Author Archives: Marce

Mind the gap

We’ve been absent from blogging for a long time and it weighs heavily on us both. The truth is, we’re in a funk and have been for more than half a year. It has nothing to do with cruising, the boat, Australia, our health and wellbeing or any other personal issue, but rather the ever more disturbing and mind-numbing news we hear out of America. 

Jack and I have always been news junkies and like to keep up with what’s going on in the world and being in a first world country with good internet access means we can read online the daily newspapers we’re familiar with along with our favorite weekly news magazines. In a way we’re grateful we don’t have American TV because the constant barrage of “breaking news” would be far too stressful. 

We know lots of people who disengage while cruising, and happily ignore domestic and world events in favor of a life lived in the here and now. In a way I admire those people and envy their zen bliss. We are not those people and the news from the other side of the world makes us sad. 

Maybe it’s because we grew up in the 1950s when patriotism and love of country reached their apex, when Cold War rhetoric drew a stark contrast between the democratic West and the communist East. Maybe it’s because we always thought of our country as the center of freedom and promise and compassion and refuge for the rest of the world. Maybe it’s because we’re proud of our system of government and how built-in checks and balances prevent any attempt at tyranny from succeeding. 

More personally for Jack and me, even growing up hundreds of miles apart in different cities, was a fascination and deep pride in America’s technological leadership, in the image of a future where discovery and science would make our lives safer, easier, healthier and more colorful. We can still feel the thrill of watching the flights of Alan Shepherd and then John Glenn prove that space travel was possible. The Jetsons was must-see TV. We learned on the evening news about flight trajectories, insulating materials, solar panels, space-age adhesives, and escape velocity. It all seemed fantastical and still does. What’s more, that was our country. Our universities and government recruited the best minds and provided whatever they needed to solve problems and make discoveries. Scientists and engineers were admired, respected, revered. We were the world leaders in scientific discovery and we were so proud. America took giant leaps for mankind, not just on the moon but in medicine, energy, biology, computer science. 

That is how we grew up thinking about our country, as a jet engine of advancement, tackling the world’s problems through education and invention. 

Now it’s clear that we have ceded our leadership in the world to other, more forward-thinking countries. Our scientists are scoffed at, ignored, defunded, or left to work in service of corporate profit instead of public good. We personally know many scientists who spent more than a decade acquiring their specialized education only to abandon their fields because funding only comes through decreasingly available grant money with too many strings attached. These are the best minds we have, now given little or no respect and no latitude for discovery. Our pharmaceutical labs and medical facilities are profit centers, where potential life-saving drugs or techniques aren’t pursued if someone can’t get rich on them. 

We continue to pollute the environment while other countries make policies to protect it. We ignore or suppress renewable energy sources and cling to the mining and burning of fossil fuels that scar the earth and poison the air, all so a few companies can pocket hideous profits. Our leaders denigrate advanced education and paint those who pursue knowledge as “elites.” This is particularly galling to me as the daughter of a woman who worked her way through college during the Great Depression so she could serve her community by becoming a teacher. My mother was not “elite” in any sense of the word, but she fulfilled the responsibility of American citizenship by becoming the best she could be and guiding younger generations through education. In the Sixties we took John Kennedy’s challenge to heart: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We felt a duty to “make something of ourselves” and contribute to the greater good.

Now we read almost daily of too many citizens who expect their government to do for them. Coal miners, for example, who lost their jobs because of automation and lower demand refuse to see the writing on the wall and move forward into new industries, insisting instead that the government “bring their jobs back.” They’ve been offered training in renewable energy technologies or other fields but won’t take advantage of it because it means doing something different. I guess it’s easier to complain and blame someone else for a changing world than to roll up your sleeves and adapt.

Our city of Pittsburgh is a perfect role model for them, where the century-old steel industry declined and after a period of political protests the steelworkers buckled down and retrained as nurses, lab technicians, computer programmers. Pittsburgh went from being the quintessential industrial Smoky City to an environmentally and technologically advanced city of the future. Instead of learning from Pittsburgh, too many people trapped in 19th and 20th century ways of thinking want our government to turn back time and coddle them with empty promises and special privilege. 

Life moves forward at a pretty fast pace and sometimes it’s hard to keep up. But our best and brightest can guide us on our path to the future if only we would let them. It’s a sad state of affairs when the leader of another country offers refuge and resources to American scientists because our own country won’t support and respect their work. This news was a particular gut punch for Jack and me, a humiliating confirmation that our country has completed its move to the dark side, where scientific pursuit is only supported if it results in corporate profit. The good of mankind and the health of the planet we all share is no longer a factor in political decisions. It makes us sad and plunged us into a deep funk. 

Our cruising friends from countries all over the world are astonished at the complete lack of political will to create a system of universal healthcare enjoyed by every other developed country. Why, they ask, do Americans not care about each other? They share our disappointment that America, once a beacon of hope and inspiration, has abandoned its leadership role in human rights, environmental protection and world peace. The image of America abroad is now of greed, arrogance, xenophobia, hate. We aren’t making this up. We’re confronted with it almost daily. It’s been a long time coming, but the final nails are hammered home. 

