Chapter 27: September 8th - September 29th 2004
Arrival to the Land Down Under
Wednesday, September 8th: Dockside in Noumea and Raring to Go
As we last wrote we had spent a disappointing month in New Caledonia, most all of it dockside awaiting the repair of our transmission. I also mentioned we had met a nice French girl, Karine, who has now joined us (as of 2 days ago) to crew for us on our upcoming 800 mile passage from here to Australia. She has sailed across the Atlantic on a sailboat with her boyfriend a few years ago and has also lived on a sailboat for several years, so at least she has some experience, which we are hoping is enough to help us on this passage, mostly with the “watches.” Even if we don’t hit bad weather or storms (which when having only 2 of us aboard, turns into an exhausting event) with 3 people, we should at least be able to get a few more hours of sleep each day. With only the 2 of us, we switch on and off every few hours for sleep/on watch... but if there's a storm, we are both up until it's over, which at times in the past, has been several days.
Anyway, Karine is a 35-year-old French pharmacist, (who looks like she's about 18!) who had been “backpacking” for the last few months here in New Caledonia. She will only be us for the passage and upon our arrival in Australia, she plans to leave us to do a little land travel before returning (by plane) to New Caledonia, as she has a flight to catch back to Paris in October. She does speak English (--a LOT more than we speak French!), but has a more difficult time understanding what we are saying.
We had hoped to depart here today, but yesterday the three of us went up to visit the meteorologist here on this island. We've had several back-to-back cold fronts --low-pressure areas that bring unstable bad weather --and another one just was here for the last 5 days. Anyway the Meteorologist said that although today would be good (and when we woke up this morning for the first time in 6 days the sun was shining and the skies were mostly blue!), the waves from this last storm would still be high at 9-14 feet. They suggested we wait one more day, so as of this morning, our plan was to do all the final last minute things (I bought fresh fruit and vegetables and paid our marina bill, Joe washed the boat and got all the sails ready, etc.), and then leave first thing tomorrow for Australia. However SINCE then, another huge storm has shown up on the weather maps -- the worse one yet (gale force winds and growing), in Southern Australia, and it also appears to be heading right in the path that we would be traveling in. Sooooooooooo.... Joe's off to the Internet cafe in a few minutes to re-look at the satellite pictures and to make a decision. I think it will be that we will not be going again tomorrow.
I really hate these passages (and this is the 2nd largest we've made... 2nd only to our crossing the Pacific last year!) so although I'd rather not go at all, I'm also anxious to get it over with now. This waiting day after day (which just gives me more time to worry) is horrible. But soon we will eventually leave and before we know it we'll be there (at least that's what I keep telling myself!) It is a pretty treacherous route as all the storms go from Australia to New Zealand OR up to the South Pacific Islands across this stretch of water that we’re crossing–the Coral Sea-- so there's no way to cross over without getting in their paths.
Thursday, September 9th–Departure from Noumea, New Caledonia
We DID leave today heading for Brisbane. Joe felt the “new” front on the weather maps would miss us. However within minutes of us departing the marina, we hit 9-10 ft. seas (probably still from the bad weather we had 2 days ago) that quickly have grown to 15 ft. And to make it worse the sea direction is on the beam, which is the most uncomfortable place to have them. We are having great wind though and with only a tiny bit of sail up, we are flying at 6 ½- 7 knots… very fast for Mi Gitana’s usual snail pace of 4-5 knots.
Karine, our new crew, is sick, and I'm not feeling so hot either, and Joe... well he wouldn't admit it if he was, but I can tell (because he doesn’t want to eat!) is also showing signs of mal de mer. Hopefully things will be better tomorrow.
Saturday, September 11th–Day 3 at Sea
Finally after 2 days of really uncomfortable weather, the seas have calmed down so I can write more than a line. Of course the reason the seas have flattened is there is hardly any wind, so now we have our motor on. From the predictions we are getting, it looks like we will not have much in the way of wind tomorrow either. However, I’m not complaining, as I'd much rather motor on calm seas than sail and have the smashing 2 story waves on our beam we’ve had so far. Joe always worries whether we'll run out of fuel before reaching our destination, but I'm sure we'll have wind again somewhere along the rest of the journey. The old saying that if you don’t like the weather, wait and soon it will change, is never more true than a passage at sea!
