Author Archives: Marce

Finally the ascent

This is our third visit to Coffs Harbour and we’re finally walking up the hill on Muttonbird Island for the view over the sea and the harbor. We joined the crew of Starry Horizons for the short but steep track to the top and the inevitable photo op we cruisers long for as perpetual sea level dwellers.

Whenever we look out to sea from a safe harbor we experience a renewed sense of astonishment and pride that we’ve crossed that ocean in our small boat to get where we are. And sometimes when the wind is strong and the seas are up, as they’ve been lately, we’re grateful we’re not out there now but we’re also reminded that our sturdy boat takes care of us and can handle much more than we’re comfortable with. Still, this year we have no visiting family waiting for us in Sydney so we’re content to wait out the weather for now. Life’s definitely too short to voluntarily spend more choppy days at sea than necessary.

On the way down, sharp-eyed Amy spied an odd reptile identified by a local passerby as a blue-tongued lizard. Our photo prey had a stubby little tail and our informant told us the longer bit would have been sacrificed during an attack by a predator and will grow back. The blue tongue was not revealed to us, however much we must have annoyed it with our camera stalking.

Later a brief squall blew through and we were rewarded with a double rainbow. We hope it’s a good omen.

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Making lemonade

In hindsight we probably should have pressed onward toward Sydney, even though the weather wasn’t ideal. As it is, the day after arriving in Coffs Harbour the wind turned southerly now making the jump south impossible, and it looks like it won’t be changing any time soon.

One morning we heard a North American voice on the VHF radio reporting their arrival in Australia and requesting instructions for inward customs and immigration clearance. It was almost exactly a year ago that we arrived from New Caledonia in this very port so we were eager to welcome them.

They were instructed to anchor in the tiny mooring area for clearance, a daunting task as there’s barely room for the two courtesy moorings with a stone jetty on one side and a massive fishing pier on the other. Still, the sailors positioned their shiny new catamaran in the only tenable spot, closer to us and the other moored boat than you’d really want to be, but safe. I ventured out on deck and shouted over, “Welcome to Australia!” The young man on the bow yelled back, “Thanks! We’re glad to be here!” adding “My wife has read your whole blog!”

It’s not unusual these days. Everyone blogs. In fact you’re only unique if you don’t. Most of us do it because it’s the best way to bring our friends and family along for the ride, and to record for ourselves the experiences we’re having. I followed a lot of blogs when we were still at the dreaming stage, then as we began our journey I read blogs to learn specific ins and outs of the cruising life. We found our boat through the blog of the previous owners and reading every word of the entire four year circumnavigation convinced me that this could be our boat.

Now that we’re Out Here I have less time and bandwidth to keep reading many blogs and we mostly keep up with good friends or consult the blogs of people who’ve visited places we’re considering. An interesting evolutionary step in travel blogging is the move to video, or vlogs, especially among young people. We love that there are so many young couples and young families on long cruises, something that used to be very rare. I imagine more fluid career paths, the ability to work remotely, and the willingness to take a long sabbatical knowing you can always jump back in are all factors, but whatever the reasons, the fact that our community is multigenerational is as enjoyable as its multinational nature. We are always a gathering of very different people, with different reasons for being here, different backgrounds, different cruising destinations and long term goals, but with this one big thing in common, that we all choose to see the world by traveling the oceans in our own boats.

I looked up our new neighbors, Starry Horizons, and discovered they have an elaborate blog (as most of them are theses days; EV is woefully inadequate in the html department. Any volunteers to spiff us up?) and a popular YouTube channel. We applaud the effort they put into sharing their experiences with well-produced travelogues of the places they go. I know if these kinds of vlogs were online when we were planning for the cruising life I’d have been a dedicated subscriber to a lot of them. With high quality compact video cameras and especially drones, the footage can be stunning. When people find out our work life was in the video business they often ask why we don’t shoot video of our travels. “Too much like work,” we say, and when we saw, a few days later, David and Amy shooting a standup for their vlog, we appreciated once again how much time and energy it takes to put together a good video and how much we don’t want to be doing it. But it’s nice to see how many are, and hats off to them. They’re rewarded with thousands of loyal followers. You can check out Starry Horizons here.

