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Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 29 – 31, 2012 Karen’s visit and Happy NYE from Sydney Harbour

Karen's next was a full day in Sydney. We walked her through the Sydney Fish Market, over to Darling Harbour, through CBD, down George Street and over to Circular Quay. Frank had made a booking for us to tour the Opera House. The tour is worth the price of a ticket. Although we had seen a PBS Special on the history and construction of the Sydney Opera House, nothing like experiencing the real thing can bring it home. It is, even in this day, an architectural marvel. Afterward we lunched at the up-market food court at the opera house's waterfront boardwalk. Afterward, we (they) barhopped our way back up George Street. Frank wanted to show Karen his favorite beer bars. Eventually we arrived back on Destiny, exhausted.

On the 30th, we took Karen over to Chinatown and to the Haymarket, Paddy's, where she did a fair bit of souvenir shopping. Karen and I hit the party store for streamers, noisemakers, maracas, glow-in-the-dark leis for the ladies and light swords for the guys for the big NYE bash in the harbor. We had invited Heather and Mark, Pauline, Martin, Janet, her sister Helen and Janet's daughter Alicia to come out with us. We told them it would be a sleeping bag night and that they should expect to see and meet a lot of new faces.

NYE morning, because none of our invited guests wanted to make such an early appearance as we had requested Frank, Karen and I headed over to Athol Bay after first hitting the Sydney Fish Market as soon as it opened. We stocked up on fresh oysters, and prawns, and lamb for souvlaki. I had prepared heaps of food and snacks. Russell had anchored Tomkat at Athol Bay since the day after Boxing Day and was staying put. His family would have arrived from Bobbin Head in their smaller launch last night.  As we navigated the minefield of vessels, we began receiving calls on the VHF from Shazaam! and Bliss from MHYC who were already in place and saving a spot for us. Tomkat was too close to the far shore for us to get a good view so we anchored over by the MHYC boats. Mark and Heather had opted to go out with Astrid and Michael on Bliss, probably thinking our boat would be a bit crowded.  Janet, Alicia, Helen, Pauline and Martin had all made arrangements to get to the Taronga Zoo's wharf during the afternoon where we would pick them up in our dinghy. It was a busy afternoon of shuttling back and forth to pick up our friends and stopping by to visit with others. Folks began arriving on Destiny laden with armfuls of food and drinks. Mark, Heather, Astrid, Michael and some of their friends were first to come by followed by Russell, Jan, Tom, Kate and Damo. By mid afternoon we had over 25 people on board Destiny. My gosh, do we have this many friends? Tanja and Bernd from UPPS didn't want to give up their good anchor spot in Farm Cove by the Sydney Opera House, so they braved the busy traffic in the harbor in their dinghy! Talk about risking life and limb. On a normal day crossing the harbor is hazardous, but to do it in a dinghy on NYE is very brave. They arrived a bit breathless and overwhelmed to see the crowd that had gathered aboard Destiny. This was so exciting! We think they all wanted to meet Karen. She was in Heaven. We had so many friends, ice chests and platters of food on board it was tough to get around. How blessed and fortunate we felt to have attracted this many good friends. As dusk approached, several of the others returned to their own yachts to watch the parade. It was even more spectacular than last NYE. At 9:00 the early show began. Tanja and Bernd wanted to get as close as possible to the front line for a better view and jumped into their dinghy. Immediately everyone else began piling into theirs and ours. Good idea! I stayed behind to watch the boat because this is a great time for opportunists to make rounds to unattended vessels for a little five-finger discount shopping. I stood on the ice chest and had a fantastic view of the bridge and the fireworks.  For the midnight show, Martin traded places with me. Thankfully several boats had left before midnight, making it a little easier to get around in the dinghy. We sat right out in the middle of the harbor – waves slapping at us furiously, dousing us all to the bone with cold salty water. There goes my silk blouse! The show was even more spectacular than last year's! We blew our little horns, tossed popped our confetti poppers, whooped and hollered! It was unbelievably exciting and beautiful. Returning to Destiny, Pauline and Martin announced they were going to try to get home. Frank took them back over to the ferry wharf where they managed to get a cab. Tanja and Bernd dinghied back across the harbor to Farm Cove. Janet, Alicia and Helen bedded down in the salon. We retired happy with huge smiles and contentedly fell immediately to sleep. It was a New Year that beat all the others we have ever experienced. Goodbye, 2011!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 26th – 28th boxing Day, Sydney/Hobart Race and Karen Gladney Arrives

Early wake-up, drive down to Bobbin Head Marina with Russell, Kate and Tom to meet the others who would be joining us for the ride over to Sydney Harbour to watch the start of the world famous Sydney to Hobart Race. Joining us aboard Tomkat were Crossie, Damo and two of his mates. Following us in their own motor yacht were friends of Russell's from Perth.  Jan wisely opted for peace and quiet at home.  Tomcat was fully stocked with a large assortment of food and drinks. Russell provisions for two days what we stock for 2 weeks! Once on board we eased our way to the entrance of Broken Bay where Russell put the pedal to the metal and we shot like a cannon ball over to Sydney Harbor, going about 26 knots. What a ride! His yacht is not only beautiful; it is what my daughter would call badass. He took us all the way up to Middle Harbour, dropped us at Destiny and was back at Spring Cove in less time than it would have taken us to get halfway to the entrance of Sydney Harbor from Bobbin Head. We boarded Destiny and set off to join the others at Spring Cove.  Once we got underway I turned on Skype to call my family back home because today would Christmas for all of them. I managed to reach everyone but my daughter by the time we were scheduled to board Tomkat that would take us out to the start of the race. Disappointingly, I took Frank over in the dinghy, dropped him off and returned to Destiny where I opted to keep trying Jennifer on Skype rather than go out to watch the racers. Because of the time difference here to Houston, if I'd gone with the others it would be much too late to call Houston when we returned. I did manage to get Jen on the phone just as the racing boats left Sydney Harbour. It was well worth missing the race in order to wish Jennifer and Trace Merry Christmas.

The gang returned some hours later looking a bit haggard. Apparently Russ was pushing Tomkat so hard that a few of the guests got a bit sick. Frank described it as a death-defying ride out through the heads trying to keep up with the fleet. Seriously? Russell's Riviera trying to keep up with sailing yachts? These babies are fast! Frank told me that they were speeding past foolish onlookers who had ventured out in kayaks and dinghies that literally got tumbled in the churning waves that the multitude of yachts tossed up. He said aboard Tomkat they were all having a devil of a time holding on, much less taking photos. Eventually all of the youngsters departed leaving just us, Russell, Crossie and the other yacht to a quiet evening. We brought steaks over to grill on Tomkat where the 6 of us settled in for a feast. After dinner, Frank and I retired to Destiny. Sometime during the night a storm brewed, waking us out of a sound sleep. We awoke to hear motors and anchor chains working all around us. Apparently boats are dragging. We popped our heads up to note that Tomkat and many of the others had moved. We stayed firmly planted – thanks to our Rocna!

Frank and I moved over to Blackwattle Bay early Tuesday to get grocery shopping and laundry done in preparation for Karen's arrival. Over the past week we had been putting together a "welcome to Australia" gift pack for Karen. So far we had a basket filled with what we considered to be Aussie icons: Tim Tams, Cherry Ripes, melting moments, a photo book of Oz, a little koala and a koozie with Aussie characters on it, a personalized pen and tote bag. I think there were some other things in there but can't remember it all now. That afternoon, Mark phoned offering to pick Karen up at the airport – what a guy!

December 28th, Karen's flight was scheduled to arrive at 7:30 AM. Mark drove us to the terminal, dropped us off and waited off premises while we went in to the international arrivals area to meet Karen. We stood poised with cameras in hand to catch her walking under the "Welcome to Sydney" banner.  She finally popped out around 8:45, all smiles and hugs! We stuffed her bags into the back of Mark's SUV and took off. Mark the consummate host, gave Karen a little driving tour of Sydney on the way back, even stopping off at his favorite French bakery for us to pick up a couple dozen frozen croissants. This is where I bought Karen her first Lamington. She liked it a lot. After getting her things stowed on board Destiny, we set off for town.

