We arrived at our destination just as the sun was coming up and we were met at the entrance by our mechanic and Nicholas, the other sailor we had spoken to who had bolstered our faith that it could be done. Both they and Ruth (our original local contact) had done a great job of keeping in touch with us as we made our progress and it was nice to know that at least someone was aware that we were out there! They helped as we sailed right to our mooring and we heaved our sigh of relief that we were finally there without a scratch. And since we were stopped, I could finally say it out loud: “Thank goodness the autopilot stayed with us!” because it had been faltering earlier in the week, too! As we all know, when it rains, it pours.
But I should have knocked on more wood, I guess. 48 hours later we were met with another challenge: first thing in the morning, our mooring line snapped. Amazingly, one-inch 3-braid hurricane line parted and we were adrift, heading towards the million-dollar yacht behind us! This could have so gone wrong in so many ways but somehow the stars were properly aligned. It was enough noise to get the paranoid chick out of bed, the quick-witted captain had the sail out in short order and I had no idea that I could possibly get the anchor chain out as quickly as I did! There was one heart-attack moment as the depth sounder went from 35ft immediately to 11ft but it went quickly back to 35, thankfully (it must have detected some trash in the water). We sailed behind the other boats and deployed trusty Fang. As smoothly as it went, I wondered if it looked effortless. High-fives all around as we got ourselves out of another scrape and chuckled that our mechanic would have to look for us this morning! But the question is: Where was all this wind when we needed it? The only thing long-winded this week has been this whole experience, and this blog post.
1 August 2014… Naughty Monkeys!
Shortly after our arrival in Bali we had a friend fly in for a visit: one of Travis’ old schoolmates. We considered ourselves fortunate that we had arrived in time to meet her, but that’s about all we could manage. We love having company aboard Calico Jack and we’re always diligent in making sure that the fridge and bar are fully stocked for our guests; it’s even been rumoured that chocolates were found on pillows once! We like to play good hosts but unfortunately for Jocelyn, we fell a bit short of the mark this time. We had only 48 hours before she arrived and we had to spend it messing with the boat and getting things started with the mechanic. She was met with a mess of boat parts and general chaos and it was only going to get worse. The supermarkets are quite a hike away and all we had accomplished in terms of stocking up the stores was a measly dozen eggs. Even CJ was embarrassed.
But Bali is relatively cheap and so the solution was simple: we got online and started looking for a hotel or condo to spend the weekend. It would be much more civilized that living in our mess and we would be closer to the action –we’re kind of out in the sticks. It would also leave the boat free for the mechanic to come and go as he pleased without tripping over us.
Situated on the southwest coast of Bali, Kuta is the original Balinese beach resort area. A backpacker and surfer mecca, Legian Road is lined with cheap accommodations, shops, restaurants & nightclubs and salons for cheap-as-dirt spa treatments (an hour-long massage for $8?! Insane!). It’s a very busy area but you can step off the main street into one of the quiet alleys and be met with total solace right in the heart of the beehive. These side streets are often walled on one or both sides so you feel like you’re in a maze but the quiet guesthouses, low-key restaurants and general mellow vibe make getting lost not so bad!
Our hotel was adjacent to the Legian Road ant trail so all we had to do was step out to the street and choose left or right. We had no real mission for the weekend. We wandered around the crowded streets, through the shops, up the beach, down the alleys and we’d stop for lunch or a beer at regular intervals. It was primarily a weekend for getting caught up as Travis and Jocelyn hadn’t seen each other in about 25 years! You’d think this would be good cause for me to feel like a third wheel and Travis wondered how I’d get along with his old friend; in fact, he wondered how HE would get along with his old friend –it had been a long time and people change. But just as things are with good friends, it was like no time had passed at all and to boot, Travis chuckled at how Jocelyn and I were like long lost friends too.
On the last day of her visit, we figured we should get out and do something so we hired a driver to take us around and see some sights. We stopped first at the Batik factory where beautiful cottons and silks are hand-designed and dyed in an array of colours and patterns destined to be framed or to make handbags, garments and more. Next we visited the silversmith and were amazed by the intricacy of their work: tiny beads less than a millimeter wide being glued to the surface of a pendant or earring with the tip of a paintbrush! Patience, steady hands and a good pair of bifocals required!
The Dragons, the monkeys, the wild pigs and the water buffaloes made the Komodo National Park well worth the stop. For more interesting reading about Komodo Dragons, check out Wikipedia here. The “Ecology” section –diet, saliva, venom & reproduction- is particularly interesting.
From Rinca the plan had been to skip along the north coast of the islands, stopping at anchorages along the way. However, Travis has a tooth that’s decided to act up -the day after we left civilization, isn’t that always the way! Fortunately we have antibiotics onboard so he’s been keeping it in check but we’ve ducked in to Lubuan Bajo to look for a tooth doctor, “dokter gigi”. Better safe than sorry -teeth are nothing to be messed with when you’re away from shore.
Cruising into the channel we were impressed again by the care given to the boats in this country. There’s a real pride in ownership here and every vessel, regardless of size or quality, is graced with a fresh coat of paint. This port in particular is chock full of beautiful old wooden hulks that make classic boat lovers such as ourselves salivate at the mouth! They’ve been converted into liveaboard cruising boats transporting tourists for diving, snorkeling, visiting the Dragons, etc. There are dozens of them and we quickly picked out our favourites! Sadly, this is about the only attractive part of Lubuan Bajo. The main street looks as if it’s been torn up for construction and never put back together again and it’s just generally dirty with trash and raw sewage. No luck finding a dentist so we settled on restocking our antibiotics and we found a nice lunch, ducked into the (smelly!) market for a few fresh provisions and were quickly on our way to an alternate anchorage. The main anchorage has a ripping current in shallow water so we were anxious to get out of there and it’s much nicer where we are. Tomorrow we set out for Lombok.
25 July 2014… Medium Drama on the Low Seas
(Not crying wolf, I’ll reserve “high drama and seas” for when it actually applies.)
The 48-hour run from Lubuan Bajo to Lombok took 5½ days. Why? The engine filled with sea water again. The first time it was the faulty anti-siphon valve. The second was on the joyous trip into Darwin and we attributed that incident to water up the exhaust: we changed the oil and ran the engine hard into port (remember that fun trip??) then back and forth to the fuel dock, etc. with no problems. We thought we had it licked and anyway, you can’t fix it if it’s not broken, right? We also had no problems on the transit to Indonesia or afterwards where we had to motor a fair bit between the islands.
Leaving Lubuan Bajo, the engine started up just fine as we got underway. The wind was good so we shut it down and sailed for a few hours before we decided to call it a short day and pull over to a nearby anchorage. This, of course, required an engine. When we discovered the water we tried an oil change on the fly again, but there was no cheating this time: water was back in the engine before we even tried to turn it over. Moving forward was our only option. The forecast had called for at least another 18 hours of good wind but that ended up being a big fat lie again; at sunset the wind dropped to absolutely nothing. The cool thing was that we were adrift off an active volcano! Once the sun was down, we could see the glow at the top and lava trickling down the side (we found out later that it had erupted just the week before!). But the worrisome things are the tides and currents in this area and we formulated a contingency plan should we start drifting too close to shore. Because these mountains drop pretty much straight into the water, throwing out the anchor isn’t an option –the bottom goes from hundreds of feet to reef very quickly- so we figured if we got into any trouble we’d have to put the dinghy in the water and give ourselves a push away from the island. Thankfully, it never came to that as the current seemed to push us toward and away from shore in equal proportions so that was a relief.
Australian Bacon, you’ll be sorely missed.
I have to say it feels weird to be leaving Australia, probably partly because we’ve been here so long! Leaving Darwin in particular feels pretty important because we’ve celebrated a couple of significant milestones here. We managed to make the 3000 nautical miles from Sydney in just 60 days which is quite an accomplishment –on average, sailing every other day! This also marks the halfway point of our trip, time-wise. Miles-wise will be in the Indian Ocean in a couple of months. Money-wise… well, we passed the halfway point on that months ago. Beans and rice will get us back home!
Looking ahead, we have another big journey before us as we take on the Indian Ocean and it will be rushed. Essentially, we have the same number of miles to make as last year but with 4 months less to do them! But most notably, as we embark on the next leg of our journey, we’re becoming more and more part of an exclusive group. When we left Panama, we were among an estimated 200 other boats that were crossing the Pacific. Some of those veered off to the north. Others ended their trip by either settling in Australia or New Zealand, or selling their boats and moving back home (some planned, others not). So leaving Australia, our group has already been plucked thin for one reason or another and a division will happen again in the Indian Ocean as some choose the northern route through the Mediterranean while Calico Jack heads south around the Cape of Good Hope. Travis read somewhere that we’ll likely be in the company of only 50 other boats when we arrive there. That makes even me stop and say, “Whoa.” Sometimes I need to be reminded of what an epic adventure we’ve taken on.
Photos: Australia -Northbound (coming... well, eventually!)
10 July 2014… Indonesia
A lot of people choose to do the crossing from Australia to Indonesia with a rally. The comfort and camaraderie of traveling in a group is nice and there are events planned for various ports so taking in cultural shows and tours and stuff is a breeze. But the biggest advantage is that your paperwork for entering the country is taken care of. Dealing with officials in a foreign language can be difficult as can be the local customs. I’m talking about bribes. Although they choose to call them “gifts” –sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it? We heard of one rally several years ago where the right palm hadn’t been greased and the first few boats to arrive were impounded! Calico Jack would have been in no danger: sometimes it pays to be slow! But you can bet the rally organizers had things ironed out for the following year!
A rally didn’t really work for us because the timing wasn’t right. Their itinerary is built for those who have more time here: those who plan for an additional year in Asia or those who are continuing on to the Mediterranean. We have a lot more miles to make it to South Africa and would be moving too quickly to attend even half the events. The fees for the rally would have been worth just the paperwork alone but none were leaving early enough to suit our plans so we decided to go it alone. First, we needed a sponsor letter which we had to apply for two months in advance. This letter means that someone is vouching for us and our actions while we’re in their country. We will never meet this person. We also needed our itinerary pre-approved (our cruising permit) prior to arrival. Once we had those letters in hand, we could apply for our visitor visas which we did in Darwin. That took a week. But the real fun was to be had upon arrival. Fortunately, our sponsor recommended a local agent that could help us with Quarantine, Immigration, Customs and whatever else we needed. Thank goodness for this guy!! Napa dealt with the first two entities; we didn’t even meet with them. Immigration showed up at his house at dinnertime to take care of the paperwork and we also had a tidy package from Quarantine filled with official stamped certificates stating that we had no fresh produce nor this, that or the other thing on board –even though they’d never visited us.
