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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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 Straight outa Pittwater

Well, straight in the sense that we eased mooring lines and motored down Broken Bay to BarrenJoey nestled behind the protection of the light house cliffs. All night long the sweep of that famous light beam played across the headlands and hills of lower Broken Bay. The plan was to leave at first light in an attempt to avoid that famous washer machine effect at the entrance to the Tasman Sea. For a change, it worked. 


On the way down in December we made our southing in large chunks but heading north is a different kettle of fish. For one thing, west winds are rare and anything with east in it is troubling because our general heading will be northeast. South winds work but bring cold Antarctic air. 

There are several day hop stops along the way but most come with a caveat. Almost all of them are river bar crossings. So what? River bar crossings are usually narrow entrances into rivers or estuaries that have deposited enough material on the bottom to make them unusually shallow which causes ocean swell to rear up into treacherous steep surf sending nasty combers across the bar. Normally one does not want to find oneself anywhere near anything like this. However, on occasion, you’ll find the need to cross a river bar. So the thing is that the shallow bit moves around day by day, moment to moment really, while the authorities try to mark the shifting pass over the bar but you really can’t rely on anything being quite up to date. Current, tides, and wind strength and direction are critical factors in the calculus for successful bar crossing.

Our story, Dear Escapees, does not start at BarrenJoey, Pittwater, but rather in November 2014 at the famous entrance to the Bahia Del Sol estuary, El Salvador. After rerigging in Costa Rica and being kicked out twice, we decided that a more convivial and welcoming atmosphere was called for while we would wait out for the right season to cross the Pacific. We were assured by Ken and Julie on Kia Ora that Bill’s place in Bahia Del Sol was the perfect venue for waiting something out, but you’ll have to cross the bar. When we contacted Bill for details he said, “Call us when you get close and we’ll guide you through.”

We were a little shell-shocked by the time we got within VHF distance of Bahia Del Sol, El Salvador, after having to seek shelter from fearsome Papagayo winds and snagging a couple of fishing lines and nets off the coast of Nicaragua. It was early in the morning and off in the distance, seemingly mixed in with the surf and foam, we could see Bill in a high horsepower panga with a local River bar expert who we learned later checks on the elusive passage through the bar several times a day. Our instructions were to lineup right behind his boat and when he says to hit it, immediately slam both throttles to full power and follow them across the bar. 


We made it. Not without drama, but we made it. By the time my heart slowed down enough to focus I hadn’t seen where they had gone. Bill was waiting at the marina with drinks. Nice touch.

It turns out that having experienced a scary river bar crossing doesn’t ease one’s mind when faced with another. As a matter of fact we find that the anticipation makes it worse so we decided to only do bays and the easier ins and outs. That was until you find out that on the Eastern coast of Australia most of the little anchorages are river bar crossings. They have another saying down here and it goes something like, “Pump up, Princess!” Not sure what it’s supposed to mean. Due to the rarity of favorable winds and when you weigh your options you ask yourself do you want to cross a river bar or do you want to get slammed in some kind of wind squash zone? I’ll take the bar for 20, Alex. 
Timing is everything in the river bar crossing game. Well, not everything but it’s a lot. Marce as usual took on the additional tasks of what has become known as Timing the Bar. I, as you, dear reader know by now, am more of a seat of the pants, gotta feel it, kinda boat jockey. So when nothing matches what you’ve read or been told I’m your man. Our first genuine Australian river bar crossing turned out to be Lake Macquarie where they’ve thrown in my personal favorite for bonus points, lining up transit poles so you don’t go aground. I can never find them on shore so it’s not my strong suit. Combers threaten but decline our challenge and we slip right by, only troubled by turbulent water that endeavors to spin us around. It’s very shallow in spots but we get in safely and score a coveted free pink umooring ball. I pretty much follow our chart plotter track going out but with a few refinements.


A large pod of our very wet, air breathing brothers, attaches themselves to EV and we are entertained for hours. Dolphins are not an everyday occurrence on EV.


Between Port Stevens and Forester/Tuncurry Marce spotted our first two humpbacks after one spy hopped near us. Thrilling. We’re beginning to get the hang of this day hop thing and for a change there’s no pressing schedule other than to get up to fine weather and warmth await us up North in Queensland. It’s hard to put together more than a few days decent weather so it looks like day hops, slow progress, and river bars for Yours Truly.


The New South Wales coast is beautiful with mountain ranges that not infrequently terminate as soaring headlands with miles of scrubby flat sandy areas connecting one headland to the next rocky outcropping. We missed this coastline on the way down because there is a river of water running south at 2 to 5 kts. but you need to stay miles away from the coast to catch the free ride on the current. When you’re only going 5 to 6kts. this is huge. However, payback is a bitch and when you’re heading back up north the Aussies say you need to keep one foot on the beach just to try to keep out of the swift south flowing current.


Another day’s run from Trial Bay where we had to reprise our “anchoring in a squall,” skills, brought us to Coffs Harbour, our first Aussie landfall and more humpbacks close by. As big as they are we’re finding it difficult to photograph them! The next hop would push us to our maximum unless Aeolus the God of wind cooperates. 

At false dawn we were already motoring out of the mouth of Coffs harbor, following the flashing red and green markers out into the Tasman Sea. Aeolus is a bit of a trickster so instead of sailing in 10-12kts from the Southwest, we found 15 on the nose and hard choices wether to cut between reefs and islets strewn about in our path or head out for safety but fall into the clutches of that damn current. 


We really had to push to make it to the Clarence River so it was serpentine through the rocks while both engines labored, thrummed and placing full faith in the accuracy of our chart plotter charts, a belief I really didn’t share. Several Humpback sightings broke up the tension and once again the sunny weather held. We found the entrance to the Clarence River right on time as both engines were on the edge with heat prostration! This is a place with seriously thin water and transit poles and markers are all over the place. Strangely the Estuary is divided down the middle with I guess spoil and rocks, Iluka to the right and the more resort-like Yamba to the left. We knew a big storm was bearing down on us so we chose the jetty-walled, manmade anchorage at Iluka nestled in a sleepy river town with fishing boats lining the river front. The anchor caught in the shallow harbor and a small pod of dolphins swam by to welcome us. I noticed a nice dinghy dock and we knew we’d get stuck here for a few days with the approaching storm, so we dinghied ashore and found a grocery store. Nice little town. Waiting for weather always goes better with potato chips.

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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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