We are going to all attempt to eat dinner tonight-- something we have not done for the last few days since taking off. Karine was pretty "green" for the first 2 days but in between throwing up, she has amazingly still been doing her watches: the first night she worked with Joe and last night she did her watch by herself. We are all still sleeping a lot whenever we can grab a few winks during the daytime also.
Later on…Saturday night
Right now I am watching fuzzy rimmed small round shapes on the radar on my night watch. They are little squalls forming all around us. We thought we would have no more of those creatures since we are in colder weather and colder water, but they're back. Normally, when we get hit by one, we get high winds (up to 40 knots) and a deluge of rain that lasts 5-20 minutes and then they are gone... like little mini hurricanes. So far these tonight have been "dissolving" before they reach me so do not appear to have much force and no rain. But I hate to see them, as we never know what is "inside" them.
I just got notified from an e-mail from my sister that my Dad is in the hospital back home for gallstones. It is such a helpless feeling being in middle of ocean and not being in contact with family except by e-mail, especially in times like this… but I guess I should feel grateful that at least we have form of communication — something fairly new to cruisers in the last decade!
Monday, September 13th: Why can’t the weather “gods” get it right?
The weather god's just can't seem to get our order right. We keep saying we want the "normal" amount (12-17 knots) of wind from the "normal" direction (Southeast trades), but as usual we either have too much, too little, or all from the wrong direction. As I wrote earlier, the first 2 days we were all sick from the huge waves beating us on the side and winds so strong that we could only put out a handkerchief bit of sail. Then that was followed by 2 days of almost dead calm, with little to no wind and almost glassy seas (so we motored). Then at 6 AM we crossed some mystical line in the ocean and all of a sudden we had 25-30 knots of wind (with gusts reaching 39 knots) and humongous seas crashing over the bow. The boat heeled over so much that I slid out of bed (Joe was on watch), so I figured I'd better go help. What's really weird is the sky is blue, no dark clouds... just all of a sudden lots of wind and 12 ft walls of sea. Unfortunately, we are also being blown north of our intended track, so with all this wind we still cannot make forward speed in the right direction and we are STILL having to use the motor! We ARE, at least, headed for Australia, and not back to Fiji...AND at least (so far, knock on wood) we are not being drenched with rain... BUT anyway, hopefully this TOO will change!
Otherwise all is okay. Not much to write about on a passage. We just watch and worry about what we can’t control-- the weather-- sleep, and eat... and when it's calm enough, we read. I'm finally reading the book, Tales of the South Pacific by Michner... which is what was my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein’s movie/musical South Pacific is based. All along I thought it took place in Tahiti, but it is based in Noumea (New Caledonia) and Efate (Vanuatu), where we have just finished cruising, so it is interesting reading about his "tales" with all the WWII history mixed in. This was his first book and he won a Pulitzer for it. I'm glad I finally delved into it.
Tuesday, September 14th: Beginning of Day 6 on the Coral Sea
We are going a lot faster now and if we continue at this speed we will make the trip in 7 days (arriving Thursday) instead of 8 (Friday)-- which is certainly a big plus. Last night I got almost no sleep as the boat was so heeled over -- I had to try and brace my feet against a sideboard and keep it stiff (tensed) as well as hold onto the top of the mattress, in order not to slide out of bed... so it is hard to relax when your body is tense. If I drifted off to sleep (i.e. relaxed), the mattress cover, the sheets, blanket and me all slid right on the floor (and it takes a lot of momentum to move the likes of me around!!!) Plus several times a minute we'd get hit by humongous waves (plus all the regularly large ones!) that would crash on top of the boat and sound like we hit a brick wall. Things that we have had secured and have never moved for all our other trips (these past 3 years) went flying around the cabins (a boom box, a 30 lb. first aid kit, books, even all my stacked pots and pans in a "locked" cupboard all came crashing out!) No one ate much of anything yesterday (I subsided on cookies!) Too hard to even stand long enough to make a sandwich, as both hands were needed to hold on at all times. And talk about constipation problems... imagine trying to do your business while your butt is bouncing in the air and the back of the toilette seat keeps banging you in the back, and you have one leg extended parallel to the floor braced against the wall (while butt on toilette). Not ideal for "concentration." So anyway, this is NOT what we cruise for, but as I keep telling myself, it is a necessary (but unpleasant) means to an end, and this is the last time we will be "crossing" the Pacific.