But Customs was a bear –oh my God!! Napa took Travis the first time (the first of 4 times) and the lead officer was a real hard-ass. Travis was honest about what we had onboard for alcohol but the officer’s response was basically, “Harumph. Ya, right.” As it was on pretty much every other point. Why didn’t we visit Vanuatu? Why did we spend so much time in Fiji? Why were we in Colombia? “On vacation.” -“Ya right.” “Do you have drugs onboard? Ya right. I’ll come out to your boat! I’LL FIND THEM!!!” Yeesh, settle down big boy! Travis stated that he was more than welcome to come out to the boat but instead he sent out two other (nicer) officers, thankfully! They rummaged through all our liquor, taking photos of the bottles. They rifled through our cupboards and lockers questioning things like our spare GPS. They eyeballed my empty glass bottles that I use for making ginger beer. They only started to slow down once they hit my underwear drawer up forward. (Note to self: don’t bother modestly covering up my hanging bras!) When they were finished, they asked for one of our bottles of rum for the privilege. Then they each wanted one, which was all we had! They made off with one bottle of wine to share. We’d only paid $5 for it in Oz but it would be at least $20 to replace it here. If we’re talking bribes here, I’d almost rather just give up the cash but all in all, we made out ok. They then took a photo of us on the bow of the boat, then a photo of us with one of them (who even knows why) and when we got back ashore they said that we didn’t give them any “gifts” and soaked Napa for another 100,000 rupiahs ($10), we found out later. This is the way of it here -they don’t make a lot of money so they supplement with “gifts” and feel justified in doing so- but it leaves a bad taste in your mouth nonetheless. I had to keep reminding myself that this is corruption among the officials and it has nothing to do with the average person on the street who is actually quite friendly! In a country where we were led to believe that even casual touching is a no-no, I got pulled aside on the street for a selfie with a young guy who put his arm around me to take the photo. Maybe they don’t get that many tourists in Kupang -we were the only cruising boat in the harbour anchored among dozens of local fishing boats.
Otherwise, Kupang is just another big city and we weren’t planning on staying long (well, I guess not just any other big city –you don’t see monkeys on the side of the road every day). Napa made all our errands so much easier and we were out of there in a jiff. He carted us all over the place on the back of his scooter and as is the case in many of the countries we’ve visited, driving laws are mere suggestions. The same rules apply here as they do on a Thai motorcycle taxi: keep your knees and elbows in, and enjoy the ride! So it’s fun to be in 3rd world country again and strange, too. A visit to the market confirmed both these facts. First of all: Market, yay! Second of all, Napa dropped me off to go park the scooter and, left alone among the market stalls, I learned that I’m back in an area where the word “hello” is a verb once more. I’m going to have to get used to this again but at the time it was so overwhelming because each lady was trying to out-scream the other to get my attention… I just forged further into the market until it got quieter and made my purchases there in relative peace and quiet. And blessedly, we’re back to affordable prices. My favourite acquisition was a .70 cent papaya! Really?! Pinch me, I’m dreaming!
Another thing for us to get used to is that this is the first country we’re visiting where we don’t speak the language. I’ve had my nose in our Indonesian phrasebook for a couple of days now and it’s relatively easy. It uses the Latin alphabet and it’s a phonetic language so pronunciation is very straightforward; it’s even fairly monotone with little or no stress on individual syllables. The verbs aren’t conjugated which is probably one of the most difficult aspects of learning a new language and nouns & adjectives don’t change from masculine to feminine which is a definite plus. Articles don’t even exist -there is no “the” in Indonesian- and in general, it seems that there is no use for a lot of those little bothersome words and punctuation marks that are squeezed in between other, bigger words (that’s right, French, I’m talking to you!!). A lot is achieved with context and this makes Indonesian a relatively easy language to break into. On the other hand, it is completely and utterly unfamiliar. When in doubt in a Spanish-speaking country I could throw out the word in French and most of the time get my point across; we don’t even travel with a Spanish dictionary anymore. But here, nothing resembles anything we know and it’s almost like starting from scratch (one notable exception is soya sauce which they call “kecap”, pronounced “ketchup”!). Add the regional languages and you could be in a real pickle but most Indonesians speak the blanket Bahasa Indonesia. For 90% of them it’s actually their second language, interestingly enough.
What does all this prattle mean? I suppose it means that I take a geeky (and probably boring) interest in languages! But moreover it means we’ll be doing a lot of smiling over the next few weeks. Just keep smiling even if you have no clue what they’re saying to you. Smile and point at what you want and maybe you’ll get lunch.
14 July 2014… Thar Be Dragons!!
From Kupang we sailed another two days directly to Komodo Island. While we were the only cruising yacht in attendance that day, it is a tourist area and we were swarmed with little local boats before we even had the hook set –actually, we were still underway when the first one approached us! Pearl jewelry, wooden carvings and water taxis to the village & park were all on offer. Still, nobody was yelling at us like in the market earlier this week so it was all chill and friendly.
So what’s the attraction here? The amazing Komodo Dragons! And the four islands in this park are the only place in the world to see them in the wild, where about 4500 of them remain. I had no idea that this was a childhood dream for Travis. As a kid he saw them on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom -whoa, blast from the past!- and much like this prairie girl who saw photos of clear, turquoise waters and never figured she’d see it for real, so was Travis’ curiosity about these creatures. I hypothesized that his imagination was partly fueled by their name –that maybe if they were called the Komodo Monitor Lizards (which is what they are) he wouldn’t have been half as interested! What kid doesn’t dream of dragons, right?
Regardless, they are rare and fascinating creatures. First of all, they are huge. For every mother that worried that their kid’s pet lizard would escape and take refuge somewhere in the house, this is their worst nightmare as the males can get up to 3m long! Add to that the fact that they are carnivores and equipped with teeth that tilt inwards so that any bite will inflict maximum damage, tearing away a good chunk of tissue. Attacks on humans aren’t uncommon –we’re small beans compared to some of the animals they take down!- and survival depends on getting medical attention as soon as possible. This is not so much for the injury itself but rather to begin a regimen of antibiotics because the Dragon’s M.O. is to infect its prey with bacteria and then wait for it to die. Besides the nasty cocktail of bacteria it carries around in its mouth there is also an anticoagulant that quickly goes to work and the victim can bleed out. The Dragons will follow the continuous blood trail until its victim dies and this can take weeks for the likes of a larger animal like a wild buffalo. After feasting, a dragon can go another month before needing to eat again.
Another charming characteristic of the Komodo Dragon is that they’re cannibals, eating their own and often eating their own young. In fact, juveniles make up 10% of their diet! In self-defense, the young live in the trees until they’re big enough to fend for themselves, usually about 3 years.
03 July 2014… Ode to Bacon
While we knew that Darwin is a fairly large centre, we weren’t expecting highrises on the doorstep of the Outback! It’s a very cosmopolitan city and it’s on the grow. Industry is big here and the construction companies can’t keep up with the demand for housing to accommodate the influx of newcomers. Salaries are high in a lot of these industries, rents are high for lack of competition and the cost of living here is astronomical in general –the highest food prices in the country, so said one local. Sooner or later the already-apparent disparity in the people will become a big problem. But what do I know? Countries are run by people smarter than me.
Still, people keep moving here and the city is growing with it. Anything you need can be found and there’s a good selection of all things practical as well as a variety of shops and restaurants. Tourism is alive and well as the string of backpacker accommodations would suggest and the information centre is stellar.
There’s a lot of interesting history here. Prior to arriving in Australia, we didn’t know that its northernmost city was bombed by the Japanese in WWII; it was the frontline for the Allied action against the Japanese in the Pacific. And in 1974, Darwin was effectively wiped off the map by Cyclone Tracy: only 400 of its 11,200 homes were left standing and 71 people were killed. Needless to say, there is plenty to fill the rooms of the museum. There is also a large Aboriginal community here at Top End and their art -carvings, canvas paintings and bark paintings- feature prominently in stores and galleries.
We could have used a few more days in Darwin as we were so busy working that we didn’t get out to do much touristy stuff. We did, however, take in the popular Mindil Beach Night Market which features more food stalls than you can shake a stick at. So what are you craving? Thai, Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, Malaysian, Brazilian, Greek, Portuguese, Dutch, Australian Wild Foods… you’re certainly not starved for choice. There are also arts & crafts, street performers, live music and you can even get a Thai massage if you want. Don’t forget the star of the show, either: some of the prettiest sunsets we’ve seen in ages and the beach is crowded with folks and their cameras paying homage to the evening ritual. Here’s the place the locals come to spread out a blanket, crack open the esky (cooler) and enjoy a chill dinner under the stars.
Another great thing about this anchorage is that we actually had company. This whole coastline is supposed to be popular and crowded but by and large, we’ve been alone. (It’s at times like these we wonder if there’s been some sort of global calamity that we don’t know about. Zombie apocalypse is our usual candidate. If it weren’t for the shipping traffic, we might believe that to be the case.) On the few occasions where we haven’t been alone in an anchorage there just hasn’t been the camaraderie among sailors that we’ve grown used to crossing the Pacific. Since leaving our friends in Pittwater, we’ve been missing our sailing community: scheduled happy hours, chance meetings ashore, new friends. Don’t mistake this as an indicator that Travis and I are sick of each other –far from it, in fact. We do very well together on the boat for long periods of time (we still have the knives aboard!); but one of the nicest things about doing a trip like this is the people you meet and the enduring friendships you make.
Our new friends here in the anchorage filled in some of the blanks for us: we’re about a month early for the local cruising season. Even so, Troy & Kristina commiserated with us and added that it was also rare to find cruisers our age, asking us if we found this to be the case as well. This was true in the Caribbean. On our 2007 trip, we were often asked what we do for a living that we could be out “doing it at this age” (our response is that we work like dogs, then quit, sell everything and leave to go play!). The Caribbean provides wonderful cruising grounds and attracts a lot of retirees who relish island hopping, seldom having to do an overnight passage. You could spend years in the Caribbean and never see it all and still be only a half-day’s flight back home to see family. It’s ideal for this set, really, and there was a definite disparity between us kids on our little boat and these folks who’d worked their entire careers for their beautiful catamarans. I’m generalizing, of course, for there are some who don’t fit into that tidy category. We’re still in touch with friends we made on that trip and a few of them are still out there after all these years, well ahead of us in Asia or the Med! And others have settled down and are happy on land, now.
The people we met on the Pacific crossing were quite different –there’s no generalizing here. Younger and older, experienced and green; big boats and little boats, nicer boats and not-so-nice boats; big budgets and budgets so small they needed to collect coconuts off the side of the road to supplement their provisions; big crews and single-handers and families… At the end of the day we, all of us, crossed the same ocean, weathered the same storms, suffered similar breakdowns, shared the same beautiful anchorages and reveled in the same rewards for our hard work. There are no neat categories here and our friends from this trip are of all ages and all walks of life. Sharing this experience with them as we meet them, go our separate ways and find each other again in the next country (or the one after that) has been incredible. We’re very much looking forward to finding that cruising community again as we get back on the “circumnavigation track”, so to speak.