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 16 – 25, 2011 – Christmas Parties and Celebrations, Aussie Style!!!

Middle Harbour Yacht Club is becoming a big part of our lives. We have become very attached to its group of members; so much in fact that we joined, thanks to the encouragement of the Tuppenny girls Ruth and Gillie. December 16th we attended the MHYC Christmas party and seafood extravaganza. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with several of the yachties with whom we had spent the previous Easter weekend over at Broken Bay. The evening was festive; the atmosphere charged with the holiday spirit, the attendees were friendly and outgoing. The seafood extravaganza was truly delicious. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with everyone, including Santa, and later on singing carols together. Toward the end of the evening Colin, Scott and the gang asked us if we were going up to Sugarloaf Bay on the 17th for the Christmas parade of lights? They were planning a big raft up and potluck dinner. We eagerly agreed to join them. Sugarloaf is up toward Bantry Bay and Cammeray. The parade was nice, but not as engaging as the group of friends that converged on Shazaam! Scott and Colin always host the most engaging and hilarious social gatherings. People naturally gravitate to Shazaam! whenever she is part of an event. I love these guys and feel a real ache thinking of leaving Australia in a few months.
December 20th Mark and Heather sponsored an IPY owner's dinner at a trendy Asian restaurant in Balmoral where we met another couple of 485 owners, Dimitri and Arti who live in Sydney. They are planning a circumnav the other direction, taking off from Sydney. OOOH! We wish them well. After dinner we all retired to Mark and Heather's splendiferous penthouse overlooking Rozelle Bay for a game of cards. Oh no, we played "Oh Shit!" I am terrible at this game. As usual I was the big loser but we had a fantastic evening nonetheless.
December 24th we joined the Cammeray Yacht Club's Christmas potluck luncheon where we ran into some old acquaintances (Nine of Cups) and met new ones. Consistent with last year's feast, the food was so good we literally stuffed ourselves. I took a Mexican 7-layer Dip, surprising myself at finding enough ingredients to make it work. I found that if I smashed some cannellini beans with some chili powder and taco seasoning then refried them in a skillet I could come up with a reasonable substitute for refritos (and much healthier I'm sure). The dip was a big success. We did not stick around for the afternoon festivities because we had a date with a train at 4 PM. This required sailing back to Middle Harbour, getting fastened onto a mooring and catching the bus into Sydney. If we orchestrated all according to plan we would arrive at Russell and Jan's house in Asquith in time for Christmas Eve dinner. We had been invited to spend an authentic Aussie Christmas with their family.  Everything fell into synch, putting us at the Meggitt home at 6:00 PM.  We settled in to the guest room complete with little filled stockings on our pillows, and then visited and ate a light dinner with Jan, Russell, Kate and Tom, followed by Kate's home made Pavlova, yummmm!
December 25th – Merry Christmas! Ho, Ho, Ho from Then Land Down Under! Santa managed to track us down, bringing some special Aussie gifts to us: a set of Australian floral placemats depicting varieties of the indigenous eucalypt/gum tree flowers, a local cookbook entitled "Slices of Asquith" and a set of children's books depicting Aussie characters for the traditional ones such as Goldilocks and the Three Koalas. Santa is so clever! I took family gifts for them I'd purchased at some of the local Christmas markets. After the gift exchanging Jan, Kate and I headed out for a walk in the neighborhood whilst Frank and Russell sought out the cold beer. Debbie and Crossie, Jan and Russ's close neighbor friends joined us for Christmas dinner. Jan's dining room was decked out beautifully. Kate had set the table that proudly displayed her gingerbread house as the centerpiece. Dinner was wow! A leg of lamb roast, pork roast with crackling, a leg ham (from Debbie and Crossie), roast vegetables, salads, etc. we ate like royalty. The piece de la resistance however was Jan's Christmas pudding. We have never tasted anything so amazing. And we didn't even think we liked pudding. Hers was out of this world. I think she told me she steamed it for nearly 2 days? To top it off she planted a real 6 pence in each of our servings.
After lunch, the boys set off for the backyard to their favorite spot under the big gum tree, while Debbie, Jan, Kate and I sat on the porch for a relaxing chat. Kate's boyfriend Damo (short for Damien I think) stopped by later. They are so cute together! Tom went off to swim. He is a serious contender for a national championship, and swims or works out nearly every waking moment.
We stayed at the Meggitts again Christmas night and planned a very early wakeup call for Monday, Boxing Day which is also the day of the Sydney-Hobart Race.

Friday, December 16, 2011

November 24 (Happy Thanksgiving, America!) - December 15, 2011 in Sydney

Happy Thanksgiving from Sydney Harbour. Just being here is enough to make us feel grateful. We puttered on over to our familiar anchorage at Blackwattle Bay finding it very crowded. We greeted old friends Kim and Andrew on Artful Dodger, phoned Mark and Heather and Pauline and Martin to let them all know we’re here. Immediately our calendar got booked with lunches, dinners and coffees. I was anxious to hook up with all of them.
December 4, Mark Dent phoned to ask if we were up to a spontaneous road trip. There is an SUV he wanted to test drive for the week and needed to take it on the road. We readily agreed that we could be packed to go the next morning. He and Heather showed up with two vehicles: the one they were planning to “test” and another SUV which he explained is his mother’s car that needs to be driven because it apparently sits in the garage too much. Mark armed us with road maps and an overview of our destination. We will drive/follow them up into the Hunter Valley as far as Gloucester, then loop over to Singleton where we have a two-bedroom apartment booked for the night. We hopped in and followed them out to a beautiful drive on the M1 up the Pacific coast. We passed through picturesque (and at times odd-named) towns, into the lush green valley and much less populated areas of farmland, hills and mining country. Arriving in Singleton, we had difficulty finding a place open for dinner. Monday night the only eatery available was a pub. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time to an old east Texas honky-tonk town. There were a lot of Bubbas in here, and a few Bubbettes! Yee-haw, we had a good time. The meal was a bit under par, but the atmosphere was priceless. Returning to our very nice apartment, Mark broke out a set of playing cards and as he shuffled he asked what was our pleasure? Frank insisted on teaching us Hearts. We were having a fairly good time until he slammed us with some surprise rules and beat us all to a pulp. Funny how the rules kept changing in his favor wink, wink. Tuesday morning we set off to breakfast at a beautifully trendy antique, floral and collector shop that housed a small café in back. Then we hit the road – Putty Road back along the quicker inland route to Sydney. What a marvelous trip! What marvelous friends. But then, we find all of our Aussie friends are marvelous.
On our return Frank tended to do bloke jobs while I spent time with girlfriends. Pauline and I occupied an entire day out shopping one day and then she invited Frank and I to join her for dinner with her very close friend Janet. We ate Thai at “Atom” in Newtown, and found this to be one worthy of a return visit. Frank and I hit it off straight away with Janet. She would become part of our inner circle of Aussie friends.
We took great pleasure discovering new areas of Sydney Harbour, from Manly to 40-Baskets Beach, Iron Cove, Double Bay, Elizabeth Bay, Farm Cove, Middle Harbour all the way up into the secluded and beautiful Bantry Bay and back to Blackwattle. Discovering Sydney in this way is a delight that few travelers will enjoy when they make a trip Down Under. We continue to count our blessings as we explore this city that has much, much more to offer than a bridge and an opera house.
We passed a fair amount of time back and forth to Birkenhead Point where there is a large outlet mall, chandlery and in general good shopping. Mostly we enjoyed the plentiful walking and jogging trails here, and at just about everywhere along the shore in Sydney. The “Manly to The Spit” hike is one of the most popular and one which we did many times. Another favorite of ours is the Coogee to Bondi. Janet lives in Coogee.
The following week while we were anchored at Rose Bay Pauline and Martin picked us up for a drive down to Cronulla, Port Hacking and Botany Bay. Martin wanted us to see the areas we had been thinking of sailing to, explaining that it is good to see it before going all that way in the boat. It was a beautiful drive, along which he also showed us some of the fairly large custom homes he had built around there. We ended the day with dinner at an excellent Greek restaurant in downtown Sydney. The next morning Frank and I watched the Sydney-Hobart race boats doing practice runs just out the harbor from us. Some of them are simply magnificent to watch up close and personal. What a thrill it is to be here – seriously we keep pinching ourselves. That afternoon we decided to get going to Middle Harbour. Rose Bay is nice but with all the traffic of ferries and seaplanes it gets to be a bit too much.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 19 – 24, 2011- Broken Bay, NSW