Wednesday night, September 15th:Less than 100 miles to go!
Hopefully this is my last night watch for the year! The seas have calmed somewhat in the last 2 days so we are having a more pleasant ride. We are hoping, god-and-weather-willing, that we will arrive in Brisbane tomorrow afternoon. This will be our farewell to sailing the Pacific. Next year will be up the Coast (but mostly inside reefs), and then into "seas" of Indonesia and Malaysia.
The three of us are already dreaming and fantasizing about our arrival and how great it will be to take long hot showers, to walk on land again and to sleep, sleep, sleep for a few days once we get in.
Thursday, September 16th: Safe arrival at Scarborough Marina
We had a terrible last night at sea. We had been blessed yesterday with great winds, which projected us in the right direction at a good speed. However when we were within about 50 miles of our entrance to Moreton Bay (huge bay/harbor that is the home to the city of Brisbane), the wind shifted to a non-sailable direction (“on the nose”) and a current appeared, also pushing us in the wrong direction. This meant we had to tack back and forth against the wind to stay on our intended course. To add more of a challenge, we were playing dodge ball with a bunch of huge ships (Brisbane has a large shipping industry), which also were going back and forth, we assume awaiting daybreak to enter the harbors shipping lanes. So all 3 of us were up all night doing sail changes, tacking, watching radar and ships lights. But shortly after daybreak, (trust me with land in sight WE WERE MOTIVATED!!!) we reached our intended destination the entrance to the bay.
From there we still had a 4-5 hour “cruise” to reach the marina. The bay (Moreton Bay) has more sand bars with depths of water less than 6 feet, I think, than it has deep water, so it was necessary for us to zigzag closely following channel markers to not go aground. But adrenalin was high and we were so excited to be ALMOST there. Our goal was to get there before the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine people quit for the day so we could check into the country of Australia, and get off the boat with our feet on land again!
And we did at least meet part of our goals. At the marina we were directed to tie up to a Quarantine area (locked and gated off from the rest of the marina). Shortly after we were greeted by 4 “officials,” who came aboard, checked us in, stamped our passports, took away all our leftover meats, fruits, vegetables, etc. (I HAD planned the meals so everything would be gone before our arrival… but we were so sick for half of this passage that half of my “planned” meals went uneaten and in the Quarantine man’s garbage bag!) These gentlemen were our first introduction to Aussie friendliness as they spent over 1-½ hours in our cockpit (the check in process only took about 15 minutes) chatting away with us.
However, once they left, and were “un-quarantined”, we found we could not depart the quarantine dock to move to our assigned slip–so no hot shower, nor walk and meal ashore. The marina (like the rest of the waters around here as described above) is very shallow, so by the time the "officials" left our boat, it was low tide and our keel was "stuck" in the mud, so we won’t be able to move until tomorrow morning when the tide is up. But as they say here, “NO WORRIES!” We just want to sleep, sleep, sleep anyway, so I think we’ll all be passed out in our bunks before even the sunsets!
Sunday September 19th: Settling In — in Scarborough
After plenty of sleep, we are finally getting settled in–and approaching some boat chores. It took 3 (!!!) washings of the boat to get off all the salt -- as the boat really got pounded by waves on this last trip.
