tide who knew where we’d end up. That’s when I spied a good sized yellow mooring buoy with heavy duty stainless hardware. That’s for us. It was dusk by the time we were ship shape and settled. I always feel weird borrowing someone else’s mooring but when a 3knt current started ripping through the anchorage I quickly made peace with it, and slept the peaceful sleep of the righteous, tied to someone else’s mooring.

The next morning we found our way across the shallows to a public dock just right for dinghies and soon we were wobbling our way up a steep hill towards Capt. Cook’s plaque up on Lookout Hill on boatbound legs. We summited, took the photo, and marveled at Cooks navigational skills exploring all of this thin water with out motors, GPS or chart plotters. 

After lunch we made the long walk into Agnes Water to resupply and found a quaint little town with a decent super market, but the folder bicycles are going to have to come out. It’s quite a hike for wobbly legs.

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