Monthly Archives: February 2018

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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Soft welcome

Here’s the throw pillow I bought, a year after I first saw it in a Melbourne shop. The design is taken from a 1908 postage stamp issued to commemorate the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Great White Fleet.” I love it because we have felt very welcome here, both from the Aussie cruising friends we’ve met from the time we started cruising to the new friends we meet every day. Our time here in Australia will most likely be the longest we’ll spend in one country and it feels like home to us.

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What have we missed?

You know how it is. When you live somewhere you don’t always do the things tourists do when they visit your home town. In the year before we left Pittsburgh we scrambled to do all the things we kept meaning to do but never get around to. And so it is here in Sydney. We’ve spent so much time here that we feel like locals and now that we know we’re leaving soon we suddenly realize there are museums we missed, neighborhoods to explore, beaches to walk.

One beautiful day we took the bus downtown specifically to visit the Art Museum of New South Wales, which we’d somehow missed and which we heard had a good collection of aboriginal art. We weren’t disappointed and on nearly every piece I bestowed my highest compliment, “I’d have that in my house.” If I had a house, that is.

We rested and re-energized at a beautiful garden café, the kind of place that makes us love city life.

The day was heating up and we took refuge in St. Mary’s Cathedral, a nineteenth century gothic revival building that was begun in 1868 but not completely realized until this century. I couldn’t talk Jack into visiting the crypt. He was happy to sit quietly while I explored the architecture and artifacts.

We’re always interested in pipe organs and this cathedral has several, a 1942 Australian model, and a newer Orgues LĂ©Tourneau of Quebec, installed 1997-1999.

I didn’t get to see the console for the newer organ but it can be played from this mobile console at floor level.

Back out in the suffocating Aussie summer sun we called it a day and made our way back to the cool comfort of Escape Velocity.

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The view from the back porch

Dragon boat practice at sunset, Rozelle Bay, Sydney.

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Fly away home

We don’t often leave Escape Velocity and when we do we worry that she’ll be ok while we’re gone. Before we left for Victoria and Tasmania we had a difficult time finding a safe place to leave our home. Sydney is bow-to-stern packed with boats. Every marina, every mooring field is dense with yachts of all kinds and after calling every club, marina and boatyard I could find I came up empty. As time ticked by and our planned departure date approached with no solution I took the plunge anyway and booked our flights and car rentals in a sheer act of optimism that it would all work out in the end.

Salvation came in the form of Women Who Sail Australia, a private Facebook group who share local info and can generally be relied on for up-to-date tips in just about anything related to boating in Oz. I put out a call to my sailing sisters and within days I had a mooring booked at a small boat shed up the Parramatta River. Roger, the owner, was borderline non-verbal on the phone but promised a heavy and safe mooring ball and a ride to shore when we left for the airport so we could leave our dinghy at Escape Velocity for the duration.

On moving day we had no trouble finding the boatshed but Roger was nowhere to be found. He finally answered our phone calls and asked if we could wait until he finished a repair job further upriver. Sure, we said, and Jack held EV in station against wind and rambunctious ferry wakes for the promised half hour, which then stretched past an hour. Finally Roger and crew appeared in a paint-spattered, beat-up launch. He approached and asked if we could wait until “after lunch.”

Jack and I looked at each and shouted back simultaneously. “No!”

“We’ve been circling for more than an hour!”

“Ok,” he said reluctantly. “We have to move a boat.” And they disentangled a small powerboat from one of the moorings on the outer edge of the mooring field and moved it to another mooring further into the river shallows. Jack and I picked up the newly freed mooring, only to discover we would be within a few feet of the small sailboat just behind. Not ideal, but Roger assured us all the moorings are oversized and plenty strong enough to hold us in any weather. We snugged up as tight as we could to give maximum clearance with our neighbor.

We asked where we could land our dinghy and it turns out, no place. What?! There’s no public dock, Roger’s is packed with his work boats, the nearby rowing club won’t allow dinghies and the ferry landing prohibits tying up even at the back and out of the way of ferries. It was Friday and we weren’t leaving for the airport until Tuesday. And we can’t get ashore.

We spent some time on boat projects, but then in a desperate act of defiance we tied up to the back of the ferry dock anyway when our friend Alex offered to pick us up and take us shopping. It was a welcome break from the relentless wind and ferry wakes in our temporary home upriver.