We are not getting too settled in here though as we still have to determine which marina we will be leaving Mi Gitana in for 5 months when we return to the USA. We have reservations in 5 other marinas besides the one we are in -- scattered over about 60 miles in this area so we are renting a car for a few days tomorrow or the next day to check them all out. Security is our primary criteria (after our terrible experience with robberies where we left our boat last season), but several of the marinas are located on beaches and in "resort town" which appeals to us as we like to eat out and be where there are a lot of things to do within "walking distance." The place we are at now, is nice -- a quiet, small town, but without a car, everything must be by bus or taxi as not much is within walking distance. Scarborough is sort of a superb of Brisbane — but an hour train-ride away. Although it is quite a "small town" -- everyone's quite friendly, but I think the friendliness is part of being Australian.
Our crew lady, Karine, will be leaving us in a few days. This morning, Sunday, I made a "brunch" for Karine and Joe -- she had never had pancakes before! Tonight I am making her an "American meal" of chili, cornbread and strawberry shortcake–also “firsts” for her. She will be leaving us in a day or two as she want to explore Brisbane and Sydney before she makes her way back to New Caledonia (From there she has her "return" ticket to France in a month). She has been a wonderful help and a joy to have aboard.
One surprise for us, after almost 2 months of cold (and lots of rain) for our last 2 destinations, it is really warm here -- hard to believe since we continued so much further south... But it's beautiful with warm sunny days (at least so far), but still pleasant cool nights. We're told not to return here in February (when we had originally planned to), as it is their hottest month and very miserable... so I guess it does gets pretty hot here. But for now it reminds me of September/October in San Diego.
Another really positive thing that is making Joe REALLY happy (!!) -- This marina has some sort of wireless gizmo that you attach to your computer on your boat and we can get internet access right here on board our boat, so now not only can we check our e-mails/send e-mails anytime we want, but he can get on line (and really HIGH SPEED broad band just like at home) and do whatever it is that he does all the time on line. This is a wonderful luxury compared to hauling the computer to an Internet café and paying big bucks by-the-minute. Another reason to love being back in civilization!!!
Speaking of being back in “civilization,” on our 2nd day here we went out exploring and visited our first real "modern mall" with huge grocery stores since leaving Mexico. Joe got a mall haircut, I went crazy finding food items I hadn’t seen in a while, and we even found an 8-plex-stadium type movie theater that we will for sure visit soon.
Thursday, September 23rd-- Marina Shopping
We've had a busy 3 days driving around “marina-shopping”… 2 days heading north (to Mooloolaba) and then a day south of here (to Southport) and back again looking at 7-8 different marinas. And we STILL haven’t decided. The 2 nicest are also the 2 most expensive and furthest away and the ones in between either don't have any openings or we don't like. We have to decide though soon -- not only for our peace of mind and to get the boat moved, but also to let the places we have reservations know as they have long waiting lists waiting for our slots. In the last couple of years at our destinations, there were no “choices” of marinas as there was usually just ONE at each area… so this is really different for us — another sign of being back in a first world civilized country!
Steve Irwin "plays" with a Cricky
We also stopped one day on our way north at the Crocodile Hunter’s Australian Zoo and had a blast. We never really watched him (Steve Irwin) much on TV (he’s on almost every day on some discovery/nature type channel on cable in the USA and he has quite a cult following!) — but we had heard a lot about him. The place is kind of like a zoo but specializes in indigenous crocodiles, exotic birds, snakes, and of course, kangaroos, wallabies, and the like. There are several amphitheaters with “shows” going on and we were surprised that Steve Irwin, himself was the “star” of his own Zoo so we saw him up close and in person “playing” with the crocks. Although he appears to be quite full of himself, we had to admit, he was quite entertaining and we enjoyed the several hour diversion that we took to the zoo. We even got to pet some koalas, wallabies, kangaroos, and the like.
We have the car rental for another day so we will do boat shopping (for needed spare parts and maintenance items) plus some grocery shopping tomorrow. Although we’ve had fun with the car, it has been exhausting as we have been trying to use up every minute of every day with having the car -- so although we'll miss having the wheels, it will be nice not to have to run around from dawn to dusk!
We now are finally able to even find our way around the little area we are in... plus Joe is mastering driving on the wrong side -- albeit there is still at least once a day when he runs over a curb (misjudging the other side of the road) and still cusses when he goes to turn on the turn signal and the windshield wipers come on (They are backwards also!)