Nov 19 - Visibility returned after a couple of hours as we sailed to Broken Bay, going with the current for a good part of it. We called ahead to alert (ha ha, warn) Russell and Jan Meggitt that we were on our way. Russ said to meet them at their mooring ball where we would raft with TomKat for the night. We can always count on them for a good time. Kate was fishing off the back of TomKat as Jan relaxed with a glass of wine on the back deck looking beautiful as always. Several of their friends had joined them onboard for happy hour. Russell was leaning against the side laughing with a beer in his hand. This is so typical of these our wonderful Aussie friends. We enjoyed a really nice visit with them and then as darkness settled in we all retired to our own quarters to prepare dinner.

Sunday mid-morning, Nov 20th, we set off for Pittwater but as we turned the corner from America Bay out toward the entrance to Broken Bay we were engulfed in fog that was twice as dense as that coming out of Newcastle! This was scary. We could not even see our own mast. Eerily we could hear engines about us indicating powerboats nearby although we could see none of them until after we felt the roll of their wake. What I feared most was encountering another sailing yacht that we would not hear until it was upon us. We crept as slowly as possible keeping the radar active and all running and deck lights on. After 45 tense minutes we eventually began to see clear patches ahead, although the fog remained thick about us all the way over to Pittwater. What would ordinarily have been about an hour journey lasted a nerve-wracking 3 ½. We arrived at Pittwater in the mid afternoon, searched out a courtesy mooring and not unexpectedly ended up dropping the hook over by Currawong Beach. It is rainy, rainy, ugly.

Early Monday morning we moved across the bay to Palm Beach. When the rain diminished to a misty dribble we set off for shore. Gotta get those legs moving. We ambled over to the ocean side of Palm Beach and onto the set of one of the local TV dramas being filmed. This is the set for "Home and Away". Wow they were filming! We watched a few scenes being filmed and walked around past several of the actors. A few said "Hello" or "G'Day" to us. It was real cool hanging out right there on the set! There was no security to run us off, so I snapped photos of some of the actors performing their scenes, while employing evasive maneuvers to get away from the (literally) hundreds of flies that were besieging us. How in the heck do the actors stand it? This is awful, but it was fun. After a while, in spite of the thrill, we just couldn't take the flies any longer so we walked down the way to a little café that appeared to be serving some very nice food. We ordered and then sat down to immediately become savaged by the pesky flies again. Lunch was delicious but overshadowed by the annoyance of our uninvited guests. We set off to walk back to the other side of the bay and back to Palm Beach - then it started to rain. Again. We began hurrying back to the boat when Frank's flip-flop blew out. He was forced to walk the last mile barefooted. Tough guy. We didn't make it back to Destiny before the heavens heaped driving rain on us.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we were absolutely rained in and getting tired of this.  At mid-day we decided to make a break for Sydney. There is just no point sitting here boat-bound. So we weighed anchor and hit it for Sydney Harbour, arriving at Quarantine Bay in late afternoon. The weather was clear and beautiful!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nov 12 – 19, 2011 – Newcastle, NSW, and Some Very Tragic News

On Saturday we left Port Stephens at 11:30 for Newcastle. It was a relatively uneventful day, other than the regulator continually blowing out the new fuses. Great! We'll just have to deal with that when we arrive in Newcastle.

Nearly the entire time we were here this trip it rained, and rained and rained. Sunday, my first order of business was laundry. I had 6 loads of it piled up so I lugged it all to the laundry room at the marina where I knew I would spend the entire day because there is only one dryer. I was settled in reading a book when Frank popped his head in. He had a very strange look on his face that telegraphed something not good. He said, "Barb, I have some very sad news. Jan from Triple Stars has been washed overboard at sea en route to Bermuda. There are rescue efforts but she has not been found." I sat stunned in a state of disbelief for several minutes. Then when the impact of his words hit me I felt a physical stab of pain strike my solar plexus as though I'd been actually punched, and then I burst into tears. I remember thinking, "This cannot be! No! No! No! This is all wrong! Jan is the safest sailor I know!" She taught ME about safety as sea. She and I had just emailed one another a few days ago as they were making their way with the rally to Bermuda. I knew the weather had turned, but I had no idea it had built to 30-foot seas and that they were helplessly hove-to just one day off the Bermuda coast. They were so close. Then I asked Frank, "What about Rob?" Frank said that Rob has been rescued and was off the boat; Triple Stars was set adrift. (In spite of the "post date", I am actually writing this several months later because it is so painful to recall. I am in fact choking up now and feel the bile rising in my throat at the memory.) Triple Stars set adrift? Rob rescued? This must mean they are not looking real hard for Jan to take these drastic steps. Jan was never found. My beautiful friend is gone and this is all I can write about this.

Thank goodness for the rain, maybe. I was numb for a long while. I spent a lot of time in prayer. Eventually the sun returned and thanks to Frank's encouragement we did take some nice walks. We found a marvelous Farmers Market that is held most Sundays at the Broadmeadow Showground in the morning until 1:00 PM. I'm glad we went. It broke me out of my funk for a little while.

Frank continued his dialogue with the mechanic over the mystery of the regulator. It's a blur to me now and I just let him focus on that. I almost just didn't care. I was at a real low point, and having difficulty really focusing on anything. Besides I was and am sick and tired of things breaking down.

We left Newcastle November19th on a very foggy morning. Visibility was NIL. Gee, what a dismal start to a passage! Thank God for working instruments.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nov 7 – 11, 2011 – Arrival at Port Stephens in a Raging Storm

November 7th
We are leaving Port this morning, heading south for Port Stephens. Because we have to await the outgoing tide to cross the bar we won't leave before 8:00 am. It is an approx 14-hour trip, so we will be arriving late tonight. The upside is that it is a beautiful day for a sail and forecast is 15-knot winds from the NE. We started out nicely, but soon lost the wind. Where is that 15-knot wind the weather gods promised us? Oh well, we are satisfied that the current is going with us.

We have arrived outside the Port Stephens Heads - it is 10:54 PM. Things got a little hairy the last few hours when a horrendous storm approached from the west (on land), coming our way throwing hail at us and bouts of severe lightening. We had been watching it on radar for some time and praying that we could avoid this ugly thing. As we neared the Heads it seemed to be marching toward us instead of turning south. Captain Frank took us back out to sea while we stayed in constant radio contact with Marine Rescue. The helpful VMR operator gave us updates of the path of the storm. We checked our speed and slowly crisscrossed the offshore coast until finally, and by the Grace of God, the storm passed by allowing us to turn back toward shore, through the Heads and into Port Stephens. God Bless those who were in the path of that thing - it was quite a light show from offshore. I don't think either of us has ever seen so much lightening activity in a concentrated cell like that. Tragically, we knew there were many strikes and almost more tragically it was really quite beautiful. After the storm passed we were left in complete and utter darkness to pick our way through to the anchorage at Nelson Bay.