Roger took us ashore on the day we left and we called him the day before we returned to make sure he’d still be around to take us back to EV from the ferry dock. He promised to be at work at the boatshed until 5 o’clock.

It’s fun to fly over Sydney because the harbor is beautiful even from the air. We easily picked out the opera house and harbor bridge and just for fun I tried to follow the river to where our boat was. I counted the curves and bridges we remembered navigating. And suddenly there was Escape Velocity, easily recognized by the orange canvas and bright kayaks on deck! As the plane banked to the airport approach we watched in awe and relief that we could see our home from the air and that she was safe and sound, just as we’d left her. And did we grab a camera and snap a photo? No, we did not.

We had an easy time collecting our luggage and taking the train and ferry and we were back at the dock within sight of our home within an hour. It was 4:30 and Roger was nowhere to be found. When we called he told us he was towing a boat, that we would see him passing the ferry dock soon and that he would come get us as soon as he could. Sure enough we watched as he towed a sailboat down river and in a little while he came back to the boatshed and took us and our luggage the 100 yards to Escape Velocity.

We told him we’d be leaving in the morning so we could get back to Sydney and a supermarket. We don’t have any fresh food onboard, we told him. He seemed concerned.

“What will you eat?”

“Spaghetti, probably,” said Jack.

We hoisted our luggage up onto our deck and climbed aboard, happy to be home before dark and waved goodbye and thanks to Roger. A few minutes later he reappeared, still looking concerned. I think the idea of spaghetti must have been unimaginable.

“There’s a restaurant over there,” he said, and he pointed across the river. “And another one on the other side of that marina down there,” pointing the other way, “but they don’t like you tying up there.”

We assured him we’d survive the night on spaghetti and jarred sauce, which happens to be Jack’s specialty, and we celebrated our homecoming with a bottle of red.

The next day we motored the five miles back down the river to our old anchorage at Rozelle Bay and went ashore to the supermarket for a few essentials. Back onboard I was unpacking and sorting laundry when Jack called down, “Hey, I think that’s Roger towing another boat!” Sure enough there was the beat up workboat towing a sailboat right past us. We stood on deck and waved as he went by and he called out, “I’m the patron saint of derelict boats!”

He was gone before we could reassure him about the spaghetti.

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Siren Song

I don’t know about you but it seems like in our travels, the more we see, the more we discover what we haven’t seen or wish we’d seen. Tasmania certainly fills that bill of lading. After yesterday’s Trail of Tears trauma in Port Arthur, with its massive tragedies old and new, we decided not to go back for a scheduled second day and opted for a day of lookouts and beautiful vistas that aren’t necessarily on the must-do, hotspot tour, but we really needed the chill. We’re glad we did. We found ourselves on the beautiful rugged Tasman Peninsula with an extra day to play with, so we set out to see what we could see.

When you’re in an area that’s known for growing berries I say, “Have a few.”

Sad to leave such a beautiful place but we both could feel EV’s siren song calling us home.

Our flight back to Sydney was scheduled for 4:30pm. However the car had to be turned in at 11:00am so our intrepid travel director switched our flight to an earlier one. I couldn’t help but notice the same large bronze sculpture I first saw when entering Hobart Terminal featuring a luggage cart with trunks stacked on it and about a half dozen bronze Tasmanian Devils exploring it, as though they smelled dead meat. I confess that I felt differently about the husky buggers now, than when I first saw that sculpture. Bugs Bunny was right.

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Speak of the devil

We’ve been having good experiences with Aussie wildlife Down Under, even though they tend to be rather shy and nocturnal. I wasn’t leaving Tasmania until I’d seen Tassie’s most famous and exclusive marsupial, the Tasmanian devil. We’d been seeing signs showing people hugging and petting the cute little buggers even though they seem to have a preponderance of large pearly white teeth. You know, how puppies open their mouths and kind of smile while being petted…well those are teeth, aren’t they?

Photo from Tasmanian Devil Conservation Project

We were informed that we probably wouldn’t see any out in the wild but there’s a zoo nearby called the Unzoo and we’d have a good shot at seeing some. Unzoo, that must be where the Tasmania devil petting zoo is. Great. Turns out they have a kid sized tunnel that leads to a small plastic observation dome so you can watch them without disturbing them. Wow, they must be really shy.

