Author Archives: Jack

Bring the Funk

Great googlie mooglie, what is that racket? I decided I could risk opening just one eyeball. The room is still dark. Don’t think we’re being robbed. Marce is still asleep. There it is again. It sounds like a claxion horn but no one could want me up in the middle of the night so it must be some kind of mistake. That’s when it hits me. We need to get to Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne for our flight to Tasmania and as usual we’re saving a few pesos by taking the red-eye. On top of everything else, there may have been a few errors in back-timing, so it’s all hands on deck, without a moment to lose for the Escapees.

It’s a hike to the Transportation Center in the best of times but lugging all our gear for a nineteen day trip through a large thoroughly dark city…well, let’s just say I’m glad I’m still asleep.

I don’t know how security is out there in the world these days but here in OZ it’s thorough but at least you don’t have to undress. I don’t think I could face that at this hour. Now, dear Escapees, as we sipped our first coffee of the morning, normally this is when we start to remember all the stuff we forgot to remember. First was our little one cup on-the-road coffee maker. That’s going to hurt, but otherwise we’re looking good. To a sailor, air travel is a marvel of painful efficiency. It takes roughly an hour and a half to travel 375 miles but you have to do it in an upholstered torture rack better suited for leg-less children.

The cloud cover broke as soon as we raised the Tasmanian coast, revealing checkered fields of green and gold and finally the massive beautiful bay into Hobart. Normally we would hit the ground running but this time we were left cooling our heels at Hobart’s cute little Airport for an hour and a half, waiting for Eurocar to wash one for us. “It’ll be right as apples by 11:30.” Really?

Finally they finished our car and we decided to head directly for the circuitous road up to Mt. Wellington which I knew would be predictably hard on Marce who does not like riding next to a precipice without guard rails, preferring instead concrete Jersey Barriers that she cannot see over or at least Armco. The lookout did not disappoint which made up for all of the must-we-dice-with-death comments on the way up.

On the way back down we stopped at a quaint cafe that played 1970’s funk sung by Aussie cover artists, some were so good that it was difficult to distinguish from the original. It took 45 minutes to unwind ourselves back down the mountain and find our motel. So it’s pizza and tennis on the tube for us tonight. Our nightlife maybe getting a little dull these days but I’m thrilled that for a couple of days at least this is home.

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Searching for Mr. Good tennis 

It would be hard not to be excited about being back in Melbourne. After all, it’s an artsy but funky town with the Australian Open Tennis circus setting up shop and we’ll be sleeping in the same bed for three nights in a row. Last year while shuffling with the crowd out of Melbourne’s Formula 1 racetrack Marce said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to to do a day at the Australian Open next year?” And here we are, tickets in hand, fabulous boxed lunches from Melbourne’s incredible Queen Victoria Market, and a map of the free tram line.

With tennis it’s strictly a “pays your money, takes your chances” proposition. After all the injuries who knows who will show up for the quarterfinal match Tuesday night? However, being the experienced grand slam tennis buffs that we Escapees are, we came armed with a day pass which gives us access to everything but the big time Rod Laver Court where we think, with a little luck, we will be watching Rafa this evening.

I admit it took a little while to orient ourselves using the little free map which didn’t seem to match reality, at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Let’s just say there were a lot of lost souls wandering around and most of them, like us, were looking for the mysterious #18 practice court where in just under an hour RF, yes Mr. Federer to you, will be practicing! Close up. Just, you know, shagging balls, close up.

Oh my lord, Escapees, how many miles, I mean kilometers, we hiked in the afternoon Aussie sun. When asked, the typical Aussie bloke would say, “No worries, mate. It’s just ten minutes over there.” Well we weren’t born yesterday and we know that ten minutes Aussie is a half hour for us. But we never found over there over there.

In our travels back and forth across the tennis center we started to notice a lot of people were clinging to seat cushions advertising a bank. Oh my god, Marce, free swag! So we added scoring the free blue and white cushions to the mysterious #18 practice court. Every person we asked said, “No worries, mate, she’s right over there, ten minutes and she’s yours.” Well, we are the Schulzes and grand quests are in our DNA. Did you know this place is so big it even has a kiddie park with a its own zip line? After extricating ourselves from the sticky cotton candy crew — of course they don’t call it that — I sat down in total frustration. Roger must have already started by now and the cushion pushin Sheilas were as elusive as practice court #18.

Wait a minute. There’s a huge crowd over there. “Where?” says Marce. Over there under the bridge, not ten minutes away. Pardon me, might I ask where did you get those cushions? Over by the front gate! As I started to hobble over I saw a small blue sign which read Court #18. And there he was, RF himself. Just shagging balls. You know, as you do.

We watched several stars past and present, Johnny Mac, Martina, Berdych. We lazed on lawn chairs by the fountain, ate some Haagan Das, watched a women’s doubles match, a boy’s match, bought a tee shirt.

We found our seats for the evening session up in section Nosebleed right next to the stairs that looked more like a ladder than stairs, for the main event. Rafa was Rafa but to our eyes he seemed a step slow and by the fifth set he had to withdraw with a torn muscle near the hip. Tough to watch.