Anyway, we enjoyed a nice happy hour with Troy & Kristina, exchanging recipes and advice and stories and knowledge and laughs. Then they headed south and we headed north. Rolly anchorages and impending high winds made for only one overnight stop as we buzzed directly up to the Torres Straight at the very tippy top of Australia. Extra diligence has become necessary heading further north as the inner reef is closer to shore and the only navigable water is what we share with the big ships –and there are plenty more of them, presumably because the roads further north aren’t as accommodating to shipping traffic. Seventy-two hours had us anchoring at Mount Adolphus Island, one of the few ideal anchorages in this area for the southwest gales forecasted. Again, we were expecting to have company here; again, it was Zombie Apocalypse (by the way, we think we’d fare pretty well in a zombie apocalypse: we have a plan; plenty of time to think about and discuss these things underway!!). We spent a couple of nights here regrouping and sleeping, and enjoying the first warm showers we’ve had in ages –it seems we’re getting close enough to the equator again! From there, it was only a day trip over to Thursday/Horn Islands.
Islands, islets and reefs we’ve passed in recent weeks: Flat Rock, Round Rock; Two Islands, Three Islands; Ladysmith, Blacksmith, Anchorsmith, Anvil, Hammer, Bellows, Coppersmith, Silversmith, Goldsmith, Bullion Rocks, Tinsmith, Locksmith; Coffin, Dead Dog. And now we come to Thursday Island, a bit of a celebrity, but let us not forget about unsung Friday, Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday Islands as well! You know that someone was reaching for names here, I’m not sure if it was Captain Cook or not.
Thursday is a landmark island because of its location at the northernmost point in Australia, just off Cape York. The anchorage, however, is crap in SE winds so we chose to set the hook at nearby Horn Island with the intention of taking the ferry over to see the famous hunk of rock to the north. However, more high winds and a lee shore combined with a $20 one-way ticket per person for the 15-minute boat ride nixed our plans to go to Thursday. We’ve decided to save the money, stay aboard and soak up the first internet we’ve had in over a week. I guess if we don’t leave the boat, we don’t spend money –it’s good for the budget! Darwin is coming up soon enough and we’ll be putting a hurtin’ on the bank account there, rest assured. Hopefully this will mean more interesting things to write about! I don’t know how I’ve managed to write such a long blog, as the last several days have felt a bit like Groundhog Day coming up the coast.
25 June 2014… Darwin Hurts
Sailors are a superstitious lot. According to lore, there are only certain days one can leave port and not be met with certain death. Tattoos, dolphins and gold hoop earrings are good luck while bananas, whistling and redheads are bad. And women aboard –forget about it! But if the captain is brave enough to chance it and it so happens she gives birth to a son while onboard, well, we’re back to good luck. And of course, the wooden woman that often adorns the bow sprit is ok because she is naked and apparently that quells the seas. Sounds awfully convenient to me.
I suppose I’m a bit superstitious myself. I don’t throw salt over my shoulder or avoid walking under ladders or freak out at black cats (except that they’re cute and oh, they’re good luck on a boat!) but I do believe that there’s an energy circulating out there. Call it karma, call it gettin’-back-what-you’re-puttin’-out or maybe it’s just the universe kicking you in the ass when you get too cocky. So even while I was commenting on how unexpectedly nice it was running up the east coast, I did it humbly and while knocking on wood knowing all the while that things could turn sour suddenly and unexpectedly –and they did. The run from Thursday Island to Darwin was one of the lousiest we’ve had on the whole trip. The first two days we were buffeted by winds 50% stronger than forecasted and from the wrong direction. Because it was coming out of the south, the seas had more room to build up across the Gulf of Carpentaria and we were hit sideways by waves that sounded like we’d collided with a rock. These waves then have this marvelous trick of shooting straight up and making a wall of water that hits the boat sideways with a wallop that sounds like it’s going to cave in the windows. If it weren’t for my nifty canvas work, we would have been soaked in the cockpit but our roll-down windows kept us mostly dry. Every time we were bashed by one of these watery behemoths we shouted, “Yay, Windows!” Glad I built them sturdy!
After a few days we went from too much wind to no wind at all. I know, always gotta have something to complain about, right? But there were some good moments. We got to play with our new spinnaker we bought way back in New Caledonia. The included sock is handy for deploying and dousing it and once we have a system for not getting all the lines tangled up, it’ll be a sweet setup. Dolphins stopped by for a visit on a couple of occasions and we were also surprised by a whole pod of pilot whales! There had to have been about 20 of them and we could hear their whale song from under the surface!! I don’t know how that’s even possible but it was crazy and awesome! They hung out with us for about 15 minutes or so which was a rare treat indeed. And let’s not forget about the crazy snake. Crazy because he was crazy big –about the girth of my forearm and 4ft long- and crazy because he was just swimming along about 40 miles offshore against the wind and waves. Not sure where he was going, but he was obviously on a mission.
It was Zombie Apocalypse again because we didn’t see anyone for days and so when we got buzzed by a maritime patrol plane out of the blue it seemed pretty surreal. And just about the time we were getting lulled into a comfy sense of complacency and were thinking this trip hadn’t turned out so badly after all, we rounded the corner for Darwin and were hit with wind on the nose at about 30 knots. Just like that, it turned into a crap run again as we zigged and zagged against the wind for two days, sometimes making no headway at all –the trackline on the GPS looked more like doodlings on an Etch-A-Sketch. It sounded like the boat was going to break apart. Our mainsail ripped along the leech line, flags fluttered to tatters, glass broke inside the boat… and by the time we reached our destination the autopilot was making some worrisome noises and everything was soaking wet. Again. We really feel like we’re losing the Battle of the Leaks on this boat.
So on top of the list we already had, there was much, much more to do to get the boat back together and Darwin has just been a whole lot of work. Everyday has been chores and errands and we come home sore and tired every day from running around and hauling things over hill and dale. Indonesian visas, immunizations, sail & flag repairs, propane filled, zincs replaced, fiberglass fixed, the general cleaning and airing out of the boat and much more. And the projects keep piling up: the tides here are so crazy that the dinghy can get stranded quite a ways up the beach when we go ashore and huffing & puffing it over sand and rocks has created a new repair project to put on the list. Two steps forward, one step back.
We would love to spend at least one more day in Bundaberg but the weather is calling. Having made our way back down to the head of the river, we’re fueled and watered up, poised to head on… to the Great Barrier Reef! It’s May 2nd and we’re right on schedule, maybe even a little ahead, so we’re pleased with our progress.
13 May 2014… Trouble in Paradise
Needless to say, the great barrier reef is something we’ve been looking forward to for some time. The crystal clear waters and enchanting reef system make for an underwater playground we’ve been sorely missing –we haven’t been diving since Fiji! It was a quick daysail to our first stop, Lady Musgrave, a pretty palm-tufted island on a coral fringe reef enclosing a lagoon. Like the atoll islands in French Polynesia, entry is via a break in the reef and since they’re not always well-marked, eyeball navigation is essential; we decided to start the engine a couple of hours early to ensure an arrival in good sunlight.
But: kathunk. Much to our surprise, the engine was completely locked up! So Travis ripped up the floor to get in there and find out what was going on. The news wasn’t good as he discovered the oil pan was full of water, “hydro-locking” the motor. We may have graver concerns than a daylight arrival! But still, first things first. We prayed for consistent wind as we approached Lady Musgrave. Our guidebook showed an anchorage outside the reef but that wasn’t much of a solution: dropping our anchor in 75ft of water to get snagged on who-knows-what with no motor to pop it free wasn’t enticing. Worse yet, if the anchor should drag we had a lee shore which would have put Calico Jack right up on the reef. With no mooring balls to be had, we were left with little choice but to navigate the pass in the dying light under sail alone. It was the lesser of two evils. So with me hanging over the bow rail and Travis calling out depths every 10 seconds, we negotiated the pass with little difficulty and made our way as far into the lagoon as we saw prudent before dropping the anchor. Needless to say, there were high-fives all around. High drama on the low seas!
Thankfully, the anchorage was blissfully calm and we had no worries about dragging anchor. Sadly, though, this little piece of paradise remained largely unappreciated by us as Travis was dismayed to discover that his immune system was no better than that of a two-year-old: he had been fighting the bug that Leiyo had and it blew up into an all-out flu that set him on his butt for three solid days. There was nothing to do but wait it out and while he wallowed in the back cabin, I got some projects done and we enjoyed some movies together (until recently, we thought we had more than we could reasonably see in our lifetime!).
When he was feeling better, we set about deciding what to do about our engine problem. The nearest centre where we might find help was Gladstone, a city that wasn’t on our itinerary because it really doesn’t offer that much for the cruiser. Then Travis got the bright idea to call Mark back in Key West –our friend, AND rockstar diesel mechanic. Why didn’t we think of this earlier? No matter, for Travis wasn’t in any shape to take a tutorial over the phone anyway. After a chat with Mark, narrowing down the possible problems, he got to work in the engine space. It was either a) a failed raw-water pump, or b) a failed anti-siphon valve which would let the cooling sea water back into the engine after it is shut down. The water pump looked fine so Travis swapped out the valve with another one. Once everything was put back together and the oil was changed, it was running fine –what a relief!! The worst-case-scenario number was looking like several thousand dollars (a huge blow to the trip budget!) but as it turns out, it all boils down to a part worth about $50, and about $15 in sat phone minutes. And of course, we can’t put a value on a friend who’ll pick up the phone on a Sunday to help us out, just as he has done before. Again, we owe a debt of gratitude to Mark for getting us out of yet another scrape.
Since the anti-siphon valve was salvaged off another part of the boat, we weren’t willing to completely trust it yet and we committed to manually shutting off the raw water each time as a precaution until we got a new one. No problem. However, the oil we used for the change was all the oil we had and we were a bit shy at that. Begrudgingly, we had to leave the reef and head into Gladstone anyway, ugh. Talk about an area that’s not cruiser-friendly! Ten to fifteen miles up another channel at night (we were making a habit of it at this point!) we got blasted by a bulk carrier even though we were running the other edge of the channel. Once into Gladstone proper the next day we ducked into the marina, prepared to take on a few gallons of over-priced fuel just so we could scoot into the chandlery to get what we needed. But the store was nowhere near the fuel dock and we couldn’t dock without proof of insurance! So Travis sidled up to the pier and I jumped off to make the run. Covert ops -ridiculous! Even more ridiculous is what I encountered next: a store full of empty shelves and a twenty-something-year-old with dyed fire-engine red hair and chipped blue nail polish. “Oh, but we can order in what you need…” (whatever it was -she didn’t have a clue). “Um, yeah, my husband is driving circles in the basin as we speak.” And they didn’t stock engine oil. Seriously?? Thankfully, a manager emerged and informed me of two places I could get oil –but where to dock the boat? “Should be ‘no dramas’ to dock at the public pier”. We had passed it on the way in and it didn’t look all that friendly for transient sailboat traffic but we were left with no other options. We parked Calico Jack and Travis took off like a shot while I stayed behind to play the stupid wife should someone show up and complain. “I’m so sorry, Officer, but there’s no possible way I can move this big ol’ boat all by my little self!” Another sailboat pulled in behind us and confirmed our suspicions as he stated they don’t really like us to dock there. He was Australian, though, and while he was friendly he struck me as someone who could kick up an ornery-old-man-fuss if messed with. As for me, I wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. Travis was quick, though, returning with 3 gallons of oil worth twice (yes, twice!) what we would pay at home. We considered it money well-spent and got the hell out of there.