Tuesday brought lovely blue skies. No one could have imagined the dramatic spectacle that was wrought the night before. We moved over to Shoal Bay, picked up a pink courtesy mooring and then ventured to shore for a long walk along the colorful trails down along the beach and then hiked to top of Tomaree Head. To our surprise there were remains of armament placements where a fort had been built in 1942 and fortified with big guns to protect the headlands from foreign invaders (Japanese I think). It was a very impressive and educational hike to the top. We meandered back down via the golf course, past the dive-bombing white parrots, rainbow lorikeets and cockatoos, the laughing Kookaburras and back to the boat. It truly is peaceful and pretty here, but rolly in the Shoal Beach anchorage. We moved back over to Nelson Bay before nightfall to get away from the rock and roll. Wednesday we went to shore again for a long hike in the direction of Salamander Bay. Thursday it was back to boat chores and an afternoon of television to watch the Australian Open.

Friday, Nov 11th we moved Destiny over to Jimmy's beach took the dinghy to shore there and set off on an hour-long walk along the beach across the isthmus to the ocean side at Providence Bay where the beach is covered in beautiful fine white sand. Although it was very nice on this side of Port Stephens, the winds made staying here too uncomfortable so we moved over to Bagnalls Beach at Nelson Bay, walked into town for dinner and on the way back got dive-bombed by hundreds of rainbow lorikeets, white macaws. At the end of the day, meanwhile back at the Australian Open, Tiger woods was in 1st place.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Oct 21 – Nov 7, 2011 – Boat Maintenance and a little fun in Port Macquarie

On the 21st, we departed Gold Coast at 5:30 AM, during slack tide intending to sail overnight to Coffs Harbour.  The day was perfect for sailing south for Destiny was making great progress picking up a 2-2.5 knot current that literally pushed us through the night in relative comfort. At times we averaged 9 knots. Toward sunset the winds dropped but for the most part we made incredible mileage through the night.  At 5 AM we realized we would be arriving at Coffs Harbour and rather than sit about in the bay to wait for the marina office to open at 8:30, we pressed on knowing we could make Port Macquarie by mid – late afternoon.  What a great passage! We arrive at the entrance around 2:30 on Oct 22nd, noting the bar was totally flat thank goodness! Fortunately the marina had one available mooring left for us. We hooked up and then went for a long walk into town to stretch out our legs and pick up a few groceries.

Sunday, the 23rd was Rugby World Cup Day – we stayed glued to the TV while New Zealand's All Blacks gave us a thrilling victory over France. What a match! It kept us on the edge of our seats the entire game.

On Monday (24th), while it poured rain we enlisted a mechanic to assess a new little problem.  The house batteries are no longer charging from the engine and we keep blowing fuses. He determined that our regulator is shot and ordered a new one. What grieves me so much about this is that the cost is beyond outrageous. The price of a replacement ran approximately 4 times the cost of the one in West Marine's catalogue.  What's even more upsetting is it must be shipped from Sydney at an extra $200+. Had we been in a position obtain one from West Marine we would have, but we needed it now. Frank disconsolately instructed the mechanic to place the order. Our short stay in Port (as the locals call it) would be stretched to over 2 weeks. It is a darn good thing this is one of our favorite towns in NSW.

It rained and rained the next several days. We made short trips into town for provisions but otherwise amused ourselves tackling never ending boat chores. We played a lot of card games and watched a lot of television. What else is a retired couple expected to do?

On the prettier days we took lots of long walks up along the coast – eating at our favorite pub, Finnian's for lunch (best $10 steak on the east coast).  One of my favorite walks is down to Flynn's beach. Just across the street is a great second-hand bookstore/coffee shop.

October morphed into November as we continue to await arrival of our regulator. No matter the weather has not been conducive to moving south anyway and we are quite comfortable here. Tuesday, November 1 was Melbourne Cup Day (like our Kentucky Derby). I had a haircut appointment and didn't care much about the race, so while I set off for the beauty shop, Frank headed over to the local gaming club to watch the event. Sitting in the hair salon awaiting my appointment I amused myself watching all the ladies dressed to the 9's, heads adorned with extravagant hats and fascinators heading in the direction of the club. Frank was in for a real show.

Friday, November 4th we were all set with new regulator and a fistful of fuses. We stopped by the marina office to check out, intending to make a Saturday morning departure. The marina manager smiled as he said, "You won't be going anywhere Saturday morning, Mate. The entire anchorage is used as the Iron Man swim course." He further informed us that we should be up very early – say 5 a.m. – to assist the Maritime boat when he comes by to tie us off out of the way of the course. We were exited at the prospect of being up close and personal in the Iron Man Competition and happily agreed to awaken very early in cooperation.

We eagerly awoke at 5 a.m. on Saturday, Nov 6th brewed a pot of coffee and set ourselves at the ready. Surprisingly Maritime didn't show until nearly 6:20. One man hurriedly tried to push our stern around with the bow of the Maritime vessel in order to tie us out of the way of the racecourse. Just as he secured us to the stern buoy, along came an official yelling to cut us loose! He was the lead kayak directing the elite swimmers around Destiny. The poor Maritime official quickly dropped the line just in time for the lead swimmer to pass our starboard side. And this is how Destiny got to be smack dab in the middle of an Iron Man Triathlon swim course. We delighted sitting on our deck chairs, sipping coffee and cheering the swimmers on. We got some good photos of the participants and the safety officials. After the swim we jumped into the dinghy and made for shore to watch the rest of the events. It was a beautiful day and an exciting one to end our stay in Port.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