We saw some great tennis and to end a perfect day we got totally lost in the dark on the way out and had to talk our way back into the park to carefully retrace our way back to our original entry gate and the tram home.

Two slams down, two to go.

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Things take time in Australia

Rising startlingly up out of the flattest of sun-drenched plains, the majestic Grampians thrust skyward like rocky knives against the blue Australian sky. It’s one of those things where, because it’s so flat, you see them hours before you arrive at them.

By the time we made it to Hall’s Gap, our base camp, we were thoroughly spent thrill seekers and as I’m sure all you Escapees know, only the experienced traveler says tomorrow is soon enough and takes his righteous kick-back. We squeezed in a visit to the Brambuk Cultural Center for the lowdown on our scenic itinerary before checking into our mountain-view motel, chosen because it has lots of Aussie wild life that cozy up to the terraced lawn. We sat with other guests enjoying a cold one and watching kangaroos, parrots and a collection of waterfowl as the sun went down.

I guess our early morning run up the mountain caught this poor little guy on the wrong side of the road.

At first we had the mountain to ourselves but soon the RVs started to arrive. Less peace, but the stunning views remained just as impressive.

At the turn off to the much-anticipated MacKenzie Falls a police car blocked the road and we learned that sadly the falls were closed because of a drowning overnight. We had to scramble to reroute ourselves and instead of following the other cars to the next scenic overlook we took a long detour to the site of some aboriginal cave art that we hadn’t thought we’d have time to visit.

Archaeologists have been unable to date the paintings but they do agree that the area has been occupied for over 40,000 years. The wonder of it! Australia’s native population have continuously inhabited the continent through ice ages, massive volcanic eruptions, giant nasty birds, kangaroos and snakes whose somewhat smaller cousins, presently are still wandering around the continent. Things take time in Australia.

The paintings are protected by a cage, itself a work of art.

This site was a bonus that made us even more excited to see the one we planned all along. If you’ve ever played a computer game like Myst you’d know the creepy feeling we had when trying to find the second site. As we approached the dried out dusty park, we never saw a soul. It wasn’t even obvious where to park the car. Signs were missing, fences were erected, and we began to think that they’d had a bush fire come through here. We are pretty good at sussing-out a situation without any information.

First we found a way around the fencing and maybe it was the paintings that drew us to them but we eventually, after much wandering around, found the site.

We were completely alone with the paintings. The mystery and wonder of 40,000 years of history staring us in the face.
The Bunjil sight is said to be the most significant and featured Bunjil, the creator spirit, with his two dingos in a creation myth but even here there were still no people at all.
There are more cave art sites — there is always more to see — but we Escapees were happy with our day. Things take time in Australia.

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End of the road

Today’s adventure begins with a personal favorite of the night manager of the Warrnambool Motor Lodge. His tip last night for a nice quiet pub with Australian Open tennis on the telly sent us to a massive, expensive, incredibly noisy family fun restaurant. Not our taste. Being the forgiving Yanks that we are, we decided to give him a second chance and followed his tip to visit the Tower Hill Nature Reserve, which requires a small detour on the way to Port Fairy. Finding a room around these parts has been unusually difficult and we just found out that a traveling car racing series has been following us causing no-vacancy signs to light up all over the area. I suspect a spot of price gouging as well, even though we’ve reached the end of a The Great Ocean Road.

After a breckkie featuring a couple of egg McMuffins at Macca’s we Escapees wound-up the Lagoon Blue Hyundai and were off. It’s not hard to find the Tower Hill Nature Reserve; after all it spans an entire huge caldera of an extinct, one can only hope, volcano. Immediately one plunges down into the bowl along a strange side wall displaying signs of intense geothermal goings on. The passenger window reveled a huge meandering swamp-like lake, on the floor. The whole park has been reclaimed and revegetated after being stripped bare by European settlement in the 1800’s. In the 1960’s using a painting by Eugene Von Guerrad done 160 years ago, as a reference to what kind of trees and plants were there, volunteers planted tens of thousands of trees over several decades.

Official greeters, these two adult emus, posed for us as soon as we entered the park.

On a quiet walk through the park this guy startled us by crashing through the underbrush just to check us out.

Once again our Koala radar was well tuned and we found a couple of cuties doing what they do.

From the lookouts up on the edge of the caldera.

Next up, after a short drive, we entered lovely Port Fairy, said to be the most livable town in the world, looking for lunch. It is nice. Wide tree lined streets, a fort with cannons up on Battery Hill, and last but not least the retro and irreverent Port Fairy confectionary.

Finally we Escapees arrive in Hamilton at our home for the night and take our obligatory picture with the patron saint of Aussie rats.


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Big on Bombs

The decision came down from on high. We were to decamp a day early from Rozelle Bay, steam down through the ruins of the old railroad swing bridge, under the Anzac Bridge and the Sydney Harbor Bridge, past the magnificent Opera House, sliding into Farm Cove, staying as far out of the anchorage as prudent without challenging the powers that be. Tomorrow The Man would be setting a line of yellow floating cones to establish a border between what’s fair and what’s foul. Yes, we’re breathless with anticipation because the countdown for the greatest show on earth has begun. It’s New Year’s in Sydney Harbor!