Almost as soon as Starry Horizons got the anchor down Marine Rescue hailed them again on VHF and instructed them to proceed to a marina berth for clearance. I don’t think there’s much meaningful communication between Marine Rescue and Australian Border Force, but eventually Starry Horizons got cleared in and a few hours later we met the sleepy crew for happy hour along with the crew of Erie Spirit. It was the first time in recent memory we’ve been in company with two other American boats.

The weather continues to deteriorate and we’ve resigned ourselves to a prolonged stay in Coffs Harbour. We’ve overstayed our welcome on the courtesy mooring but rather than anchor in the rolly harbor we took a berth in the marina. A week at the dock will let us catch up on laundry, take long hot showers and give EV a much needed wash down. It’s all good.

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Moonlight on the ocean

You’d think after 20,000 nautical miles I’d be used to going to sea, but every time we leave the safety of inland waters or a secure harbour I’m full of low-level anxiety and trepidation. I consider that a good thing because it encourages us to go through our pre passage list again and again, checking that the rig is sound, that the dinghy is secured with additional lines, that everything is stowed properly, that our sea berth is set up comfortably, that we have easy food to eat, and so on. We missed one critical preparation, which we discovered while bouncing uncomfortably across the Southport Seaway bar and discovered we hadn’t taken off our deck level solar lights. We’d completely forgotten to reinstall our jack lines, the safety lines that run fore and aft on each side of the boat that we clip onto whenever we go out on deck underway. Oops. It will be impossible to get them secured properly in the choppy waves so we’ll just have to clip our tethers to deck fittings instead.

The wind was supposed to be easterly, a perfect angle for an overnight passage south to Coffs Harbour, but as usual, the weather people once again made only a stab in the dark and came up short. For the first eight hours or so we struggled to find a course and sail trim that maximized speed and minimized discomfort aboard. Line after line of squalls took the wind away or changed the direction of it, and my first night watch in months started out in exasperated futzing with the sails, turning the motor on and then off as the wind went from a useless 7-8 kts. to an acceptable 10-11 kts. but in the wrong direction. It’s times like this I wonder how I ever thought sailing was fun. To make matters worse, the boat we left with, a bigger monohull with much larger sail area, was miles ahead of us within hours.

Eventually, the wind settled into a steady direction I could work with, I trimmed the sails for comfort and speed, and with enough pressure to smooth out the ocean swell and wind waves, we started making serious headway toward our destination. At just that moment, a small hole opened up in the overcast sky and for the first time the sea was illuminated by a hazy moon.

The vision reminded me of the title page of this piece of music, written by my great-great uncle Theodore Boettger. As we passed the headlands, each lighthouse joined the moon in painting light over a sea that no longer shook Escape Velocity off her southward track, thanks to the steady breeze, now about 12-13 kts, and at EV’s favorite angle, just on the beam. The piece, published in 1873, consists of five pages of arpeggios.

I’ve never heard it. It’s beyond my ability to play, and I haven’t been able to convince anyone yet to try it. (Jack makes the generous offer of an official EV boatcard for anyone who will play it and post a recording we can listen to. He’s full of the spirit of giving for the holidays.)

I can’t help but think that regardless of what it sounds like, the undulating patterns of notes describe the motion of the ocean that we experience most days at sea. Occasionally we have more regular longer swells from behind, but more often than not we lurch and wobble with waves coming at us from two or three directions, making moving about onboard a funhouse dance.

At 1am I handed over command to Jack, who enjoyed another couple of hours of pleasant moonlit sailing before more squall lines and close encounters with passing ships interrupted the serenity of the night. I was aware even in sleep, as any short handed offwatch sailor is, of changes in sail trim, wind speed and course.

By dawn it was clear we’d arrive before nightfall, something that wasn’t guaranteed after our slow start the night before. Our wind direction luck held out for most of the day and after a final few hours of motorsailing we were able to pick up a mooring in Coffs Harbour four hours after our friends arrived. Not bad for our first overnighter in months.

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A social whirl

After a long time on our own, we loved having a family visit. And then, just as we were sinking into a bit of a funk after they left, we had another welcome social whirl.