We anchored up in the middle of nowhere that night just to get out of the city. It was our 6th Anniversary and we were determined to redeem our day by at least throwing some steaks on the grill even if we were anchored off Rat Island –how romantic!! It was much too windy, though, so we said, “Tomorrow is our real, American anniversary [think: International Date Line]. We’ll celebrate it then,” anchored up off Cape Capricorn, so named because it lies on the Tropic of Capricorn –pretty cool, huh? Well, we got the grill lit, despite the odds of a faulty propane line, but the anchorage was rolly as all hell and not very pleasant. So what is one to do? We extended our anniversary into the weekend, that’s what! We do it with birthdays all the time, so why not!? And our next stop was Great Keppel where we rolled around for another two days! All I can say is that we managed to salvage one good thing out of every day: not-rolly anchorage the first, a lit BBQ grill the second (barely!) and some decent Bloody Marys the third (not bad, for Caesar-lovers!). Then, after our unexpected deviation to civilization, we got back on the road heading north. Destination: back to more Great Barrier Reef islands!
26 May 2014… The Whitsundays & Cairns
The fabled Whitsunday Islands are some of the best cruising Australia has to offer. Situated firmly on the Great Barrier Reef, they offer tremendous snorkeling and diving opportunities for which charter companies charge the average tourist hundreds of dollars for a mere day trip. Enter: having your own boat! It goes without saying that this was another mecca for us here in Australia, especially since our stops so far have been a bit fruitless due to weather.
It was a 48-hour run from Great Keppel to Whitsunday Island and it was a good one save the last 6 hours or so when we encountered some pretty stiff wind and seas –so much so that we discovered later that our life-ring was blown right out of its holder (them’s some steep waves!). We arrived for another night entry (of course!) and dropped the hook for a good night’s sleep.
It was no surprise to be met the next day with more heavy wind and yet more rain. (Sigh!) This Great Barrier Reef Thing has been a bust so far! Still, we (almost) found a break between the rainclouds to take a small hike on the island. It was only an hour long, and certainly not of the difficulty that our New Zealand hiking was only a month ago, but I hate to confess that my calves were barking the next day. I suppose it stands to reason as they say it takes only half the time to lose your muscle tone as it does to gain it. At that point, we hadn’t been off the boat more than 90 minutes in two weeks, believe it or not!! We try to keep up our stamina onboard with whatever workouts we can accomplish in a small space but it’s next to impossible to do in a rolly anchorage. We felt so good coming back from NZ it was a sad state of affairs to be confirmed slugs again!
24 April 2014… Home is Where Calico Jack Is.
You know what they say: it’s great to be away, but it’s great to get back home, too. We’ve never been away from Calico Jack for so long but there she was, bobbing away in Elvina Bay, awaiting our return. It was great to see her and we were looking forward to relaxing after our trip. We always make a special effort to make this possible by leaving the boat tidy; Travis had even put fresh sheets on the bed for our return.
Our first clue that something was amiss was when we opened the hatch and it smelled like “boat” inside. Musty and mildewy. We’ve always taken great pride in the fact that CJ has never smelled like a boat. We opened up all the hatches, thinking that some airflow would take care of the problem, but as we investigated further we realized that everything textile was damp. The sheets on the bed, plus everything in the closets and drawers -towels, clothing, blankets -it was all damp and musty. When we started stripping the bed, we were shocked to find that the pillows were moldy and one even had pink mold, something I’ve seen on upholstery vinyl but never on a regular household textile. What a mess. Apparently it had been very rainy while we were away, to the point where it would have even been impossible to leave the boat open for a day for airing without fear of it just getting rained in. Since it’s never been a problem before, we didn’t even think to take this into consideration.
So our relaxing first day back turned into a bleachfest and the laundry bin filled up as we pulled out all the damp stuff; we looked like a gypsy village as we hung everything on the lifelines to air out. One thing we were ready for was bird poo as they have a tendency to take over unoccupied boats and leave their little gifts. In preparation, we had taken down our mainsail and stackpack and stowed them below with our sunshades and cockpit cushions. As it turns out, they weren’t interested at all in using Calico Jack as a loo so we had ripped down all that canvas for nothing. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. Getting the boat back together took a couple of days.
During this time, we stayed at Elvina Bay. It’s a pretty little bay and Beashel Marine, who we were renting the mooring from, was more than kind and accommodating. A special thanks to them! However, its location made it difficult to get even the simplest errand done. Moving the boat only a couple of miles east made shore and bus access easier so we found a hole in the middle of the mooring field and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t be asked to move. As I’ve mentioned before, the much-touted Pittwater area is not very cruiser-friendly. Access to facilities is difficult as the designated anchorage is in the middle of nowhere and there’s really no official place to dinghy into.
Moving also put us closer to our friends Duncan & Jess on Alliance, so that was a bonus. No more taking Calico Jack out to dinner –we actually rafted up alongside them one night to join them! They were also kind enough to offer us their van to run our errands which was amazingly generous and helpful. Two trips took care of fuel, spinnaker poles (no more hunting for bamboo, again!), groceries, a replacement for my terminal camera :( and a whole lot more. $80 dollars in pillows and $50 in laundry took care of our stinky mess, too.
In less than a week, we were all put together and ready to wait for our weather window to head north. We had originally figured for two weeks in Pittwater but the weather showed itself a little sooner than that and we had to take it. We’d been concerned about our transit north as there’s a strong south-setting current along the coast that we have to deal with so when rare favourable winds presented themselves (courtesy of a southerly wind from Cyclone Ita) we had to bug out early. Sadly, this meant missing some visits with friends we had been looking forward to but with 2500 nautical miles of coastline to make in only about two months, we said goodbye to friends and headed off, hoping to make it to the Brisbane area by May 1st.
After two months ashore, I was back to finding my sealegs again! The motion of the boat in swelly seas felt strange and my stomach was in an uproar. But thanks to some new seasick meds, I was back in the groove quickly and it felt good to be putting miles under the keel again. Our first stop was to be Coff’s Harbour, a visit we enjoyed on the way down in December, but the anchorage was swelly and not looking to get any better so we did an extra overnight and arrived in Southport within three and a half days. We were off to a great start. We chilled out there over the Easter Weekend and the anchorage was abuzz with jetskis and weekend warriors celebrating the holidays. We didn’t do much but walk into town looking for eggs one day. They were a casualty on the transit and we didn’t have high hopes of finding any on the holiday weekend but someone made our day by going back into their kitchen and making us a to-go box of a half dozen. I should have had more faith that we’d find our eggs on Easter Sunday!
From Southport we persisted north, winding our way through the inside passage of The Broadwater with stops at Coochiemudlo Island and Bongaree on Bribie Island (just love these names!). Bongaree was a surprise. Our guidebook had nothing much to say about it but we found it a pleasant little community. These little surprises are always nice. We had a walkaround, indulged in some lunch at a cute little fish & chip joint, picked up some groceries and just generally enjoyed the friendliness of the laid-back locals.
At this point, we were a week ahead of our intended arrival in the Brisbane area so we were doing very well. Originally Brisbane was to be a definite stop but since most of our friends in that area have moved on, we decided to skip it. It’s a long way up the river to the city proper, quite a ways off-track just to visit another urban area. We pressed on instead to arrive here in Mooloolaba yesterday. It’ll be a longer stop as we’re taking care of a few little projects and we look forward to meeting up with friends over the weekend.
2 May 2014… Friends
Since our last visit with Dion & Aimee back in December, they’ve purchased and moved onto new property. It’s an acreage just outside of the very tiny town of Cooran and they were kind enough to come pick us up in Mooloolaba to have us out as guests overnight. We’ve never left Calico Jack at anchor overnight but the weather was mild, the anchorage has good holding and the hook had proven itself over the previous few days. We were confident she’d be just fine.
Our next passage would take us up to Bundaberg, right where we started way back in November! After we’d already gone, we found out that one of Travis’ old friends actually lives there (he’d thought she was in Brisbane) so we promised a visit on the way through again. From Mooloolaba, it was a careful track back up as it needed to be timed with the tides. We went over the squirrely bar at Inskip Point in the dark, something that’s better left to Travis! Usually we don’t do that sort of thing in the dark –it’s a shallow 12 feet deep with breaking seas all around- but since we were already familiar with the area, there was no big risk. It doesn’t stop me from worrying, though (because that’s my job), and at one point I stuck my head up from below and decided that I was better off sleeping! After all, another set of eyes was doing no good in the dark and I commented that “it’s an awful lot of faith to put in two little lights!!” Travis laughed because a) I sounded almost angry at two little lights and, b) those two little lights, the range markers, are there specifically for the purpose of crossing at night! Of course, we made it safely across and dropped the hook on the other side for a whole hour of sleep so that we could time the tide going through Sheridan Flats next. This is where we ran aground on the way through the last time despite the fact that no chart or guidebook said it was too shallow there at low tide (we only found out later that it’s called Sheridan Flats!). But now we were in the know and we coasted through with no problems, arriving that night at Burnett Heads at the mouth of the river at Bundaberg. It was another arrival in the dark but since it’s a major shipping area, the channel is lit up like a runway –literally! A long row of blinking reds and greens led us through to a calm anchorage and a good night’s sleep.
In the morning we timed the tides yet again to make the hour-long trip up the Burnett River to Bundaberg. We weren’t sure what to expect of this town as a flood ripped through here three years ago and took an awful lot down the river with it –we’d been told by another cruiser that it wasn’t even worth the stop. Once again, it pays to formulate your own opinions about things as we found Bundaberg to be a very pleasant stop with a great variety of shops within easy access. We replaced the new camera (don’t ask!), got some odds & ends and I even got my Korean lunch fix (never passing up an opportunity for Korean food!). Still, I suppose I could see our friend’s point if you were here looking for things “boaty”. The marina had been washed away along with the fuel dock so if you were needing fuel, water, parts/services or dockage that would have been a problem. We just anchored in the river with everyone else and the local rowing club was kind enough to let us tie up our dinghy at their dock so were all set.
It was about a 40-minute drive to their little patch of paradise. I shouldn’t say “little”, as it’s a good-sized property, but I mean “charming”. Their dogs enjoy running around the ample yard, and out back they’re keeping two horses for someone. There’s a creek that runs through the field and we stomped through grass and mud to check out the limits of the property and even spotted kangaroos. The house is cute and they have big plans for the “home quarter”. We had a great visit again with Dion & Aimee and, again, they spoiled us with great food and company. We even had a bonfire, which is a surefire way to my heart!
I also have an old friend from Cayman who lives in the area and we were looking forward to getting together again after so many years (about 14!) but his car wouldn’t start on his only day off. Bummer. We had a little catch-up on the phone, though, and he’s happy and doing well here. Canadian expats seem to groove on this area!