Wednesday, September 29th: A Trip to Brisbane
We just returned from our first visit to Brisbane... it's really not very far away, but having to take public transportation, it turned into about a 2 hour each way trip... walk to bus stop, wait for bus, 40+ minute bus through the area we are in (with about a million stops) until it gets to the train station, and then a 30 minute train (that also stops a dozen times before getting to Brisbane)... so NOT easy or convenient, but the results are a very modern city (3rd largest in Australia) with huge sky risers and a river going right through the city. So we were a bit overwhelmed after all the 3rd world countries (actually more like 10th world!) we've been in. We walked down a walking street for about 5 blocks which seemed to have hundreds of high end stores and connecting high rise hotels attached, plus our first Starbucks (!!) which we stopped in and had a "cuppa" as they call a cup of tea or cup of coffee in this country. We also went into a huge casino and played the slots (PENNY slots... you put in 1 dollar coin and have 100 spins!) They also had craps, roulette (and virtual roulette slots), black jack, etc, but the lowest denomination for gambling there was $10. We looked on a bit but then moved on. We bought a "transportation ticket" for the day-- which for one price we could go anywhere all day on buses, trains, and ferries. So we jumped on a ferry and took an hour and a half ride down the river and back as it criss-crossed back and forth across both sides of the river to all the river front hotels, restaurants, parks, etc. There were lots of places that look like we would have liked to get off at, but it was a beautiful day and we just decided today to ride the whole "route" to have kind of an orientation to the Brisbane area by water. Now I know where I want to go when we go back again. I really would like to just go some day without Joe so I can go "browsing" in the stores along the waterfront and walking streets -- I'm not a big mall shopper, but in a foreign country, it is fun to see what they have, how they dress, what things cost, etc. Also all the museums are "free" -- so I'd like to browse around to learn more about the culture, history here, especially of the Aborigines. Anyway, another time.
The main reason for this Brisbane trip was to see the Shoulder Orthopedic specialist. Last December when I was home, I had an arthroscopic shoulder repair followed by 3 1/2 months of physical therapy… however, it did NOT get better and throughout this cruising season, it seems even to be worse than before the repair. So I decided to seek a 2nd opinion. The doctor I saw in Brisbane is one of the top specialists here in this country and I am assured that is at the same level as US ... long story of how I got the appointment (as he is booked up for "new patients" until mid-December). AND… his opinion is that I DO have a rotator cuff tear and WILL need to be re-operated on… something to look forward to upon my return to the US next month!
POST SCRIPT WRITTEN 20 OCTOBER, 2005
I never finished my above “chapter” as a few days later, I received news very unexpectedly that my father had died. My Dad had recovered well enough from his “emergency” gall bladder surgery that he was to be discharged from the hospital, but then died the day before his planned discharge date–exact cause unknown. He has always been my guiding light and my inspiration and, above all when everyone else thought I was crazy, he was the one who encouraged me to follow my dreams and to embark on this cruising life that I now live. It is hard for me to imagine my life without him in it, but his spirit will be with me forever.
I flew home shortly after the shocking news, while Joe stayed behind in Australia for another week to get the boat “ready” for our 4-5 month absence. We ended up leaving Mi Gitana in the Scarborough Marina instead of moving her elsewhere, as there was no time to move her.
We are both back in the San Diego area (actually living in our Rosarito Beach, Mexico home) — re-adjusting to our 2nd life --on land. Looking back — this was certainly not our best cruising season: We started the season by returning to the boat in Fiji to find our devastating loss due to burglaries, we had 2 major breakdowns resulting in sitting at a dock in 2 marina for 2 months (1 month each) waiting for parts instead of being able to cruise, dive, and explore the areas we were in, and we both lost our fathers this year within 3 months of each other. But we are alive, the boat and the 2 of us came through the travels safe and intact (perhaps not completely sane!), we sailed through no major/major storms (as we have in the past 2 years), we kept our relationship together (a real challenge in our tight and usually stressful living conditions), and God-willing, we are still planning on continuing on in our adventures next season.
I will restart our journal adventures after we return to Brisbane/ Scarborough Area in early March 2005.