We’re still cruising. We still love our life afloat. We’re still taking beautiful photos of the places we see and the experiences we have. We’re still welcomed wherever we go. I only wanted to take a stab at explaining our absence from day-to-day blogging. We promise to renew our effort to share our travels. We have a lot to catch up on and we’ll post as we can. It may be all mixed up chronologically but we’ll slot things into date order. I hope you’ll stay with us. Thanks for reading. 

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The view from the front porch

We had an unusual convection event here in Brisbane that was reported on the evening news. It caused the enormous bridge right beside us to completely disappear. 

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The view from the back porch

Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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Leap of faith

The rain finally stopped, the sun came out and with it a full horizon-to-horizon rainbow. Boaters everywhere see rainbows all the time but we don’t often see a full one. We took it as a good omen that maybe we can continue our journey north. The weatherman predicted about a day and a half of break from the unfavorable winds, and especially a reduction in the sea state before it kicked up again later in the week. We needed about 20 hours to reach the protected waters of Moreton Bay and more winds were predicted in a few days’ time. We had a decision to make: go now or wait at least another week. We decided to go. 


Motoring over the river bar we almost regretted our decision. We timed the tide exactly right, but the increased swell coming in off the Tasman Sea gave us about 30 minutes of slamming into big waves and kept Jack hand steering to avoid possible breakers. We finally got past the most uncomfortable bits and out into open ocean but I was glad I’d downed a seasickness tablet before we left. 

It’s been a while since we did any night sailing and being a little out of practice made me somewhat nervous as the sun went down. I told Jack I wasn’t sure I could do our usual 6-hour watch, especially being close to shore and having to dodge rocks and small islands, not to mention the possibility of hitting a sleeping whale. Since we were close to shore big ships weren’t a problem as they stay further out but fishing boats are generally everywhere and most don’t have AIS, the identification system that alerts us to nearby vessels and warns if we’re in danger of a collision. 

On night watches at sea, where our concerns are more for our own vessel and any threatening weather, we feel safe taking 15-minute capnaps, making a long watch less exhausting. But here, sailing inshore, we must stay vigilant every minute, checking the chart, identifying navigation lights, tracking other vessels, monitoring the radio. Surprisingly, I made it through my six-hour watch more easily than I thought, perhaps because of the constant focus it required. Nevertheless I was glad to wake Jack at midnight and crawl into bed. 

By morning we knew we would reach the river bar too early and we slowed down as much as we could. I called Marine Rescue for a report on conditions and they told me to call back when it was light enough for them to see. A half hour later they were happy to report a calm entrance and that’s what we got. As always, Jack piloted us expertly in following the route marked on the chart and we were in calm and safe waters in no time. 

High winds were predicted for late that night so we took shelter behind a low island and dropped anchor in very shallow but calm water. It was dead quiet except for a symphony of early morning birdsong. We dozed and puttered about the boat all day, happy to have finally reached Queensland. 

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Shelter from the storm

It isn’t really a storm, but a stationary wet system stirring up the seas and dumping a lot of rain. When the wind picks up, as it does every other day or so, it’s only for a few hours and not enough to get fussed about. Still, it’s keeping us from moving further up the coast, not just because of conditions outside, but because the river bar is stirred up and not safe. Day after day we hear boats calling Marine Rescue asking about conditions, and time after time the boats inch up to take a look then turn back to safe harbour. Even the fishermen are waiting it out, and they usually go out in anything short of gale force. 


The water tank is full and we wish, in times like this, that we had more capacity so we could take advantage of this free pure water. I take the opportunity to do some thorough boat cleaning which we need after so many months in the city collecting the airborn grime and dust. This is another of those boat life challenges. When we’re in populated places, the water is often not clean enough to run the watermaker so we need to use less water, especially for nonessentials like boat cleaning. When we’re in less populated places the water is usually cleaner and we can run the watermaker to our heart’s content but the boat also doesn’t get as dirty because we’re away from manmade pollutants. 

We’re boatbound most days and we’re taking on some of the back burner jobs we’ve been avoiding. As part of my bridge deck scrubbing project we did a little storage rethinking and moved some long term items out of short term spaces and vice versa. I also pulled out our huge collection of older CDs that were packed away when we moved aboard and haven’t seen the light of day since. I spent two days digitizing them to add to the rest of our music collection, all on hard drives. 


It took us a few years but we finally have an easy to use system for playing music onboard. We have a double din car stereo that plays CDs and DVDs and accepts inputs via USB or Bluetooth. We used to load up a 64gb USB stick with music and play from that, but the indexing on the stereo is cumbersome and you have to stand next to the screen to choose a particular song. Still, it worked well when we just hit shuffle and let it do its thing, with the ability to skip a track with the remote. 

