Author Archives: Marce

Short forays

We’re still reluctant to leave the boat to her own devices during tide changes when all hell breaks loose in the anchorage so we plan our trips ashore for the few hours each day when the boats have settled down and everyone’s playing nicely. 

Brisbane continues to charm us. It’s doesn’t have the artsy style of Melbourne or the vast scope of Sydney but the small size is more conducive to those of us who tour and shop on foot. In fact it’s so walkable that we haven’t even bought a public transportation card since everything we want we can find within a few blocks. 

We stopped at the tourist office for a walking tour map but the elderly gentleman manning the desk couldn’t find one and actually discouraged us from our quest. “It’s only interesting if you like architecture,” he told us. We said we do like architecture and that’s why we want a walking tour, to look at the buildings. I don’t think he believed us and he spent a long time leafing through various binders for something that looked like a walking tour map, ultimately with no success. We are on our own. 

We bit the bullet and bought a new Sodastream machine. Our old one is fine but for some strange reason the replacement CO2 tanks sold in Australia and New Zealand use a different thread from the rest of the world. We got our tanks replaced in New Zealand only to learn they won’t work in our machine. For the past year we’ve done without, but we’ll be in Oz for another year and we figured we’ll just get a new one and store the old one until we’re back in the World of Common Threads. 

We also found a store that sells the reusable produce bags and beeswax wraps that have been on my list for ages. I’m doing what I can to reduce the one-use plastic onboard. The reusable produce bags are wonderful and so far every cashier or farmers market who sees them wants to know where they can get them, too. They live in a little pouch in my backpack so I never have to use those plastic bags in the supermarket ever again. The beeswax wraps replace plastic wrap. Our previous owner left so much plastic wrap onboard that we haven’t bought any in five years, but still, I hate to use it to wrap cheese or black bread, which is pretty much all I use it for. Now we can almost eliminate plastic wrap from EV’s waste stream. Baby steps.

Any city that has a luthier right on a main street is ok by us. Normally we’d stop in to chat but today the shop was closed. 

When we got back to the dinghy dock we saw that Blackwattle had moved from the anchorage to a pole mooring. Jack thinks the owner is a single hander and we’re impressed that he could tie up bow and stern alone in these swirling currents. We’re also bummed that he moved because now we’ve lost our sight line that assured us we’re not sticking out in the ferry channel during certain tides. 

Our day ended with sundowners in the cockpit. We can’t see the sunset from where we are but the golden light reflected on the rocks at Kangaroo Point is beautiful enough for now. 


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Shore leave

We made it safely through twenty four hours of tide changes without whacking our neighbors at anchor and figure it’s safe to go ashore. There are free ferries in the downtown area, a nice dinghy dock and a river walk on both shores. I think we’re going to like it here! 

Our only plans were to get ourselves oriented and maybe pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables. The Brisbane central business district reminds us of Pittsburgh, constrained by a river into a tight bundle making it an easy walk from one side to the other. We started across the river from the downtown area where the warm and sunny weather seems to have lured most of the populace into the gardens and parks along the quay. 

We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is winter and a few weeks ago we were freezing on EV under a duvet and sleeping in multiple layers of clothing. The air is still cool even in the daytime but we’re loving this glorious bright sunshine. 

Brisbane is a bike friendly town, so much better than Sydney. If we weren’t so worried about the boat at anchor we’d love to take our bikes ashore and explore the many trails. There’s even a public bike repair station. (Hey Pittsburgh, check it out!) 

One more ferry stop took us across the river to downtown and right into the center of the weekly market. Street food for lunch, fresh fruit and veg for the larder and a wander back to the boat before the next change of tide. Yep, we do like Brissy. 


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Now what?

For the first time in our five years aboard Escape Velocity one of our engines failed us. Oh sure, we’ve had moments when we knew one of them wasn’t operating properly and needed attention, but when Jack went into reverse to pick up the pole mooring yesterday and the whole boat shook, we knew we had a serious problem. I ran down below and took a look. The engine was thumping up and down violently. “Shut it down!” I yelled. I’m not a diesel mechanic but I’d heard plenty of tales over beers at the cruisers bars and my first thought was that we broke an engine mount. Funny, because every time Jack checks or changes the oil, changes the impellers or does any other routine maintenance I always ask if the engine mounts look ok. “They’re fine,” he assures me. 

“It’s the propeller,” Jack said when I came back to the cockpit. There were stray lines dangling from the pole moorings and he thought maybe we got a wrap, but I’d been watching carefully and didn’t see one anywhere near the props. I told him how the engine looked, flopping up and down like it was loose. “Engine mount,” I insisted. 

Whatever it was, we needed help. I already had the number for a recommended mechanic because we want to address a couple of lingering problems with the other engine but we couldn’t wait until after our Brisbane sojourn to call. I explained what happened and described the behavior and the mechanic promised to come to where we were the next day. He passed the phone to his wife for details on our location and to get preliminary billing info, and we ended up chatting for 20 minutes about Australia and Brisbane and ended up somehow on Vegemite, the tar-like yeast spread that most Aussies grow up on, like Americans grow up on peanut butter. 

“Yuck,” I said, and she bristled. Oops. We don’t want to insult the mechanic’s wife before the engine’s fixed. I softened my take on gummy black goo and asked how best to enjoy it. Toast is the usual answer, but she also recommended avocado. Well hell, who doesn’t like avo toast but why sully it with Vegemite? I promised to try it again and really, when in Rome and all that. 

The next day we saw that we were anchored behind a boat named Blackwattle and it made us feel almost at home, since we’d spent so much quality time in Blackwattle Bay in Sydney. As advertised, though, the current runs swift in Brisbane and we also had strong winds. Escape Velocity rode perpetually over the anchor. Every six hours boats swung in unpredictable ways and twice a day we came dangerously close to a small green steel boat. With limited maneuverability we tried threading the needle between getting far enough away from Mr. Green and staying well enough out of the channel where the ferries zipped by many times an hour. We aimed to line up between Blackwattle and a channel marker and after several tries managed a pretty good compromise. Still, we didn’t feel confident leaving the boat. 

The mechanic — Bruce, what else? — came by late in the morning and checked out the engine, having Jack throw it into gear, forward, then reverse, then forward. Propeller, he said. Maybe a line wrapped around it, or bent, or something. He looked over the side at the murky river. “You’ll need a diver,” he said. “Unless you want to go for a swim.” 

Jack followed Bruce’s gaze to the yucky water. Diver it is, and Bruce left a message for the diver he works with. He took a preliminary look at the other engine and quickly diagnosed one of the two problems we’re having — intermittent charging — and gave us a plan for figuring out the other — persistent smoking on high load. Then he told us to call when the diver figured out the prop issue and we’d schedule the work. 

The diver called and told us he’s booked all week but promised to come up river on Saturday morning. It’s Tuesday. 

So here we are in the middle of a beautiful city on a boat that’s well stuck to the bottom but among other boats all swinging wildly at every tidal change. All we can do is stay aboard and monitor the swings through a whole day to be sure we won’t make contact or get dislodged. Oh how we wish we could pick up a pole mooring and feel safe! But it’s completely impossible with one tiny engine way off to the side. Ashore there are caf├ęs and gelato and shops and parks and museums. But they will have to wait. For now we’ll watch the climbers and rapellers on Kangaroo Point and wave to the passing ferries and cross our fingers that our propeller is ok. 

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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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