October 11 - 20, 2011 - Gold Coast, Storms and Frank’s Broken Toe

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
We left Dockside at around 9 AM, heading for Peel Island. We managed to sail for most of the journey over to Peel Island. My allergies are really giving me a hard time, so I had to hit the inhaler twice. After a while dizziness overcame me and so I went below for some rest hoping that would help me to feel better. I can tell Frank is suffering as well. We are both coughing a fair bit and he is sneezing while I am wheezing.  He finally woke me around 2 PM to tell me we were real close to the anchorage at Peel Island. There were numerous boats already here, in fact more than we have ever seen, possibly due to the northerlies, making it very calm here right now.  Still feeling very dizzy I managed to get the anchor set and returned to the cockpit where we sat to watch the various boats weave in and out. Eventually the day faded as we enjoyed a very colorful sunset – unlike any we have seen for a while. It was a beautiful evening and the most comfortable night we've ever spent at this anchorage.
Wednesday, October 12
We awoke at 5:15 AM, slurped some coffee into our systems and got underway by 6:00,  so that we could travel the Broadwater with the incoming tide. We needed to time our arrival at Jacob's Well at 10:00 – high tide. The ride was better than any other previous journey up or down this stretch of waterway. We spotted a couple of dredgers along the way, so perchance it is because they are keeping it well dredged or we timed the rising tide just right. Perhaps it was a little of both. We arrived at Mariner's Cove marina at mid-day. The current was fierce. 
Russell, the marina manager, stood ready to take our dock-lines and although he had assigned us a large unoccupied berth, Frank had a terrible fight getting Destiny into the slip. Just as I had tossed Russell the midship spring-line and was running for the bow, the current grabbed Destiny pushing our stern away and around up against the high bow of a huge motor yacht in the berth on the other side of the finger. Frank was laying on Destiny's bow thruster but the current was just too much for our full-keeled boat. We heard the crunch of our dinghy up against the anchor hanging off the bowsprit of a large yacht. Thank God the dinghy was up on the davit, acting as a fender protecting both our boat and the other one. At the same time Russell was trying to guide us in with the spring-line.  Despite our concerted efforts, the strong current forced our hull up against the outside corner of the slip. I watched in horror as it dug into the hull and continued to seemingly carve a deep gash just above our waterline as we moved forward. I leaned into the pylon at the end of the finger, trying to push us off but it was just no use. I doubt the Incredible Hulk could have been much help. While this is all happening, Russell is trying to guide us in with just one line; fighting the current, shouting directives to Frank with me pushing with all my might as Frank is calmly trying to keep us in one piece, a group of nosey onlookers stood around gawking. They attracted more onlookers as they commented and giggled at our struggles, apparently more interested in watching a possible catastrophe than offering to assist us. Not one of them offered a hand or even a kind word of encouragement. When we finally got safely tied in, the group disbanded. Destiny is not gouged, but we do have a rather ugly 8-10 foot scrape running along the hull. We are hoping on closer inspection to find that it can be buffed out.  We were exhausted and a little shaken from the effort. Russell told Frank to just take it easy and come by the office tomorrow to formally check in. 
It is a beautiful day and rather than sitting around to ruminate on this last debacle Frank wants to go for a walk I really wanted to as well especially because it is supposed to rain for the next few days but I am suffering again with this inability to breathe. I feel as though there is a huge band around my lungs that just won't let me get air into them. I don't think I can handle walking around breathing in all this pollen. Maybe the rain will do something to help.
Thursday, Oct 13th
We went for a walk to Australia Fair, bought some groceries and browsed the mall. Caught the bus back. My breathing is a little better today.
Friday, Oct 14th
No rain yet so we spent the day applying wax to topside gelcoat and stainless, then took a walk out to the Surf Club. Pollen seems to have settled down.
Saturday, Oct 15th
We continued with the waxing, then Frank stubbed his already bad toe – broke it – sticking straight out sideways. It immediately began turning various colors of green and black. I told him it now resembled a fat little gherkin! He told me to just pull it back into socket thinking it was just out of joint. I shuddered as I took hold of his toe and began to manipulate it back into place. It felt like mush. I stopped and told him there is no way it is out of joint; he has done a real number on it this time. A neighbor named Pete on a vessel called The Lady drove us to Gold Coast hospital. This place is as filthy and as derelict as the ER room in Noumea. I suppose this is what tax-payor dollars get for the public health care system. 
After 4 hours Frank was still awaiting x-ray of his foot. Outside we could hear a storm building as wind howled. It looked bad outside and realizing we had left hatches open, tops off cleaning solution bottles and all manner of cleaning/waxing materials out on the deck of Destiny in our rushed departure to the hospital, Frank sent me walking back to boat I didn't have my purse and no money for cab fare. I got about a kilometer away from the hospital when a twister kicked up out of nowhere throwing debris all about, nearly sweeping me away. I crab-walked to safety behind a building and then ran over to Australia Fair shopping center where I missed the bus by just two minutes. I ducked inside the large glass doors and watched the storm rage. The sky turned an eerie shade of green the storm continued to build for about 30 minutes. The buses must have stopped running because there was no traffic about. People continued to pour into the shopping center, terrified with crying children in tow. Eventually traffic reappeared and I managed to catch the 4:30 bus back to marina. I arrived at 5 and began closing hatches and tossing things into the cockpit that hadn't been blown away. Amazingly the jug of wax was still sitting uncovered and the top nearby. Frank called at about this time reporting he was done and on his way back.  All they did was x-ray, confirm it certainly was broken and then taped it to the next toe, handed him a bill to pay and sent him on his way. No care advice, no RX for pain meds, anti inflammatories or anti-infection. He caught the bus home and arrived by 6. I pulled out the remains of meds from my New Caledonia hospital visit handed them over to him and started to cook dinner.
Sunday, Oct 16th
In the morning we strolled the local fresh market that was set up just in the marina parking lot. Although very small this is one of the best markets we have seen perhaps because it is not mingled with junk, it is simply stocked with local fresh foods. On return to the boat I ordered Frank off his foot and resumed my chores.
Monday, Oct 17th
Scott and Muriel picked us up – took us for a drive to Byron Bay a beach community that is famous for being trendy, artsy and full of "hip new agers".  It was a rainy and dreary day so we were not afforded the opportunity to see what all the fuss was about but we did have a very good lunch and then drove down to lovely Ballina. Sunshine interspersed with the cloud cover allowing us to get off a few good snapshots. Being with Scott and Muriel is always good fun no matter what we are doing. Frank enjoyed a day away from the boat where I was holding him prisoner.
Tuesday, Oct 18th 
Frank's toe was giving him less trouble and we resumed chores.
Wed., Oct 19th
We took bus to Pacific Fair and then stopped for lunch at our favorite Chinese restaurant, Ming Palace. Afterward we tried for a short stroll but Frank's foot was really hurting so we came back to boat. To be fair he really broke that toe and should be moving around as he does especially in flip flops but he isn't one to just sit around.
Thursday, 20th 
Rain, rain go away! It poured and poured. We watched movies, read books and played cards. When the weather breaks we are breaking out of here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October 5 - 10, 2011 - A little of This and a Little of That Around Brisbane

Wednesday, October 5
Walked into town (via the Story Bridge) to the Queen Street Market. Ate our way through the market, stocked up on fresh baked breads, fruits, vegetables and fresh pastas and gnocchi from Enzo. Then Frank's toe is still taped up and was getting quite sore so he took the lion's share of groceries back with him on the ferry while I walked back over the Story Bridge.  I am loving this walk-er-size!
Thursday, Oct. 6
No walking for Frank today. His  toe was swollen so I re-taped it for him and nagged him to put his foot up. We didn't do too much but straighten up the boat.
Friday, October 7
Frank was feeling fit. We had a nice long walk from Kangaroo Point past the Gabba to the Norman Hotel for lunch. It boasts being Brisbane's worst vegetarian restaurant. We will attest that it is true. We shared a large eye fillet (filet mignon) dinner which left us absolutely stuffed. Definitely the best steak we have laid money on. We left The Norman, wandering about until we found out way over to Southbank, then crossed the bridge to Queen Street where we did a little shopping and then walked back through town to catch the ferry back across the river to Kangaroo Point. We put in a LOT of MILES this day.
Saturday, October 8. 2011
Awoke to rain – lots of rain. Frank spent much of the day perusing West Marine's catalogue for supplies and electronics that we need to upgrade and update our systems. I spent it cleaning the boat and cleaning out my emails, sent an update to the blog from last April. Gee am I behind or what?!
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Today we walked across the Story Bridge into China town, then out to Fortitude Valley for lunch at Tartufo (recommended by Enzo, our fresh pasta man). Our meal was outstanding. We shared a plate of homemade funghi tortelloni and a wild rocket salad with shaved parmesano and toasted pine nuts – yum! Afterward we needed to walk off the cream sauce so we set off straight down Ann St., all the way through town to the river. The Jacaranda trees and all species of other beauties are in full bloom painting our path as though we were in a Monet. It is such a beautiful time to be in Brisbane. I am so happy we are here early enough to enjoy this emergence of springtime! We crossed the river at the Queen St. Bridge. Frank sat for a beer and to watch rugby World Cup (Austalia vs S. Africa) at the Plough Inn while I browsed the Southbank market and took pictures. At halftime we walked back to Destiny and collapsed for a foot soak and to watch the end of the game. Wallabies beat the Springboks 11-9! We figure we walked about 10 miles. I am beginning to have some serious issues with allergies though.
Monday, October 10
 Bad allergies – difficulty breathing for me in spite of using the inhaler and taking antihistamines. Just not up to walking today. The Pollen count is very high right now. Too bad because it is our last day in Brisbane before we head south.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sept. 21 - Oct. 4, 2011 - Mooloolaba - Tangalooma - Brisbane and Visits From Friends