We’re here a day earlier than last year because we Escapees wanted to announce our presence with authority. Last year we had a few problems with Johnny-come-latelies and so far it looks good because there are very few boats in Farm Cove this morning as we sidled up to two serious looking cruising yachts and anchored. They came out into their cockpits with a smile, a nod, and a knowing wave. That’s at least a couple of boats near us that we won’t have to worry about. The day developed with an overcast sky and the chop from Ferry wakes was exactly what you’d expect. Nasty.

I couldn’t tell you when the Sydney chop subsided but it was dark and it was the kind of thing that sneaks up on you, kind of like a lobster in a gradually heating pot who thinks that man, we’re having a heat wave and next thing you know you’re cooked. The flip side is that in the morning the wakes started, one at a time at first, until Sydney fully woke up and huge cruise liners were added to the ferries and the tugs and the motor yachts and the sailboats and the fishermen in tinnies until we were engulfed in the full symphony of Sydney Harbor on eleven.

Vessels of all description began to enter Farm Cove. The later it got the more desperate the boaters seemed and the more ill equipped they were with the skills that are required for anchoring in really tight spaces. Cramming ten tons of boats in the five ton sack of Farm Cove just has disaster written all over it. For us it became a defense of our ground tackle. Time after time people tried to drop their anchors on ours or they dropped their anchor but the clothesline they just bought and hastily tied to it was all in knots. So many boats got their ground tackle tangled together that rescue boats just circulated Farm Cove waiting for the inevitable death spiral as tangled boats tried to separate, but couldn’t.

We three amigos who spent the night here helped each other with all the yelling and pointing — “no, not there!” — and only one of us was hooked by a huge stinkpotter whose windlass stopped working so he drove around the cove dragging his anchor like a grappling hook, snagging four boats in the process that followed him around like little ducklings. This apparently panicked him into gunning his engines causing huge clouds of black toxic diesel smoke obscuring the scene and covering the water with a shiny black oil slick.

In between all the anchoring schmozzle, two stunt planes trailing smoke chased each other around the harbor but really the big show is the wizardry of the bombs and sky rockets. Helicopters hovered, coming and going, and with all the police boats it started to feel a little weird, but when the show started, well, there aren’t many things that can make me feel like a little kid again.

It was magnificent!

Watch the news video of the full program here.


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A very full day

It had to be planed with military like precision. There were many individual interlocking parts all of which had to go off without a hitch, and to make it even trickier, good weather was imperative. This definitely was a job for Uber Marce. Yours Truly is more of a where-and-when-do-you-want-me-Hon kind of bloke. Drew and Ericka only have 7 days vacation here in Australia, and Brisbane, while nice, isn’t so very different from where they live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After spending a week anchored off Peel island and North Stradbroke Island we thought it would be nice to show them this iconic slice of Australian Beach. It quickly became obvious that to pile into Escape Velocity in Brisbane and steam down the river, cross Moreton Bay to the island –a whole day in itself — then hop on the bus out to spend the day at Lookout Point and then reverse the process, done properly would take three days. Not an option when you’ve only got a week.

M got to work. Turns out, after a short dinghy ride to the dock, we would take an early morning brisk walk to the train station, train down to Cleveland where we would hop on a shuttle bus to the docks, take a high speed ferry across Moreton Bay to “Straddie,” reconnoiter the ever so cute Dunwich Village, maybe see the Koala Bear reported to be hanging out at the grave yard, grab a bus to Lookout point, have lunch then hike the magnificent Gorge Walk, hopefully see some kangaroos, dolphins, turtles, mantas, maybe even whales and, given an excess of energy, take the thousands of stairs down to the amazing beaches. One very full day. Brilliant!

It didn’t take much to talk Drew and Ericka into it, but after an hour on the train and another half hour on the ferry they may have had second thoughts.

Ah, but then we were out of the city and back to where the sea meets the sky, our natural habitat.

Drew bought a hat and we had lunch with a view of the Tasman Sea, then we hiked the Gorge Trail that M and I so enjoyed a few weeks ago. We hoped for some wildlife and we weren’t disappointed. From the cliffs we saw sea turtles and manta rays, then as we followed the path around the gorge our sharp-eyed scientist daughter-in-law spied two kangaroos feeding on the other side of the gorge. We tiptoed around to where they were and watched them close up for a while until it was clear they had no interest in us and we walked by within six feet of them.

At the end of the gorge trail steps lead down — way down — to the beach. Drew and Ericka came prepared for some beach time and headed off on their own while M and I wisely got ice cream and stayed topside. We may have made it down, but there was no guarantee of getting back up again. If you look closely you can see the two little pinpoints of our nuclear family on the beach below.

Drew treated us to fancy cocktails at the same restaurant where we had lunch and we took the last bus back to Dunwich, the ferry back to Cleveland, the bus back to the train station and the train back to Brisbane. It’s a long journey but what a great day! Ericka said they liked it so much that if they ever come back to Australia they want to spend a few days on Straddie. We like it too.


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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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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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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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