We anchored near Cleveland close to the crews of two boats we haven’t seen or met up with for over three years. First we navigated into the canal community ashore until we found the beautiful Manta catamaran Shamara III, owned by Peter and Maggie Sharp. We first met them in Stuart, FL, soon after we bought Escape Velocity and spent an impromptu get-to-know-you on the dock before one or the other of us left the next day. A year later we spied them as we anchored in St. George’s, Grenada, and once again spent only a short time catching up before they sailed north to spend the hurricane season in St. Lucia. We gave them a couple of bolts of green marine canvas we weren’t going to use and they gave us what seemed like half their liquor supply in exchange.

We learned recently that there are at least five Mantas here in Australia and most are within shouting distance of this spot. We hoped to share an anchorage for a weekend, but most of the other boats aren’t available until mid-December and Jack and I are anxious to get south as soon as possible. That led us to the canal and Shamara III and a friendly welcome to the beautiful home of Peter and Maggie. Come for coffee, they’d said. Coffee turned into lunch and a ride to the chandlery for a new boat hook, then dinner and laundry facilities and loaned boat parts and a couple of bottles of bubbly and a day you only get when you spend time with people who own the same kind of boat and who’ve shared your unique experiences, albeit at different times. We were so chuffed to be with world cruisers again and the four of us chattered away until way past our bedtimes, so engaged in each other’s company that we forgot to take photos.

The next day we met up with Tom, the former owner of Dancing Bear, whom we met along with his crew Dirk in the Galapagos. Dirk met us ashore when we limped back to Isabella after our dismasting, and he and Tom, along with the crew of Qi kept us sane, entertained and on task as we made our preparations for the long motor back to the mainland to get rerigged. For that we are eternally grateful and it was a treat to relive Tom’s Pacific crossing and hear about his transition back to land life.

All good things must end and the next day we weighed anchor and started the slow and sometimes tense journey down the shallow straits of southern Moreton Bay to the Southport Seaway where we’ll once again take on the Tasman Sea to Sydney. Increasing headwinds convinced us to stop 15 miles short of our goal and we anchored at Jacob’s Wells for the night and continued at dawn for the final leg. It was a beautiful morning, still and full of birdsong.

A few hours later we were in Gold Coast, Australia’s answer to Ft. Lauderdale, anchored near Sea World, surrounded by more international boats than we’ve seen in months and buzzed nonstop by jet skis, helicopters, speedboats and this thing we haven’t seen since, oddly enough, Ft. Lauderdale. I don’t even know what it’s called.

We continued our social week with sundowners on Evenstar along with Erie Spirit, both American boats. Who’da thunk, after all this time?

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Bye-bye Brissy, for now

We suffered a letdown when Drew and Ericka left and we took a day to decompress, rattling around onboard and talking about the week and how wonderful it was to be with our family. It helped, I guess, that the rainy weather continued and it wouldn’t have done us much good to go ashore anyway, much as we were anxious to get moving south.

Eventually the clouds parted and we made a last foray into downtown Brisbane. On the pedestrian mall of Queen Street we were treated to a traditional dance troupe, as well as our favorite buskers, the Fergies, whom we’ve enjoyed a few times at the Sunday market in the botanical gardens.

It’s fun to be in a place long enough to know your way around, to have favorite shops and cafés and people-watching spots. We’ve enjoyed Brisbane, but it’s time to leave. Just after dawn, before the ferries begin their inevitable roiling of the waters in the river, we dropped the lines holding us on the mooring poles and pointed EV downstream. The tide was coming in so we dropped the anchor at a convenient and safe spot to wait overnight for a more favorable current to push us out into Moreton Bay. It was the day before Thanksgiving in America and reading the posts about family gatherings and food preparations on social media reminded us of how much we’re missing so far from home.

We left the Brisbane River on an outgoing tide and bucked a bit of a headwind into Raby Bay as the Thanksgiving posts kept piling up. Thanksgiving for us has always been a 6-1/2 hour drive to my sister’s house in New Jersey, a day or two of prep and baking and a chaotic day of aunts and uncles and cousins we haven’t seen since the previous Thanksgiving and the requisite overeating, and of course, my sister’s pies.