We were excited to return to Mooloolaba and its upbeat trendy atmosphere. There is something magical about this place that just feels good. It doesn't hurt that the beaches are world-class and the eateries and shopping are good here. Scott and Muriel Spencer had driven up from Brisbane for a short holiday in Mooloolaba at the same time. We dined with them at the Surf Club and at Thai Seasons and then one day they drove us up to beautiful Noosa where we spent a few hours on the beach. They left a few days later and then on Sept. 28th, Jan and Russell Meggitt came to stay with us. We had arranged for them to sail with us back down to Brisbane.
Jan's sister Kerri Scholmm lives in nearby Buderim. Kerri and her husband Erwin joined us that first night for happy hour on Destiny and then Thai Seasons for dinner. Kerri and Jan are like a vaudeville act when together, and Erwin is full of life. Fortunately as in-laws the four of them get along famously making it a great evening of laughter and friendship. Jan and I met Kerri the next two mornings for an invigorating walk along the foreshore, followed by coffee at a local cafe and then either shopping or heading to the beach, or both. Frank and Russell made several trips to the hardware store and to the Mooloolaba Surf Club bar. We always knew where to find those two. Poor Erwin had to work. I'm sure is liver appreciated that. On October 1, we sailed back to Moreton Island, eager to share it with Jan and Russell.
As we entered the bay we joined the whales that we had been observing from shore moving along the coastline all week. This is the time of year they migrate into warmer waters with their young. Moreton Bay is not very deep between Moololaba and Moreton Island, so whale spotting was easy. Getting photos was not. They put on a real show stopper performance for us tossing their babies up into the air and pirouetting up out of the water, frolicking like children all through the bay. This must be a popular playground for them, it sure was a treat for us.
We arrived at Tangalooma with plenty of daylight to head to shore. Jan and I packed up books to read and beach paraphernalia. Frank and Russell went on their own hike to find a cool beer. That evening the anchorage became extremely rocky, and by the next morning winds had shifted around from the southwest bringing thunderheads and gray skies at mid morning. This is not good. The bay was chopping up such that we realized we had to get the heck out of there. Smaller craft were bobbing and tossing about violently. We weighed anchor and beat into the bay. It was not a good ride into Brisbane. The water churned, the grey sky turned black as thunderheads built into a storm that slammed us all the way to Brisbane River. Fortunately this is not Jan and Russell's first rodeo. They are power yacht owners and no strangers to this kind of boating. We happily snugged up to the berth at Dockside and breathed a huge sigh of relief that nothing and no-one was broken. 

Monday, October 3, we awoke leisurely, then strolled down to Southbank. Kerri's daughter, Inga lives in Brisbane. Jan phoned her, found that she was free for lunch so we invited her to join us at Frank's favorite pub The Plough Inn. After lunch Jan and I took a walk leaving the boys to their cold beer and Bloke talk. We walked through the lovely gardens and exhibits around Southbank then past the Maritime Museum where Jessica Watson's Pink Lady is now on permanent outdoor display. We eventually ended up back at Dockside and settled aboard thinking about what to do for dinner. They guys didn't show for a long while. It was dark when they returned so dinner was a casual affair.
Tuesday, October 4, we awoke at 4:35 AM to see Russell and Jan off. Frank stayed awake after that but I returned to bed until 8:00. We then tidied up and I mentioned going for a long walk, but Frank said that he had hit his toe the previous night while he and Russell were out and about visiting on another boat. It was very swollen and looked as though he had broken it this time. He could not possibly get a shoe on it so he taped it up and he took it easy for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 17 - 20, 2011 - Moreton Island & Tangalooma

Just across Moreton Bay from Brisbane lies Moreton Island, a sand island whose crystal blue waters and ivory colored sand beaches attract masses of day-trippers from the Brisbane area. They flock to the island in various forms of watercraft for either a day at the beach, a few days on the hook or for a veritable vacation. Large commercial motor cats ferry pedestrian and vehicle passengers over several times a day as well, pouring 4WD's onto the sand tracks and suitcase toting vacationers. There is a small settlement here called Tangalooma which hosts a resort, a very small convenience store and a couple of restaurants. The big attractions here are the towering sand dunes where those wishing to hike up the hill of soft cascading sand (too much effort four us old farts) can toboggan back down to the water's edge, and the Tangalooma Wrecks which form an artificial breakwater for the anchorage and diving opportunities for those wanting to drop several hundred dollars into the coffers of the tour operators. It is very beautiful, albeit very busy. If you can tolerate a rocky rolly anchorage, full of zipping little watercraft then it is a worthwhile trip out here.
We enjoyed a long walk far down the beach away from the hustle bustle to find ourselves a private spot to enjoy the sun and sand. I found a large plastic plate that had washed up onto the shore which I filled with pretty starfish that littered the beach. We spent 3-1/2 days swimming and lolling about here, witnessing spectacular sunsets and acting like locals before heading up to Mooloolaba.

Friday, September 16, 2011

September 4 - 16, 2011; Manly and Brisbane

Returning to Destiny, we unpacked our clothes outside in the cockpit because everything was covered in red dust. I spent the next day laundering to get the red out. The hiking shoes were another challenge altogether but eventually came clean. With the weather warming and while we were in a relatively calm marina we began a little bit of maintenance work on the boat. Waxing is always needed. Paul and Lei ellen on "Gato Go" were in one of the nearby marinas, so we met them a couple of times for dinner. Then one day, Scott and Muriel came by in their car to rescue us from our labors. They took us on a day trip down the coast. We love it when they get bored because they always want to drive somewhere with us.
On September 8th, weather and tides were right for us to move up the river to Dockside Marina in Brisbane. I've said before how much I love it there and was excited to be getting out of Manly. It's an all day trip and we knew that we would not be able to arrive at "nil tide". Fortunately there was an end berth available for us to tie to until 7 PM when the tide would go slack. As we passed the marina to make the turn back up river, I thought I was seeing an apparition. At the end of one of the arms sat a large St. Frances catamaran named O'Vive!  I yelled back at Frank to check it out - how could it be? Dave and Nathalie had shipped her back to Florida from New Zealand two years ago. Had they turned right around and sailed here??? As I was pointing at her, a man came out on deck, pointing his binoculars at us and then started waving his arms. My gosh it was Dave! He came over as we were just getting the dock lines looped to the  cleats. What a sight for sore eyes. He explained to us that after returning home he put O'Vive! on the market. An Aussie couple had come along and bought her. They somehow engaged Dave to deliver her to Brisbane. He did it in 4 months of hard sailing with a small crew. He had just arrived the day before us and now had the new owners on board. They were leaving soon for Yamba. Well, what do you know? We are constantly surprised by the twists and turns of destiny.

The Jacarandas were just coming into flowering season, lining Dockside's boardwalk with varying shades of lavender blooms. We enjoyed walking all over Brisbane nearly every day. As I have said it is an extremely walkable city. Several times we trekked over the Story Bridge into China town for a meal. Many days we strolled to South Bank just for the exercise or a dip in the beautiful pools. The weather is still very cool at night and not quite warm enough for shorts during the day (except for Frank who wears shorts year round). We spent lots of time with Scott and Muriel, meeting them and their daughter Lauren and her boyfriend Will for dinner. Wednesday we walked to the Queen Street market for fresh groceries, pasta and baked goods.  Being springtime, however, there was a lot of rain.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September 3rd, 2011 - Final day in Yulara - Sunrise at Uluru (Ayers Rock)