Last year Drew sent me an unlocked android phone and a 128gb microSD card. We loaded it up with tunes and paired it to the stereo via Bluetooth and now we can play any cut we want from anywhere in the boat. Most of the time we still use shuffle but our collection is so huge and eclectic that we often need to consult the phone screen to identify the artist or album. They say the memory is the first to go. 

I know most landbased people have moved to streaming services like Spotify but our internet access is usually metered and often not fast enough to stream. We’re glad to have a big enough collection that we don’t get bored, but of course keeping up to date is a challenge. 

Now that I have all the older CDs digitized I need to find a home for them. They take up a surprising amount of space and I’m keen to get the weight off the boat. Next project will be digitizing the DVDs, a much slower process. 

We go ashore between showers to stretch our legs and buy fresh fruit and vegetables but mostly we’re waiting. 

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On dry land

We knew high winds and unfriendly seas were moving in and we’d heard from friends that Iluka is a good place to be to wait out bad weather. The town basin tames the ocean swell, and the holding is good. We settled in for a wait. The funny thing is, we’re always happy to be in a nice place when we have to sit tight for a while, but if the weather’s bad we don’t get to do much anyway. In this case we knew we’d have at least one more day of fine weather and we took the opportunity to stroll through the Iluka Nature Reserve, part of the much larger Gondwana Rainforest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

This is far different from the slip-slidey trek we made in El Yunque, Puerto Rico, or the multi-fording odyssey to one of the world’s tallest waterfalls in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas. For one thing, it’s drier, much like the dry open forest where we come from in Pennsylvania. And while some of the trees look familiar from a distance, they are species adapted to the harsh salt environment. 


We’re finding bird life in Australia even more varied and lovely to listen to than in New Zealand. As we walked through the forest we stopped frequently to listen to the birdsong, musical, insistent, urgent, playful. We haven’t devoted time to identifying birds and often can’t even see them, but their calls are always entertaining. 

The forest track ended at Iluka Bluff, a rocky headland pounded by the surf and marked by millennia of wind and sea erosion. 


We spent quite some time appreciating the gallery of art by Mother Nature. 


Another path leads to the top of the bluff where a viewing platform offers a wide vista for spotting passing whales. There were none today, though, as the sea along shore was too rough for a close approach. Still, I was visited by a butterfly who must have thought my jacket marked me as kin. It stayed with me as we ate our picnic lunch and even followed me for a while as we started back down the hill. 

As predicted, that was the last sunny day we’d have for a while. 

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The view from the back porch

Coffs Harbour, NSW

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More goodbyes

Diana and Alex, of the dearly departed (sold) Enki II, made the arduous drive through Sydney traffic a couple of times to hang out on EV and soak up the autumn sunshine. We took a stab at the world’s problems, ruminated on future plans and just generally reveled in each other’s easy company. 

We don’t know if another boat is in their future, but Alex felt right at home stretching out in the cockpit. 

Days like this and the company of friends made it hard to tear ourselves away and head north to shorts and t-shirt weather. But we do need to get going. 

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The view from the back porch

Pelicans awaiting sunrise, Tuncurry, NSW, Australia. 

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Cocooning back home

Our trip back to Escape Velocity was long but without drama. It started with the middle of the night wake-up call, a 45-minute shuttle to the airport with ten other sleepy people, a 6am flight to Brisbane, then a four hour layover before our final flight to Sydney. That was followed by a half hour train ride and a 70-minute bus ride, and finally a two block schlep with luggage down to the dinghy dock where Di picked us up and ferried us to Toucan to be welcomed home with cold beer and hugs. It was good to be back home and I didn’t even tackle the unpacking for two days. 

Escape Velocity is down there somewhere.

We went from two layers of fleece back to thin jackets and the glorious sunshine beckoned us outside every day. The Toucs suggested we climb Barrenjoey to the lighthouse before we venture north for the winter so we loaded the matching picnic backpacks we both bought in Whangarei and joined what seemed like the rest of Pittwater on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to see just how much fitness we gained hiking in New Zealand. Not much, we discovered. 


Barrenjoey is the long thin stickout we sheltered behind at midnight when we first sailed south to Pittwater last December. 

“It’s a tombolo,” said Bruce, our resident smarty-pants. It’s a what? A tombolo, he told us, is a bit of land that was once an island and is now connected to the mainland. That’s a new one on us but obvious once we knew what we were looking at. 


The day was crystal clear and the view fom the lighthouse spectacular. We took pictures of each other and as always Jack was enlisted to photograph passersby. He has the look.



We ate lunch on a flat rock warmed by the sun, happy to be in the company of friends, sad knowing that we will leave this place that’s been a comfortable temporary home. We’ll be back in the Spring, of course, but saying goodbye to people and places never gets easier, no matter how much we do it. 


Australia is huge and there are so many places we want to see, but we’ve enjoyed Sydney and this special corner of the country so much that it’s hard to leave. We still have boat work to do and general planning and organizing for the thousand mile journey to warmer weather and time’s a-wasting. Play time’s over. Back to work. 

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