The year Jack was getting chemo and radiation we couldn’t make the trip and had our own private Thanksgiving, no less meaningful for being quiet, but definitely not as much fun.

The year we sold our house, my sister and brother-in-law came to Pittsburgh to help us celebrate the end of a long chapter in our lives and the beginning of an exciting new one, and we made a full on T-Day dinner for four. With pies.

Wherever there are cruisers gathered there’s usually a potluck Thanksgiving dinner and we love being part of that surrogate family.

Our last visit to the States was timed to Thanksgiving and we once again enjoyed the big family gathering. And pie.

This year, we find ourselves alone and not even near other cruisers. We were both feeling a little down when Jack suggested we make a Thanksgiving meal with whatever we have onboard. As soon as got the anchor down in Raby Bay I searched the freezer and pantry for appropriate ingredients and we set to work.

Chestnuts we bought last year in New Zealand that I roasted, peeled and froze became a chestnut-sherry soup with sourdough croutons. Lingonberries from IKEA substituted for cranberries, spiced up with horseradish. Sweet potatoes became spiced oven fries. Frozen peas stood in for fresh green veg and became “World Peace” (whirled peas) and with no turkey, Jack grilled honey mustard chicken and I had grilled tofu. We topped it off with fresh mangos and blueberries. Not bad for a last minute Thanksgiving dinner. But we miss the family. And those pies. We hope your day was full of love and friends and family and that you have a sister who bakes.

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Way too short

After our spectacular day at North Stradbroke Island the weather turned against us and for the last few days of Drew’s and Ericka’s visit rain showers dictated what we could and couldn’t do. Sometimes they went off on their own to explore what Brisbane has to offer, and sometimes we met at a museum or for lunch or coffee.

They spent one gloomy afternoon and evening on Escape Velocity and while Drew attempted to troubleshoot our non-working SSB radio, Ericka took advantage of a break in the weather and paddled one of our kayaks up the Brisbane River and around the bend. I think she got a workout paddling back against the tide, but it’s one of the activities she wanted to do while they were here and I’m glad she was able to fit that in between showers.

After dinner that evening, as Jack ferried them back to the dinghy dock, they were treated to fireworks along the river, a fitting celebration of our time together.

On their last day we took in the little market in the botanical garden across the street from their hotel.

Once again, rain moved in and Jack and I retreated to Escape Velocity leaving Drew and Ericka to their own devices for their last afternoon. That evening they took us out for an early Christmas Eve dinner, Indian food, as is our tradition. For as long as Drew can remember, and for most of my adult life, we’ve spent Christmas Eve with the Cassidy family in Pittsburgh, enjoying a fantastic home cooked curry dinner. We haven’t been able to join the crew since our last trip to the States in 2014, so this thoughtful gesture reminded us of our tradition, and made us a little sad, too, because Drew and Ericka leave early tomorrow, and because another year has gone by without our Cassidy Christmas. But we’ll take what we can get, and being with these two has filled our hearts. We’re so grateful they came!

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Family time

We made few plans for Drew and Ericka’s visit, mostly because we didn’t know how jetlagged they’d be, and because the weather has been unsettled of late, unlike the weeks of glorious sunshine we’ve enjoyed up til now. We approached each day as a blank slate and let the hours unwind.

Luckily Brisbane is a compact and walkable city with parklands, museums, shops and markets in any direction and the free downtown ferry takes the strain off Jack’s deteriorating knee.

Jack and I wouldn’t have cared where in the world we were, it was just such a pleasure to be with these two, catching up or talking about nothing in particular. They are easy company and we’re reminded of how precious our time together is.

Most of the time I forgot to take pictures and of course now I’m kicking myself.

During their visit Australia announced the results of a postal vote on whether the country should embrace marriage equality, and I’m happy to report they voted overwhelmingly YES. The vote only suggests the government should legislate to reflect public opinion, but we were pleased to be here during a historic move forward on civil rights. There were celebrations country-wide, including a huge rally here in Brisbane, and in the evening the Story Bridge was lit in rainbow colors, a beautiful view from the back porch.

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Antidote to the downside

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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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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