As we boarded the bus for sunrise at Ayers Rock I thought to myself, thank goodness this is our last early wake-up call for a while. We saved a seat for Martin and Pauline, but Pauline arrived solo, reporting that Martin is so sick this morning he can't get out of bed. You know someone is really feeling ill to forfeit this trip. We arrived at the Rock in darkness, swallowed more instant coffee, ate a biscuit and lumbered over to the staging area to find a clear view of Uluru for sunrise photos. People crowded around jockeying for position with their tripods and their small groups. It was more of a free-for-all than we had anticipated, not at all as organized as the sunset viewing. Frank was soon fed up with the crowd and set off in pursuit of a spot away from the masses. I stuck by Pauline, but eventually lost her in the crowd. Frank came back for me and led me down a short path to a perfect site that no one else seemed to have discovered - must be his acute sense of navigational prowess that led him there. It was almost haunting to be standing there in the desert in near darkness looking out toward this hulking mass as it came alive under the faintest hint of sunrise at our backs. Shadows faded to reveal shapes that appeared along the face, one in particular looked like a pair of lips that became a smile. It was such an amazing experience that I couldn't decide whether to take pictures or to just enjoy it. Not long after the sun broke the horizon we were loaded back into the bus and carted over to the base of Uluru. Up close it is more than impressive. It is very colorful as well, which surprised us even further. The textures and shadows that we had seen from afar were actual deep crevices, caves and at parts freestanding boulders. The face is not smooth but pitted and textured. There is a lake at the base of one side that's obscured within the surrounding formation.There are trees and greenery within. We were given a personal tour by a local ranger who rendered a historic account of the Aborigines of the area and their life as it evolved around here. Ayers Rock is sacred and parts of it are forbidden to us, in fact we are told not to gaze upon certain areas of it. He explained meanings of drawings that were still visible in certain protected areas. When he finished the short walking tour, we were given an opportunity to climb the rock. Now here it gets a little weird. The Aborigines do not want climbers on the rock. We were advised against it. However, there is a gate that leads to the climbing area and there were climbers up on the rock. The gate was closed, and entrance blocked with a sign that clearly stated: Climb closed due to high winds at summit. Another sign on the closed gate stated: No Entry Penalties Apply. I guess enforcement is not a big concern in these parts, Mate.  We strolled through the Cultural Center and museum and then were taken on a driving tour around the base. We opted out of the hike around the base because time was becoming an issue for us now. We had a flight to catch in a couple of hours.
All in all we are very happy to have made this journey to the Red Center of Australia. It was an adventure, a spiritual journey and it was the experience of a lifetime. We met two new amazing friends whom we promised to contact when we returned to Sydney on Destiny.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

September 2, 2011 Uluru (Ayers Rock) - Part 2 - Trip to King’s Canyon

September 2nd, we awoke at what felt like the middle of the night, packed the required gear for our trek to King's Canyon, dressed in layers and downed the instant coffee that was in our room before walking out the door to meet the bus. We chatted with the bus driver a bit, making friendly talk while I ruminated on how best to fold my fleece jacket into a pillow for the 4 hour ride to the canyon when he casually mentioned that we had the best seat on the bus for spotting kangaroos, wallabies, camels and other assorted wildlife. My need for sleep took a back seat to my wildlife spotting desires. Now I was wide-eyed and eager. Frank opted for sleep. As I was listening intently to the driver's descriptions of what we might expect to encounter throughout the day's activities my neighbor across the isle and I discovered a common bond: we had someone to chat with while our husbands nodded off. Her name was Pauline, she lived in a suburb of Sydney and we hit it off immediately. We didn't see any kangaroos, but certainly did witness several brushfires burning at random. Our driver told us that these are nearly always burning somewhere and are often deliberate burns, although more often than not they are runaway fires that will take out an entire station before it burns out. Mid morning, we stopped at a cattle station for breakfast. Everything is so remote in this part of Australia that there aren't really rest stops, per se, just very large stations that also offer amenities to the remote traveler. We used the bush toilet and then went to place our food order at the large outdoor dining area. We sat at long tables and our tucker (breakfast) was cooked right there outdoors by a couple of friendly blokes, as I suppose any rancher would arrange for his drovers or whatever the ranch hands are called. It was very good, but once again we were stuck with packets of instant coffee. They just don't do brewed coffee in this country.
We were on a tight schedule and were herded right back onto the bus fairly quickly for we still had quite a long drive ahead. We had traveled nearly 40 minutes when off the side of the road we spotted a herd of Brumbys, wild horses similar to the Mustangs in America. The herd was reasonably large, and apparently a very rare sight according to our driver. I scrambled to grab my camera but by the time it booted up, the Brumbys were long gone.
We finally arrived at King's Canyon. I simply cannot describe this beautiful geological wonder. It is sacred Aboriginal ground and so magical that it boggles the mind. A canyon out in the middle of nowhere and seemingly coming out of nothingness, it is a wonder to behold. The colors and rock formations are so beautiful that although I took many, many photos they just don't do this place justice. We hiked the rim, which is only about a 6 kilometer walk, but takes approximately 4 hours and is not an easy go. The first very steep climb up to the rim is comprised of 500 steps, according to the ranger, and commonly referred to as heart-attack hill. At the halfway point we stopped for a breather. The ranger took this opportunity to evaluate each of us and to help us determine for ourselves whether we were fit to continue. This sent a few of the guests back to the bus. It was rigorous. Frank became red in the face and so winded that I got a little worried. Many people had to make several stops just to breathe. My heart felt it was pounding out of my chest but I couldn't stop or I would lose my momentum, so I stepped around those who were abruptly stopping in the middle of the track and bending over gasping for breath. I did my gasping at the top. Our guide had warned us this was no walk in the park (national park that is). It was well worth the exertion because when we arrived on the rim we were rewarded by the splendor and magnificence of the view. The geology kept changing along the way which enhanced the experience even more. Eventually we arrived at a deep gorge fittingly called The Garden of Eden. Here again Nature revealed her creative side as we left the red, amber, golden and deep brown rocky ridge behind to behold lush greens and tropical palm trees. At the very bottom rested a serene little lake banked on one side by a lovely beach. Other visitors were lounging there and wading into the cool water. How amazing. The birdlife really impressed me, in particular the Bowerbird. The male Bowerbird builds a unique nest/structure, called a "bower", that (to me) resembles a basket with handles sticking up and is comprised of rocks, sticks, colorful objects the brighter the better in order to attract a female. Often the nest contains pretty shells, bits of trash that have a reflective or sparkle bit, coins, etc. The males competing for females will often conduct raids on each other's bowers. It is rare to find one of these nests, and yet we happened upon one just off the trail leading back up the other side of The Garden of Eden. The ranger did not encourage us to leave any sparkly trash for the bird to put into this bower. Another species we saw in here was the Spinifex Pigeon. A pretty little bird with a crested point on top of his head, much like a cardinal.
After this short respite, our legs were beginning to really feel the strain as we hiked back out of the Garden. By now, Pauline and I were hiking mates leaving her husband Martin and Frank pretty much behind. We thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the hike and especially the return part that was all downhill.
Back on the bus. Weary travelers were we all. Round about the half way point of the return journey we stopped at Curtin Springs Cattle Station, 1,028,960 acres BIG. It featured outback campsites, caravan hookups, a bush-style restaurant, a small shop, bush toilets, showers, and even a phone booth. Frank and Martin stumbled thirstily toward the bar. Pauline and I had a look around and settled for ice cream bars. The rest was short enough and soon we were back on the bus heading for Yulara. I finally began to nod off and after a little while, someone yelled, "Camels!" Sure enough, right there just along the roadside was a large herd of camels. The bus must have started them because they took off at a trot. This time I did manage to snap a few shots of the camera before we lost sight of them.
That evening, we met Pauline and Martin for dinner at the Outback Pioneer BBQ and Bar, where you grill your own steak. Outdoor venue, located at one of the local lodges. It was really good! We were draggin by then, so dinner was an early affair, and so was bedtime. Next morning was another 4:30 wake up call to depart for sunrise at The Rock. We were delighted to find that Pauline and Martin were scheduled for that tour as well.