Anyway, amenities weren’t the purpose of our trip here: we were looking forward to seeing Yuka again and meeting her family. She left Key West in 2004 and has a whole new life now: husband and two gorgeous kids. They manage the local pool which they’ve really turned around into something great –something it wasn’t before, apparently. Their home is on-property so you can imagine how much fun it is for the kids to have such a backyard, and always someone to play with in the summertime! Yuka and Ian were tremendous hosts and we had a great time catching up: dinner at their house, and dinner at ours (though it was getting late and we cheated and ordered pizza –the best we’ve had in ages, so I’ll take the shame!). The kids took a shine to the boat: Kodyi (8) is a quick study and she was running around with a flashlight, helping to pass things as needed; Leiyo (2) crawled up our boarding ladder like a champ –it was impressive! Two tired kids were hauled away to bed long before parents were ready to leave, I think. Many thanks to our Bundaberg family, it was a great visit!
The “salties” (crocs) at Hook Island can’t be that big a concern, though, since they advertise fantastic snorkeling just around the corner at another bay. However, conditions weren’t good enough to even bother making the trip so we set our sights on the transit to Airlie Beach that weekend. For some time, we had been trying to coordinate our visit here with another of my old Cayman friends and it was a challenge. We’d so often been out of internet range and the questionable weather had been steadily changing our plans… I laughed that Mike must be sick of us boaters: unable to commit to anything (we met a fellow cruiser who always tells visitors that they can choose the time or the place, but not both. So true!). We were trying to make it to Airlie Beach for a weekend, which was more convenient for Mike, but the best we could do was a Sunday. Still, we talked him into boarding at Calico Jack for the night so we stayed up really late, ate steaks and drank wine, and got up really early in the morning to send him off to work, poor lad. It was great catching up with another friend I hadn’t seen in a decade and a half and he spoiled us, as seems the case with most of these hospitable Australians.
Then it was time to get moving again. Travis figures that we need to make 350 miles/week to arrive in Darwin on schedule. That means we’re sailing at least three days a week! It’s quite a schedule to keep.
Next up: Cairns. This is the end of the road for a lot of overland travelers. For us, it meant probably the last reasonably-priced place to stock up on essentials and we had a lot to do: food, laundry, chandlery, internet and more. We have spent four days here and we’ve really enjoyed it –what a great town. It’s a big backpacker destination and it would be a beach town except that the beach isn’t safe here: too many jellyfish and probably crocodiles. To compensate, they’ve built a public lagoon, a fun place for everyone to gather and enjoy cooling off from the heat of the day. Don’t think “pool”, because it isn’t very deep but just deep enough to cool off and enjoy the sunshine. It’s great to see public spaces being used like this, something we admired about Latin America, too. Their parks were always packed, no matter the time of day.
But no time for lazing about for us! Our first task was to find a chandlery for some supplies. It was an hour’s trudge to lug back a gallon of bottom paint and a new life-ring, which I toted around the downtown area like a purse. I figure if we were to come back here in 6 months, my new handbag would be all the rage! Out of our price range was a new anti-siphon valve at about three times what we would pay at home (we’ll continue to regulate the water by hand for the time being, thank you!). Provisioning and laundry rounded out our chores at the end of the week and we were interested to note that it was our cold-weather clothes that we were running out of. We’re routinely bundled up in the cockpit and you know what that means: we need to keep heading north!
It hasn’t been all work, though. We decided this would be a nice place to get off the boat, find a good meal and maybe some live music and that’s exactly what we set out to do. We accomplished two of those three things. I know that this is going to sound arrogant, but we have a hard time eating out anymore. Sure, a great lunch can be had at a reasonable price, especially if you’re a fan of Asian food like we are. But to go out for a nice dinner would have us paying $40 a plate in this country, something we can’t afford. So, we opt for $14 steaks and what can I say: we just do it better at home. Our in-house grill master can whip up $5 steaks like nobody’s business! Regardless, it was still a nice night out as we found a Sunday jam session at a local jazz/blues bar and we stayed out late to enjoy it (9pm is Cruisers’ Midnight, ya know!).
Cairns has been a great place to hang out for a few days but we’re getting itchy feet. It’s not only the miles we need to make that’s lighting the fire under our butts; we’re finding as well that we just have the urge to keep moving, no matter how cool the current anchorage. This leaves me wondering how things are going to be when we get back home! A friend of ours had an interesting time of it when she got back from a year-long backpacking tour recently. Having been stimulated by something new each day, she found it quite an adjustment when she got home and back to a routine. Of course, she put a positive spin on it because that’s the kind of person she is but I wonder how we’ll fare in the same situation. Will we be ready to put on the brakes when the time comes?
29 May 2014… Outside the Box
We’re used to not fitting into the neat little categories society wants to put us in. When we went through the ordeal with U.S. Immigration, we had to prove that we had “things” together and all we could come up with in the beginning was our mail box contract and our bank accounts! Indeed, we are even considered “homeless” in Key West and are not allowed to vote in city elections. Such is life off the grid. We’ve not been immune to it on this trip, either, even when dealing with “boaty” people. You might remember our dealings with our agent in French Polynesia who kept thinking we could just go online to fill out her forms –while we were afloat thousands of miles away from the next speck of land!
Communications, or lack thereof, often play a large role in these little kerfuffles and we’ve gone to some pretty extreme lengths to acquire an internet or phone connection when required. We’ve pulled anchor to drive Calico Jack out channels: “Do you have reception yet? How ‘bout now?” We’ve hiked up mountains with the computer in hand: “And now?” We’ve stayed up until all hours of the night to call back to the U.S. and have even overstayed in ports, jeopardizing precious weather windows, to get business done. That was the case most recently. We stayed in Cairns an extra two days to get in a call to the Coast Guard regarding our lost-in-space renewal of our boat documentation. It was kind of important, since we need to leave the country soon! The first day, we learned that the phone lines close down at 3pm rather than 5pm. Harrumph. On the second, we learned that it was a public holiday = closed. Well, damn. We decided that rather than spend another whole day in Cairns we would make our way up to Cooktown and call from there –at least it would be some progress. We pulled in early in the morning and waited all day to call in order to reach them during business hours. We didn’t even leave the boat because the wind was so strong the dinghy would have made a better kite than a tender when we lowered it into the water; and given the extreme wind and current, plus a skinny lee shore, we deemed it less stressful to just stay aboard. So we just puttered around all day, waiting to call at around midnight.
Well don’t you know that they don’t just take care of it over the phone anymore. The recently new policy dictates that we have to fill out such-and-such forms and send them in. It made me laugh out loud as they had no idea how much trouble we went to just to make that phone call! So in the early morning we dragged out the printer and scanner (fantastic investments that have more than paid for themselves on this trip!), filled out all the blah blah and yadda yadda and emailed it in. It was rejected, as the government can deal only in PDFs it seems (sigh!). Find program to convert JPEG to PDF, upload, mail it all again, wait to see if it’s rejected. Nope, received! Pull anchor and head out the channel with fingers crossed that when we hit land again in a week or so it’ll be all taken care of.
And that was Cooktown.
7 June 2014… What’s in a Name?
Captain Cook named it Lizard Island because, duh, he found a bunch of lizards here. As we cruise through these areas, we’re finding that the poor guy was just running out of inspired names! Admittedly, he did have a lot of names to dole out but you can’t call him a liar, either: our hike up the mountain indeed had us face-to-face with a couple of very large lizards, at least 1 metre in length. I wondered if this was just the sort of hike where we might encounter one of Australia’s finest venomous snakes –just as an enormous centipede crawled across the path in front of me! Not a snake, but still not friendly; I didn’t scream like a girl but it did give me a start. Our hike culminated at Cook Lookout where back in 1770 he was so baffled by the reef system that he climbed to higher ground here to have a look-see and assess the situation (his troubles weren’t over though, as “Cape Tribulation” further north would suggest). We got rained on at the top but it was good exercise that afforded us views reminiscent of French Polynesia, again. Lizard Island has a very pretty lagoon that we could see from the top as well as a good view of the surrounding reef system that’s not so easily detectible at sea level. Indeed, discovering and charting this country must have been treacherous for Cook.
We pulled the anchor and made our way to nearby Hook Island, only an hour away, and Nara Inlet is easily the best anchorage we’ve had in Australia! Reminiscent of the Marquesas in French Polynesia, the low mountains jut out of the water to make the prettiest protected anchorage we’ve seen in ages. Unfortunately, we were still plagued with high winds and rain here but we managed to get off the boat and take the kayak ashore to visit a sacred site of the Ngara Aboriginal people where some cave art was on display. Afterwards, we took a paddle around the inlet before we wondered if we were far enough offshore that saltwater crocodiles weren’t a concern… Hmmm. It was a speedy trip back to Calico Jack where we hunkered down for another night of honking bad winds and rain.
(Hitchhiker aboard: a Yellow-Crested Cockatoo)
Lizard Island is beautiful at ground level, too, with its white sandy beaches; below H20 is a reef with some gorgeous soft corals and giant clams that we snorkeled. This has been our only underwater experience on the Great Barrier reef, as good weather for sailing directly contradicts good weather for sitting at the reef! Even protected by this relatively high-profile island we were buffeted with screaming winds again and the wind generator actually startled me one night as it sounded like it was about to whirr right off its axis! Regardless, it was an excellent anchorage and we took the opportunity to get in the water and give CJ’s bum a scrub. At night, we turned on the underwater lights much to the delight of a few huge, Jurassic-looking “gropers” as they call them here -we would call them Jewfish or the new PC name, Goliath Grouper. Regardless of what you want to call them, they were impressively huge and right off our stern.
However, these crazy 20+ foot tides provide one definite advantage we’ve been waiting on: we can careen the boat here. Calico Jack needed a bottom job and the $1000+ that the boatyards here are asking for a haulout is out of the question so careening it has to be. Now I realize that this was the original way of doing repairs below the waterline long before the days of Travelifts and jack-stands but there’s just something unnatural about purposely running your boat up on the beach. Traditionally, you ran aground and as the tide went out the boat lolled to one side and you did your repairs, then the other side the next day. We’re fortunate enough to have found careening poles installed here on the beach so our girl doesn’t have to wallow on her side. Rental fee to the sailing club: $50! We drove up at high tide (3am, yep! In the dark again!), tied off to the upright poles and waited for the tide to go out. By 7am CJ was high and dry and we could get to work. She was scraped, scrubbed, rinsed and wiped down, taped off and painted and zincs replaced as we raced against the returning tide. We rushed with a few last-minute things and hurried back onboard to see if the second tide would be high enough for us to get off the beach, and it was. After a whirlwind 12 hours Calico Jack was back at anchor and we were beat. Today is dedicated to general recuperation both for the inside of the boat and for ourselves. Scrubbing and painting while practically standing on our heads has some new aches and pains announcing themselves so we’re taking it easy while rejoicing in crossing off the biggest job on the list, which isn’t a bad way to spend a birthday. Now I think we’ll actually go out and do something fun tomorrow!