After entering through the gift shop we found out that the next feeding was about to start. Unexpected, but as we turned a corner around some landscaped shrubs we entered a small amphitheater, sat down in front and immediately noticed a heavy duty thick glass wall separating us from the…show. Interesting. Eyebrows slightly raised.

In came Crocodile Dundee, slightly out of breath, carrying a small cooler, which he opened and set on top of the barrier. “Did you see him? Usually he does a couple of laps before he settles down enough to be fed.” We looked at each other with eyebrows well arched. There was no devil in evidence, so the naturalist vamped with some informative fun facts on the devil’s lifespan and behavior.

After a few more minutes with no devil he radios to his assistant for, well, assistance. She shows up with a stout walking stick, heavy boots, long pants, vaults over the barrier and charges through the habitat. Soon he appears, the muscular black and white growling spitting devil, and he means business.

From the opened cooler our naturalist pulls out a hunk of gristly bone, meat, and fur, kinda Wallaby colored, attached with a massive hook and cable and proceeds to tease our devil who came in here with a bad attitude to start with and he’s not appreciating the show business qualities of yanking away his rightful food. Seconds later he’s snatched the hunk of meat out of the air and now he’s going to take it home which will shorten the show. So now we have a tug-of-war with the small but powerful bugger, nearly pulling the full grown straining naturalist over in the process. Impressive. Pound for pound they have the most powerful jaws of any animal, so once he bites down it’s obvious he’ll never let go. He can bite through bone but they have poor eyesight, lousy hunting skills, smell well enough to notice rotting carion, and are not the brightest bulb on the tree. Let’s agree to call them opportunistic hunters. They have on occasion clamped down on sleeping humans and I’m guessing it didn’t turn out well. In the meantime he’s managed to get the hunk off of the hook and growling and grunting, the show is over. It’s no wonder that the only thing that Bugs Bunny fears is the Tasmanian Devil! The Unzoo doesn’t like to cage its animals but we can only hope that enclosure for these buggers is secure.

With the star off grumpily gnawing on whatever’s left of his breakfast we explored the grounds. The only native kangaroo in Tassie is the Forester Kangaroo and they had a nice feeding area for guests and Roos.

Most of the animals at the Unzoo are Tasmanian specific and the Eastern Quoll are carnivorous so don’t let the cute fawn like fur fool you.

We also saw a lot of these Tasmanian pademelons, smaller kangaroo-like marsupials, just wandering the grounds.

And as if the Tasmanian Devil weren’t enough, at a little bird show here’s a rather strange bird called a Tawny Frogmouth.

Strange frog or weird bird? Either way he had great eyesight and when he saw an eagle, just a tiny dot high up in the sky, he elongated his neck to look like a tree limb, and stood absolutely motionless while staring right up at that tiny speck.

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Another tide-dependent destination lead us south from Port Arthur to arrive at Remarkable Cave by mid afternoon. Our lodging host told us that at low tide we could hop the fence and walk through the cave to the beach. It sounded good to us until we saw that “hopping the fence” also including some rock climbing, an activity more suited to younger limbs and those with no fear of heights. I think if one of us was willing the other would have followed, but we decided our lives would still be complete if we didn’t do the hopping and climbing. Still, it was a pretty cool place but hard to photograph.

Our last foray along Tasmania’s Convict Trail was the ruins of the coal mine where the worst of the worst were sent to serve out their sentences doing the hardest of hard labor. At one point the mine provided all of the coal used in Tasmania but it was poor quality coal and eventually the mine was closed and the convicts moved to Hobart.

The shafts are collapsed now. The site is remote and unstaffed but well preserved and interpreted with cleverly placed placards and an online and downloadable brochure for more info. I found the setting ruggedly beautiful in contrast to the brutality that took place here.

The punishment cells were barely large enough to lie down, and were underground and windowless.

We drove a further few kilometers on the unsealed road to the far northwest corner of the Tasman peninsula and Lime Bay, as peaceful and lovely a place as we’ve seen in Tasmania. The boats anchored off in the distance made us almost wish we had sailed EV down here. This truly is a special place. It’s not exotically beautiful like many places we’ve been to and the landscape is so similar to our homeland that we were initially underwhelmed, unfairly so. We were also shocked a few times by overt, unconsciously racist remarks made in casual conversation by some locals, but Under Down Under has grown on us day by day.

At Lime Bay the rains came again but it was only a brief shower and as always, when it stopped we were rewarded with a rainbow.

We only have one more day here and we’re on a mission.


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