Monday, September 5, 2011

August 27 - September 1, 2011. Brisbane and then Uluru (Ayers Rock)

We arrived back in Brisbane at around 5 AM, cleared Customs and hit the car rental desk as they opened at 6:30. We were happy to have a car for a little while because back in Manly, there was no real transportation other than the train, and the station was a mile walk for us uphill from the marina. Incidentally, there isn't much in Manly other than some resort style cafes and restaurants and a small grocery outlet. We spent the next week happily driving to the grocery store, out to the Spencer's house and just driving in general. By the 29th, as we were strolling the local shopping center, we realized we faced a challenge returning the rental car to the airport by 6 AM on Sept. 1. We happened to pass a travel agency shop that displayed a large poster of Ayers Rock. Lightbulb in brain lit brightly...lets just make a trip out of it and jump on a plane to Uluru when we return the car! This is the perfect time of year for a trip to the Red Center. We walked out of there much poorer but with tickets in hand.
Flying to Uluru is an amazing journey by air (this country gets bigger all the time!). I had the window seat and darn near cramped my neck and back craning to look down. Leaving Brisbane, we passed over stunning mountain ranges, forests and farming areas, and then some of the most beautifully colored landscapes I've seen. There is a massive salt flat that for some 20 years has been dry as a desert as of course it is in the desert. Because of the recent monsoon-like rains, what was once a large lake has filled again. Surprisingly, thousands of pelicans have flocked to its shores. How in God's creation did they know to go there? Apparently, also there are fish in there. What? How does that happen? Nature never ceases to astound us. I kept grabbing Frank, saying, "Oh my gosh, look at that!" Poor Frank, all he wanted to do was nap - not gonna happen with my face to the window. Eventually the brilliant white of the salt flats turned to intermittent greens and reds, and then suddenly out of nowhere rose the RED monolith that is called Ayers Rock. Even from the sky it is breathtaking. Other than a few scattered tent-like structures not far from the rock, there was nothing else about to suggest human habitation. Several miles away, however, we spied a donut-shaped formation that appeared to be some sort of habitat, albeit quite small, that we assumed to be Yulara, the resort town of Ayers Rock.
Disembarking from the plane we noted that Qantas and Virgin Australia occupy the only two gates of the tiny terminal building, which explains the price of our tickets. It is all very organized to near military standards. You pick up your bags, you board a bus and are taken to your hotel. The resort owns all of the hotels, so depending on how much you want to spend, you can choose between camp style to 5-Star accommodations. We had selected The Lost Camel, a midrange hotel at a mere $450/night...nothing included. Very, very basic, with a double bed, shower and toilet; not dissimilar to an outside stateroom on a cruise ship. It was comfortable and clean, and besides we were not here for the hotel room.
Our first excursion was a sunset viewing of Ayers Rock. We were carted off in a bus to the viewing area, which was still some miles away from the actual Rock, and was completely fenced off. There were several pocket groups of tourists pouring out of their respective busses, chattering away full of excitement. We were each given a camp stool on which to sit and told to help ourselves to the snacks and drinks that were set out on a folding table. Champagne, wine, Sprite, nuts and chips were available in unlimited quantities. We were given instructions by our guide that, although it was daylight, we should just watch the rock as the sun begins to shift and then eventually fade into darkness. The Rock seems to take on a life of its own, casting vibrant colors and eerie shadows that appear to make it come alive in some spiritual sense. All I can say is everything I've heard is true. Although we snapped dozens of photos, it is impossible to capture the sensation that we felt during this phenomenon. Frank and I were both mesmerized as we witnessed the transformation that I cannot come close to describing. This is most definitely an encounter one must personally experience. It was so lovely that the bus ride back to the resort was spent in complete silence as each of us reflected on his or her impressions.
Disgorging from the bus back at the resort, we immediately set off to dinner. Side note here. The resort owns everything, including restaurants, shops, etc. The food is OK, everything is expensive, so for us it was a matter of sustenance, not a culinary journey.
We hit the bed early. Next morning we had a 4:30 AM departure for Kings Canyon.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

August 3 - 26th, 2011 - Texas...Houston, Austin, Seagoville - Part 2

Tom and Kathy Stewart's home is so beautiful and perfectly designed I would buy it in a heartbeat, if we could afford it. Every bedroom opens out to the beautiful backyard pool area that is designed to be as livable as the indoors. All of the rooms are so well thought out and comfortably appointed that we immediately settled in and felt welcome. Oh I want a house like this when I grow up!
Lee and Cheryl Baumann were to arrive around 11:00 AM on Wednesday but then Cheryl canceled, leaving Lee to come alone. By some odd roll of the dice, Lee ran into one delay after another causing him to sit in airports for the better part of his day, arriving closer to supper time. Poor Lee! While waiting for Lee, the four of us set off to explore Austin by car. The weather was gorgeous and the day sunny blue and very warm. We stopped for lunch at their favorite Mexican dive and feasted on tacos, enchiladas, flautas, and every other fattening dish we could stuff into our guts. It was delicious! Some time during the course of the day, Kathy showed us her hand which was wrapped in a splint, explaining that she had sustained a fracture and was scheduled for surgery the next day. She was apologetic thinking she had let us down by ruining all of our plans. We told her that was rubbish because our plans were simply to visit them, and since  they and their home are so lovely, we are content to just be there. That night the 5 of us had a sumptuous bar-b-que feast, laughing cracking stupid jokes and lamenting the absence of Cheryl. Early Thursday morning Tom and Kathy set off for the hospital. Frank, Lee and I enjoyed the resort style living, going for a long walk along the lake, taking a dip in the pool and waiting for the return of the Stewarts. Tom sent us periodic updates...still running behind....Kathy sedated but still waiting... By noon, she had still not been taken into surgery. Frank and Lee settled themselves in front of the TV to watch golf. I played games on Lee's iPad. Mid afternoon we received word that Kathy had finally gone into surgery. The surgeon soon discovered she had multiple compound fractures, and her surgery lasted several hours. They didn't get home until around 7 PM. Kathy was rigged up with some crazy looking bright blue foam pyramid that she had to wear to prop her hand up from the elbow. She was ordered to keep it upright for some 3 days or so. Clever Lee immediately began calling her "Smurfette", because the big foam pyramid was indeed Smurf Blue. She was still anesthetized and so weary that we left her to rest and set off to the local boat club on the lake for a good old fashioned homemade hamburger. We enjoyed live music and people watching as the young studs came and went in their power boats with babes hanging off the bows. Now our intended group of 6 had dwindled down to 4. Lee flew out after breakfast Friday morning, and sensing that Kathy was in serious need of peace, quiet and rest, we took our leave as well. The visit was truly enjoyable, and we left feeling so sad to be saying goodbye to these precious friends.
We enjoyed a nice drive back to Houston, stopping at the 290 Diner just on the outskirts of Austin for the famous Chicken Fried Steak. Heart valve cloggingly good!
We got a good laugh when we returned to Debra and Sandy's house. They had moved the television back into the bare-floored living room and were sitting on kitchen chairs, using their large Igloo ice chest as a coffee table. They greeted us with smiles and cold beer. It was great to see them, and we laughed and celebrated the circumstances that had somewhat forced this reunion. The next few days were spent socializing with Debra and Sandy in between their dealing with insurance issues and contractors. The wheels turn slowly unfortunately, and they continued to live in a home with plastic sheeting for a ceiling and bare concrete for flooring but it takes a lot to get these two down. They looked at it as a blessing, and so did we, that we had been there when this happened, that we ended up getting to see them while in Houston, and a further bonus that they would get the new floors they had been wanting. We did drive down to stay with Jen and Trace for a few days on her days off and then brought Trace back with us. My entire family was converging on Houston. We were planning to celebrate Mom and Dad's 60th Anniversary early (while we are here), which is actually in November, and Trace couldn't wait to spend time with his cousin, Tre. The party was set for Saturday at Mom and Dad's. The intention was for Mom and Dad to relax and enjoy the family visit and celebration while the rest of us did the work. The concerted effort yielded a splendid brunch buffet. Everyone was there but for Clint and Sarah. I think it was a lovely and love-filled event for Mom and Dad. It has been years since our little Johnson clan has been able to be together at one time.
By Tuesday, everyone had cleared out and were either back home or heading for home. Frank and I said our farewells to Mom and Dad, and made a sad departure from Jen and Trace. Every time I leave my grandson, a little piece of my heart breaks. We drove up to Seagoville on Thursday to spend our last night with Bev, and D. Our flight from Dallas to Sydney departed late Friday. My sister went into work late that day so that we could have coffee together and spend our last bit of sister-time before Frank and I set off for the land of OZ.