That evening held an even better surprise because our friend is true to his word: “I’ll arrive when and where you least expect it.” You might remember Toby and his friend Ciska stayed onboard with us over Christmas in Sydney (think: Swedish Smorgasbord Guy). When we got back to the sailing club they were waiting for us, carefully stalking our dinghy on the beach. It was so nice to see them, we’ve really been missing our sailing friends these past few weeks! I don’t know that we were the best hosts as we still had so much work to do, but it was work made easier with their help and they seemed happy enough as long as we kept them well-fed and watered! Extra sets of hands made our to-do list go more quickly and we really enjoyed their company.
Australians and their fireworks: I have already touched on this point. In Sydney, they shoot them off every Saturday for no occasion in particular. Here in Darwin, fireworks are banned for all but one day of the year: July 1st. We learned that they go overboard on this one day and spend 3 months recovering: rebuilding what they’ve burned down, finding their pets that have run away and growing back the digits they’ve blown off. Sounded like quite the fiasco and the four of us had front-row seats on the boat. The locals started shooting off their own personal supplies even before sundown and they continued all up and down the bay long after the impressive official city fireworks were over. All told, there were things exploding and grassfires burning for 4 hours or better –we finally went to bed! We were curious the next day to learn of the aftermath as we had seen one fire that was definitely more than some grass burning. However, it had been a good year: no serious injuries and the fires that we witnessed must have been small beans because there was no mention of them. Having spent some time in isolated regions in my life, I can honestly say that “Outpost People” can be a funny bunch. Regardless, I thought it was wonderful of them to host such a celebration for Canada Day, I was truly touched. Turns out it was Territory Day. WhatEVer.
So we did manage to squeeze in some fun stuff here in Darwin even if we didn’t make it to the museum only 10 minutes away! To think we had grand aspirations of visiting Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) from here but time and money just didn’t allow it. We had time for only a short visit with friends aboard Dragonsbane who arrived this week; they’ll be on our heels as we cross the Indian Ocean so we’ll see them later. This morning we dropped Toby & Ciska off at the dock (with the promise that we’ll be surprised again later!), went through our checkout with Customs and we’re motoring out the harbour as we say our goodbyes to Australia. While this country has been hell on our pocketbook, it has been good to us otherwise and there are many things we’ll miss. It’s been great to see old friends and make new ones –the people have been wonderful and oh-so hospitable. We’ve seen and done some pretty cool things, the sailing has been mostly good and despite everything being out to kill us we’ve managed to escape without being taken out by spiders, crocs, sharks or snakes. I can’t say the fishing has been great, in fact, we’re not sure Australia has any fish at all but we’ve still had some great food. Yes, we’ve tried kangaroo (don’t hate us) and the bacon. Oh, Australian Bacon!
Also not to be missed in this area is a Croc Jumping Cruise –we’d heard about this tour weeks ago and had been looking forward to it. We boarded a precarious boat and set out on the muddy Adelaide River in search of saltwater crocodiles; they heard us and came running. Why? Because the staff dangles hunks of meat over the surface of the water and they jump for it! Using their massive tails, they can launch their huge bodies upward –they’re known to snatch things out of overhanging trees (we’ve heard one story of a cruiser whose netting on his lifelines was the only thing that kept him from being lunch!). While this is a tourist attraction and it sounds like a circus, the company is very much into conservation. The staff knows each one of the crocs by sight and they all have names. The reason they make them jump 4 times to get their reward is that their metabolism is very slow –they can go 12 months between meals! Having them jump means they burn more calories than they’re gaining. It’s important not to overfeed them and if one of them got treats on the morning trip, they’re out of luck in the afternoon! Among the gang that came out to visit were 2 large males, 5-6 metres long –we were lucky to see them. These prehistoric monsters were impressive as they lurked mere feet away from the windows of the boat. One of them seemed more interested in us than the meat; the narrator told us that they are attracted to bright colours and was likely checking one of us out! I was glad I was sitting two rows back from the woman in red; mind you, if the kids onboard kept running back and forth across the boat we were all going in the drink and would be similarly screwed, red or no red. It was a tippy boat so said the captain, and we were urged to stay patiently on our side of the boat! However, if worse came to worst, the crew would have been more than happy to surrender their lifejackets to us -they’re bright orange and good decoys for their quick getaway, they joked! Once back on shore, it seemed safer to play with the resident python, which I did.
“Unlike the curled shoe tongues that are consumed in Britain or the boringly crisp, regimented strips we go for in America, Australian bacon has a rough, meaty, fair dinkum heartiness. It looks as if it was taken off the pig while it was trying to escape. You can almost hear the squeal in every bite. Lovely.” –Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country
We visited both Komodo and Rinca Islands and we were fortunate enough to see a good cross-section: males, females and also a little guy. It’s mating season now and for a few months they tend to head further into the mountains, making it difficult for us to see them (I’d say that this is for some romantic privacy but there are a lot of teeth and claws involved in that process as well!). We were also lucky enough to see one feeding on a deer that had been taken down the day before, poor thing. We stood and watched while our guide played lookout behind us with a stick; since there was grub to be had, there was a good chance another dragon would show up. They like to sneak up from behind and get ahold of your legs! If you’re lucky enough to see it coming, a Dragon can run at you at up to 28km/h –unless we’re Olympians, we run at about 12km/h! Something to keep in mind should you ever find yourself in that situation: the key is to run zig-zag. Their tails are too heavy for hairpin curves!
The goal was to make it to the top of neighbouring Lombok and get a tow to Bali from there. Hopefully it would be cheaper and anyway, it’s a bit of a point of pride to at least get as close as we can –we are a sailboat, after all! The channel between the two islands, however, is notoriously plagued by strong currents and major traffic of vessels both big and small. With little wind, we would have no steerage to get out of anyone’s way or to save ourselves from ending up on the rocks should the current sweep us away. So we limped into a bay on the north side of Lombok and how did we do this? By splashing the dinghy, lashing it to the side of CJ and putt-putting in under the power of our 2hp outboard engine!! In the industry, it’s called a “hip-tow” and it would have made Travis’ colleagues proud! Oh, how funny that must have looked but nobody could really see it because, of course, it was just after dark when we arrived (that familiar refrain). In the morning, we concluded that we were in the wrong bay as we awoke to discover all the fishing nets strung about that we could have gotten hung up on (our lack of good information here continues to be a problem). We had the heavy-duty lights on but it’s hard to say if we would have seen them in time as they were set between black buoys; we were fortunate. We strapped up Little Sparky again and putted around the point to Medana Bay where there was a modest yacht club and hopefully some help. We were now about 60 miles from our destination so we were hopeful that the cost of a tow would be at least half the original quote.
While the employee at the yacht club was helpful it took most of the day for his local contact to get back to him with an answer. As we sat enjoying a beer and a fantastic lunch, we watched two charter boat guys hit the dock so hard that one rattled their ladder out if its holder. It left us skeptical about the quality of the average local boat captain around here. We also watched the flags flutter and wondered where, all of a sudden, this wind had come from. Should we be out there sailing right now or is this unforecasted breeze just here in the harbour? Or going to die in a half hour?
Our prospective captain arrived, sized up Calico Jack and gave us a quote that even made our guy raise his eyebrows: $2000, and that was after he found a boat! No thanks. We had been hoping to find a local fishing boat that would be happy to do it for a couple hundred dollars. The drama rose as we went back and forth until our heads hurt. There were no right answers: with our lack of up-to-date local knowledge, we had no real idea about what we would encounter in the channel. Everything we were reading went on about how terrible the conditions are and that’s it’s foolish to make the crossing without a strong motor (let alone none!) but in our experience, these cruising guides are geared to the lowest common denominator. So many times we have found ourselves in places or situations where we’ve thought, “What’s the big deal?” Still, Calico Jack is our home and after much deliberation (and kicking ourselves that we maybe should have been out sailing) we determined that it just wasn’t worth the risk. So often Travis has seen in his own work people who got themselves in a pickle just because of one bad decision made while tired or stressed out. So we got back in touch with our contact in Bali to see what her guy would charge now that we were closer -only to learn that she’d dismissed him because he was still asking too much. Now we were out of options altogether. The good news, though, is that we were afforded the opportunity to speak with someone who had sailed the channel more than once and our spirits were lifted as he made the transit sound very doable. Hopefully we would just have some consistent wind.
As dramatic as the scenery was, it didn’t change much. When I came up for watch I’d be met with the volcano and say, “Oh, it’s YOU again!” For two days we were close friends with that volcano. There was rarely enough wind to even fly the spinnaker and even if we managed to make a half mile now and again we were pushed backwards when it died. Something had to give as we knew there was no wind forecasted for the next week! Thankfully Travis’ toothache was still under control but we also had an engine with saltwater to consider –we needed to get it to the doctor as soon as possible to avoid further damage. So we emailed a contact in Bali to inquire about getting a tow and we waited for her to find someone. The reply that came back wasn’t favourable: the captain wanted $2500!! While we appreciated the fact that it was a long way to come get us (about 200 miles) we certainly weren’t expecting to pay Key West prices in a country where we can both get a meal and a beer for under $10! Neither was this guy a professional for he had no VHF radio,GPS, or even the lines to tow us! We thanked our contact and told her we would get closer and contact her again.
For the next few days we would rejoice in any bit of wind we could get, keeping our noses in the air for the slightest breeze. We became masters of the new spinnaker and celebrated a measly 2 knots of speed when we could get it! Fortunately the seas were calm so any wind we did get would send us in the right direction even if it was only to drift aimlessly backwards again for hours. The GPS trackline looked like an Etch-A-Sketch once more. But at least there was no roll to contend with and we passed the hours watching movies and going about our daily business like normal. It wasn’t unpleasant. Low drama.
Saviour #1: The Spinnaker
The following morning we put all our faith in Little Sparky again and motored out of the harbour at first light, looking for the wind. It took three hours to find it at which point we hoisted our trusty sidekick out of the water and welcomed the wind as it filled the sails. Things were looking good but because it had taken us so long to find the wind, we were behind schedule. Hopefully this famous current would kick in and help to push us along a little and we waited for it. And waited for it. Instead, as we neared the island of Nusa Penida just offshore from the main island, we lost our wind altogether in about the space of about a minute –it’s amazing how immediate it is. This killed all hopes of arriving before nightfall and had us stuck in the channel overnight. We didn’t relish the thought but we had little choice. Fortunately, there’s not much traffic through this area but we sure found the current and we were knocked around like rag dolls all night! We crept forward, we were swept backward, we got stuck in a whirlpool that had us spinning around and around. Then we had the incoming tide against the current which was really crazy -the water was alive around us, sounding more like a river. Our biggest concern was that the current would pull us toward one of the islands –we had 3 miles to either side- and we’d be powerless to stop it because it was too rough to splash the dinghy. But with some luck, some hand-steering and some quick hands to get the sail out at the slightest breeze we managed to keep ourselves in the middle of the channel all night. As the tide started to go slack we finally received some help in the right direction but we only knew it by looking at the GPS as the current carried us sideways down the channel and backwards down the channel and when we got caught in another whirlpool we made our progress while going around and around about 15 times down the channel. I didn’t even bother fighting it: we were a corkscrew traveling at 5 knots so I just locked the wheel and let it go until a breeze came up and I could sail out of it.
Saviour #2: Little Sparky
We had a nice lunch at a restaurant by the rice fields but they aren’t very green at the moment. Still, it’s interesting to see the paddies stacked up terrace style. Afterwards we stopped briefly at a nearby temple. It was lovely with many water features and they had a paddock with deer smaller that our Key Deer at home. But the most interesting feature was Travis in a skirt –no exposed knees allowed. Nor menstruating women! We were issued sarongs and were otherwise compliant as well ;)
Next up was a coffee plantation where we indulged in some poop coffee. Yep, you read that right. It’s made from the droppings of the Asian palm civet, a mammal described as looking like a cross between a cat and a ferret. The civet eats the coffee berries but the beans (which are the seeds) are indigestible and so they ferment in its stomach and are excreted whole. The poo is washed out and the beans roasted & ground to make the brew known as Kopi Luwak (luwak being the Indonesian name for the civet). They do other varieties too and we sampled a flight of coffees and teas. Admittedly, the poop coffee did taste the best though it’s not the absolute best coffee I’ve ever had. But there was nothing foul about it at all, just a stronger, more flavourful cup than the rest (it didn’t even smell dodgy at the “bean” stage).
It was an interesting visit and the icing on the cake was a nice view over much greener rice paddies. “Coffee with a view,” Jocelyn called it. But I didn’t know until writing this blog what a big deal this coffee really is. It’s the most expensive cup in the world with the wild product selling for as much as US$3000/kg! The farmed variety sells for up to US$600/kg. It’s harvested only in Indonesia and the Philippines and with such demand for it, new farms are springing up all the time. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for the Asian palm civet. They are kept in battery cages and suffer from poor diet, isolation, lack of exercise and stress. Trapping of wild civets is resulting in decreased populations and it’s becoming a real conservation issue. For all this, the result is not even the best-tasting coffee in the world, just the trendiest. And the real irony is that force-fed captive civets don’t even produce the best beans because in the wild they select the best coffee cherries –and probably have a more varied diet. So would I have tried this coffee had I known everything that’s involved? Hard to say but I’m glad I didn’t purchase any on the way out –expensive, and it didn’t really wow me. In the end it was an interesting experience and I’ve learned something new.
The Mandala Suci Wenara Wana is home to three sacred temples but this fact is overshadowed (among tourists, anyway) by the Balinese or “long-tail” macaques. More commonly known as The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, it is the site of research and conservation programs for the some 563 macaques that live there. They are absolutely everywhere and best of all, it’s baby season! Who doesn’t love a baby monkey?! Investing in some bananas before you go in is definitely worth it but they can get pretty persistent (the monkeys, not the bananas). Travis lost his last three bananas to the same guy who got pretty cranky with him! They don’t put up with much crap and I saw one monkey hiss at a tourist who, quite frankly, deserved it. The First Aid station set up at the entrance was a clue. Still, they were downright adorable and Travis had one jump on his back and try to get in his bag but he couldn’t figure out the zipper. It’s recommended to take off your hats & sunglasses and to keep a firm grip on your camera while in the sanctuary!
Our last stop for the day was at Pura Luhur Ulu Watu. An important temple to the Gods of the sea, it is perched atop a cliff on the southwest side of the island. The scenery is dramatic and it’s a popular spot for sunset but we rushed in last-minute for another purpose: the traditional Kecak Balinese dance. It tells the story of Prince Rama and his Princess Sita in a good vs. evil scenario. Lively characters, colourful costumes and even some fire made for quite the spectacle. After the show, we wandered over to the temple itself but it was just closing up for the night. However, the monkeys there aren’t on a schedule and they were up to some mischief indeed! These are the real naughty monkeys -they’ve been known to steal the flip-flops off your feet! On this occasion, one had grabbed the glasses off a woman’s head and she foolishly thought she was going to get them back, persisting even though the monkey had clearly already broken them. Sadly, we’ve heard that these monkeys are trained to thieve -then their humans will “rescue” the belongings for a reward. Naughty humans!
15 August 2014… Singapore
It felt wrong to leave the boat while we were trying to make things happen with the engine but we found some cheap tickets and went anyway. It would be a fun break visiting a good friend in a country we otherwise probably wouldn’t have the chance to see. A side-benefit is that Singapore is a good place to get boat parts so we urged our mechanic to get the ducks in a row so we could pick up whatever was needed before returning!
Jocelyn was our host, just as she was in Bali when she visited us (we’re pathetic!). It was a fun weekend to visit because it was National Day: Singapore’s 49th birthday, and while the throngs of people vied for spots along the shore at Marina Bay, we watched the celebrations from the comfort of Jocelyn’s balcony 13 floors up. A few of her friends came over and we visited and ate and drank and watched the fireworks from the best seats in town!
Singapore is a place on the move and you get a real sense of it. Economic growth is very much on the agenda and their National Night Campaign was probably the most interesting evidence of this –a nationwide promotion to make babies! Check it out here, it’s definitely a unique approach! We were impressed with the Prime Minister’s address as he touched on topics like development but also focused on the things that effect citizens every day like affordable housing and taking care of the elderly. He wants to see a nation of people that genuinely care about each other.
In terms of efficiency, Singapore can’t be beat and Jocelyn commented on how easy it is to live there. Need a cab? Log on to the website from your phone and there are little blue taxi icons moving around on the map indicating how many are in your area, how long it will take to arrive and what the plate number will be –“Enjoy your trip.” No cash changes hands, you pay online as well. Public transport is also a breeze. Got your own wheels? All tolls and parking lots city-wide are taken care of with a card device that lives on your dash (we also saw them in waterproof boxes mounted on motorcycles) and you just keep your card topped up. No paper, no fuss. Even their use of space is efficient: their shopping centres are an underground maze.
Cleanliness is something this city is known for; but when you’re here you wonder how it’s even possible because it’s actually hard to find a trash can on the street –consider how many people live here! And safe: no worries walking anywhere, even at night. Of course much of this is due to the severe penalties for crime here but at no point did we ever sense that we were walking on a tightrope in such a strictly regulated country. I would say that what I felt was more of just a general air of respect, for their country and for each other.
So I guess I don’t have to spell it out: we really like Singapore and it was definitely worth the trip to come up. Just as before in Bali, there was no real agenda to our time together with Jocelyn, it was all about the visit. We ate great food and had some drinks including a Singapore Sling in its birthplace at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel. The Sling was very popular when I was in my 20s but this one tasted quite different –can’t argue with an original, though! We went to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve ready for a good hike but we were met with a park much smaller than we were expecting. It was about 5 minutes to the other end of the reserve and it was the joke of the morning until we took on the hike around the MacRitchie Reservoir! We were rewarded with monkeys (always a treat) and a suspension bridge over the treetops but we opted to take a cab back to the car so we could get on with our day! We rounded out our visit with trips to both Chinatown and the Arab Quarter. Temple and mosque. Dumplings and tajine. Trinkets and cashmere. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This place has something for everyone!
Photos: Singapore (soon-ish!)
27 August 2014… Fun Times in Bali
We spent a good deal of our time in Bali waiting around on the boat: waiting for people to show up and do what they said they were gonna do; waiting for a phone call to say they weren’t gonna show up to do what they said they were gonna do… What a waste. As we realized how short our time was getting, we decided to get out there and enjoy some things!
High on the list was a dive at Penida Island. Remarkably, we’re here at the right time of year to see the Ocean Sunfish, referred to locally as the “mola-mola”. They’re not common in our part of the world but I did see one once, dead in the water at the marina in Key West. I stared at it for the longest time before someone came along and enlightened me as to what it was; my best guess would have been the head of another, really big fish. In the waters here on the other side of the world these creatures are even larger, growing to mammoth proportions: the average adult male is 2200 lbs! And weird-looking. Like a big, ugly hubcap with fins top and bottom–very sci-fi. Needless to say, we were pretty excited to see one!
Our first stop was at Manta Point where we saw -you guessed it- manta rays. They’re pretty sci-fi in their own right and they never fail to impress (the first time I saw one in Bora Bora, I exclaimed, “Oh. My. God.” through my snorkel!). But no mola-molas; their favourite hangout was at our second stop, Crystal Bay. The current was very strong here not only laterally but up and down as well, and this is where the mola-molas would appear: from the depths! We were instructed to hold on at times to keep from getting too far away when the current was at its strongest; but still no mola-molas. We had only one more chance as they dropped us in the water for a drift dive where finally, finally we were met with the beautiful coral we were expecting to see in Indonesia. We drifted over it, sometimes at 1-2 knots, appreciating it because the other two sites were unimpressive and fairly damaged, thanks to inconsiderate divers. (It was sad and maddening to see our group companions practically crawling over the reef to get their pictures –and one claimed to be an instructor!).
This was my first-ever 3-tank dive and I was pooped by the end of it, especially with all the maneuvering in the currents. And while it was a nice enough day out, our efforts were not rewarded with a mola-mola sighting. Since I’ve talked it up so much, though, here’s a photo from a Phillip Colla via my friend Mr. Google. WAY freaky, hey?! Imagine that thing coming up at you from the depths! It’s worth noting, too, that they often languish on their sides at the surface, sunning themselves. Hence the name.
Balinese food is great. Every morning the ladies are at the market first thing picking up the freshest ingredients for the day’s meals. Everything is made from scratch here and the flavours are bold and complex and there’s a lot of variety. It seemed like a great place to pick up some cooking tips so I signed up for a class.
The morning began with a trip to the market where our teacher-chef walked us through the local mystery ingredients and educated us on what they could be substituted for; he even detailed their medicinal benefits. Back at the school, we were treated to a typical Balinese breakfast of black rice pudding and coconut milk along with rice cake stuffed with palm sugar syrup and rolled in freshly grated coconut. Yum, but you had to pop it in your mouth all at once lest you make a mess of it!
Then it was down to the nitty gritty. Our group was to prepare several dishes and we got to chopping our fresh ingredients: chilies, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, candle nuts and more. Then out came the mortar & pestle and we proceeded to grind everything to a paste. While I would typically be tempted to buy something like this, it was big and heavy enough to sink the boat, let alone finding a place to keep it (shhhh, I’ll just use the food processor!). In the end, we had all our pastes ready to cook including a freshly ground peanut sauce. All these were slapped on beef, chicken, fish and vegetables and steamed or grilled (in banana leaves) or stir-fried, and served with noodles or rice. In the end, we had a feast -and then dessert. We left rotund and happy with recipe books to take away so we can recreate our masterpieces at home. I’ll have to stock up on some key ingredients!
You may or may not have seen a post I shared on Facebook recently, entitled The 25 Most Extraordinary Bars To Experience In Your Lifetime. Sounds like a fun bucket list, right? And especially since we were geographically poised to get started right away! Our first stop would have been The Clinic Bar in Singapore and it looked like one of the more interesting ones. Sadly, they closed down because drunk clients were hijacking the wheelchairs and running them all over the streets -didn’t see THAT one coming! Conveniently, though, we were also strategically located to visit The Rock Bar here in Bali and we thought it would make a nice happy-hour as they market their sunsets heavily (like they have something to do with them!). We arrived early only to discover that the bar was full already and there was a wait –until 6:30 or 7:00. A bit disappointing, but we were invited to take a table at another of their bars (it was at a resort) and when there was space available, our receipt would give us first dibs downstairs. So we did and while we weren’t technically at The Rock Bar, we decided that it was an equally beautiful sunset, indeed, probably just as nice as the one they were touting downstairs ;) .
At about 7:00 we were able to descend and we were surprised to discover that access was via a tram down the cliffside. Interesting! Once downstairs, we were told that The Rock Bar was only open to registered hotel guests at the moment, but we were invited to take a table at their adjacent bar until 8:00. Then our server arrived, welcomed us and proceeded to tell us about the 2-for-1 drink specials –that were only available after 9:00 (we’re still at 7:00 here)! We decided at this point that it was so ridiculous and we had already invested so much that we had to go the distance so we ordered another expensive round at the second not-Rock Bar.
At 8:00, we were finally able to make our way to The Rock Bar (the real one) and had one more expensive drink just so that we could say we did and now we have this story to tell. They were nice drinks –our last round was smoking with dry ice. And we did have to credit the joint for soaking these two suckers for an ungodly amount of money by leading us around like kittens with a string –their secret service earpieces should have been a clue. But what was so very painfully laughable is that we figured their business tactics must have been taken from the same playbook as our mechanic’s. It was so familiar we laughed out loud. Then we left and went home with empty bellies because the restaurant that was to follow up happy hour was closed. Nicely played, big-business resorty people!
30 August 2014… Bali Roundup
A number of people have taken a particular interest in our visit to Bali. When you mention its name, it brings to mind an exotic tropical paradise that anyone that would give their right arm to visit. For us, frankly, it was a mixed bag. Keep in mind though, that we’re not your typical tourists to a place like this.
Our location would be the first thing to set us apart. The only two places to bring the boat are far away from the areas your airport taxi would drop you off. We were kind of in the sticks but we liked the little village of Serangan. Albeit dirty with a public dock that looked like it would crumble under your feet, we felt like it was a slice of the real Bali and the people were so very friendly. And safe: the village was self-policing and no funny-business was tolerated as they would literally kick you out of their club! As such, we felt very confident that our dinghy and its contents would be there when we arrived back and anything left on Calico Jack’s deck would be left alone. The locals had small huts built along the side of the road where they would hang out during the heat of the day. One of them had a flat screen TV that was left unlocked at night. ‘Nuf said.
I don’t think the same could be said for the downtown areas. Maybe they’re honest amongst themselves but they are definitely out to fleece the tourists –I read in a book that it’s the m.o. here. The cab drivers were the worst, trying to charge us double what the fare would be. “Or, you could turn on your meter,” I would say. I learned to be insistent on that point. Of course any dealings with merchants involved bargaining, which was to be expected, but we were in one store where Jocelyn understood what they were saying: that I was “angmon” (white) and could afford it –then they laughed. He then offered me a measly .08 cent discount, big deal. Sadly, I did want the item and although it wasn’t that much money, I probably wouldn’t have purchased it had I known at the time what Jocelyn had heard. It was just rude. Even the medical community was onboard in getting their piece of the pie: I walked into a clinic in the tourist area to get an infected bug bite looked at (things get scary-infected here very quickly!) and walked out with $110 worth of stuff I either didn’t need, or that I could have walked to the nearest pharmacy and picked up for about $15 (which is probably what I should have done!). These are just a few examples of how we felt like they saw us as walking ATMs. It sure wasn’t the nice feeling we had about the folks back in our Serangan village.
wrong direction! Somehow, it all seems to work for them though: you just “mush together” and someone gives way where it’s needed; we didn’t see a single accident while we were there. It could be hair-raising at times, but definitely never boring.
About the only time we saw road laws enforced was the middle of the month. That’s mid-month on the pay schedule and the pockets of the police officers are feeling light so they set up road blocks to check driver’s licenses. Sure they pulled everyone over, locals and tourists alike, but they set up shop right on the road into a major tourist area, checking for international driver’s licenses. Of course, most of us didn’t have one so they’d issue you a ticket telling you that your court date was in about 2 weeks and they’d hold the scooter’s registration until then. OR, you could pay the fine on the spot. Since most tourists aren’t staying that long or just don’t want the hassle, paying the fine is the obvious choice. When we asked for a receipt, they had none to give. So when we got pulled over again on our way back home what would we show as proof? “Just have them call us on the radio and we’ll tell them you’ve paid.” Who’s paid –the two white people on the scooter?! What a scam. On our way back, though, they were nowhere to be found so we figured they’d gotten enough cash for lunch. Arriving back at Serangan, we told our agent what had happened and she said, “Oh, is it mid-month already?” It’s just a day in the life here. I know we have corruption where we come from, but it isn’t so in-your-face everyday as it is here.
On the other hand, some of the everyday stuff here is truly fabulous. I’ve mentioned already how Bali’s food is varied and complex, but so is the culture. As we travel, we usually find that a nation has maybe only one or two styles of music and dance but that is not the case here where several variations of each art form are present. The handcrafted items are plentiful and beautiful: textiles, woodcarving (especially fantastic furniture), pottery, silversmithing, basketware and stonecarving are all represented. The people are diverse and they co-exist in harmony: some temples are used by several different religious sects and sometimes they all come together to celebrate (maybe not so much in Bali proper, as it’s mostly Hindu, but we’ve heard this about other areas in Indonesia). I think there are those from other parts of the world that could take a lesson here! These people are genuinely kind and helpful. More than once our faith was restored when we were given a random tow in our broken-down dinghy with nothing expected in return. Even on a day-to-day basis, the two of us fumbling around in a country where we didn’t speak the language was never met with impatience or scorn. It’s kindnesses like these that make us feel bad for getting so frustrated at the many things that went wrong while we were in Bali.
I mentioned at the beginning that we’re not your typical tourists to an area like this but nor were we even typical boaters as we arrived with a particular set of problems that needed to be solved within particular time parameters. I could easily go on and on about the headaches and frustrations of getting anything “boat” done here. Indeed, we started to feel like we were the “problem boat” on the mooring field, always needing something! Part of it was out of everyone’s control because we had the misfortune of arriving during Ramadan and a lot of the stores we needed were closed for 10 days or more; but other things could have gone so much more smoothly with a little better communication, time management and just plain honesty (with us, and with themselves as to how much one can realistically accomplish in a day). But nobody wants to hear me whine, so let’s focus on the positive, shall we?
But we didn’t spend that much time in the tourist areas, anyway. We stuck to Serangan a lot and found our way around to the cheaper places to do our laundry, get fuel and get great meals (our record was 2 plates of food and a bottle of water for under $5!). We did get out of the village to run errands on occasion once we got comfortable with the idea of riding a scooter here. In this instance, you’re really taking your life in your hands as the driving laws are like the mere suggestions we’ve seen in other countries. In fact, playing by the rules seemed to create more opportunities for an accident, i.e. leaving a safe distance between you and the car in front of you just invites someone to squeeze in to that tiny space. Cars and scooters share lanes (when lanes are acknowledged at all) and we would squeeze by them on the left or right. If you chose the left, you might be surprised by someone driving at you from the
2.The people liked us so much that they wanted us to stay!
Our trip to Immigration to do our checkout turned into a 5½ hour party. The two guys at the regional office were kind enough to call in their boss for an introduction, who in turn called in two plainclothes officers who picked us up in an unmarked car (you BET I asked for ID!) to take us to the main office to meet the really big boss! Wow! They wanted us to stay so badly that they didn’t even want to give us back our passports so we could go find lunch! In the end they had to let us go, though, and they drove us back to the regional office in their private car where they again tried to make us stay. So long, boys, so sad we had to leave –you guys are awesome!!
3.We’re finally going to get to use this kayak we’ve carted halfway around the world!
Two days before we left, it became evident that our outboard motor has a real problem (one we thought we had fixed). Of course, parts weren’t available locally, nor were they available in all of Indonesia! That’s ok –paddling is a great workout! Soon I’ll be getting a workout rubbing two sticks together, too, as I’ll be lighting fires to cook by the time we make it across the Indian Ocean. One of our tanks ran out of propane at the last minute –need at least two days to get tanks filled!
1.We are bathing in Evian water. How decadent!
We needed water twice during our stay and both times we waited 3 days for it. Two sinks full of dirty dishes and no showers make for a really happy crew! As it turns out, we’d been blacklisted by the entire water delivery community as our pump was “too slow”. Little did they know that in the interim, we had hooked up our gas-powered dewatering pump that can move almost 5000 gallons per hour! But that did us no good if nobody would come (they would say “yes” and just not show up) so our agent sent out 20 x 5 gallon jugs of drinking water to top off our tanks at no profit to herself. Now every day is spa day!
So that’s the good, the bad and the ugly of Indonesia from our unique perspective. I will say that we were very glad we didn’t have this breakdown in Australia. While parts would have been more readily available, the labour cost would have been more than we could afford without sacrificing a bunch of the rest of the trip. Yes, we had to spend the month in a rough & windy mooring field that was littered with trash (a dinghy ride was an obstacle course!). Yes, it was very frustrating to deal with attitudes about work very different from our own. But we did have some core people we could rely on who were awesome and thoughtful. From our knowledgeable agent who would answer every email and phone call, to the woman who owns the little corner store and did a BBQ for the cruisers every Friday, providing us with a place to meet and socialize that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. And even though our mechanic did let us down, he did on several occasions go out of his way to do little things that certainly weren’t on his list of job requirements but helped to make our lives a little easier. This is the kindness of the typical person here in Indonesia.
So would we come back? I would say yes –just by plane!! As boaters, we’ve never dealt with so much red tape. The costly entry requirements and time-consuming paperwork make visiting again by boat unappealing, as do all these harbour officials who have their hands out for something extra. We didn’t think they had the facilities to be charging boaters as much as they do and to make everything so complicated on top of it all. So to do it again, we’d fly in and take a taxi to our hotel and shop and party on Legian Street like regular tourists!
Photos: Indonesia (soonish)
(Let's face it:
Engine problems suck no matter where you are!)
And as per the end of the story with our engine? I’m not certain we’ve seen the end yet as we never did determine where the water came from in the first place. All the gaskets and valves have been replaced so maybe if there was some imperceptible problem in among those, we have it licked. But we’re leaving with new problems, too –a freshwater leak we didn’t have coming in, and a few other smaller things. Unfortunately, our mechanic let us down and didn’t really finish the job to our satisfaction. Nothing is a deal-breaker, though, and we have safeguards in place to make another malfunction less likely. We had to get moving and we headed out with no time to spare. Things were taking so long that it seemed certain we were going to miss our weather window to head across the Indian Ocean and we started to make a contingency plan should we be stuck in Asia for a season (be careful what you wish for!). I know, it doesn’t sound like much of a hardship. In fact, we toyed with the idea of staying regardless, but it just isn’t in the budget –we’ll come back and do it in style someday.