March 31, 2009

Arrival at Camden Haven

As the hull speed dropped, we realised that there was quite a crowd of people watching us crossing the bar. They turned away looking a little disappointed, so I guess we must have made a clean entry. Now we just had to navigate the channel up to the anchorage, which we already knew was going to be very shallow. We did have a chart, but it bore the warning 'Shifting sands change regularly. Ignore this chart and use the markers'. The channel was only a few boat lengths wide, and scattered with navigation buoys which led us a merry path back and forth with only a metre and sometimes less under the keel. One buoy took us very close to a fisherman on shore, who politely reeled in his line and then made humorous zig-zag motions with his hands.

I was simultaneously focussed on keeping the speed under 2 knots despite the following tide, and keeping an eagle eye on the depth sounder. That left Bronwyn to spot and call out the navigation buoys, a task made somewhat difficult by the fact that it was dusk and the automated switches that turned on their flashing lights were not particularly synchronised. Thus we would see two flashing port markers and a starboard, and then a minute later a previously unlit buoy which we had taken to be a sand bank marker would suddenly start flashing and change our route completely.

Eventually we fumbled our way to the end of the navigable channel in full darkness, dropped the anchor, and fell into a deep and undisturbed sleep.

The next morning I was awoken by the howl of full-bore outboards, and went on deck to see what seemed to be the whole local community going fishing, all racing their tinnies at full speed past the 4-knot speed limit signs. After the wakes had died away, I had a look around at our surroundings and found them to be very pleasant indeed. Oyster beds lined the shore, with drying sand banks here and there. To one side loomed Brother Mountain with an RSL (non Aussies - Retired Serviceman's League, a kind of pub with cheap beer and food subsidised by gambling) and a fishing wharf, and to the other were a few houses and a small marina. All around were pelicans balanced comically on pilings, and a handful of other yachts, mainly apparently local and almost all much smaller than ours. No wonder we had stirred up so much interest when crossing the bar.


High tide came, and with it a wicked overrun which pulled us out into mid stream and started dragging our anchor. We couldn't get it to re-set, so we hauled it up and dropped it on the inside of a curve next to a sand bank, with only a metre of spare depth and one boat length from drying sand, so we thought it prudent to test our GPS anchor alarm. After a little experimentation and some trigonometry, we found that it worked very well indeed.

We knew that this new spot would become untenable at low tide, so we looked around for another option. There was deep water over by the RSL, but the only other visiting cruiser was already at anchor there, and he was spinning violently in circles and from side to side, apparently under control of his wind-vane, and we thought it prudent to stay clear. We phoned Michael and Judy, the owners of Dunbogan Marina, and were assured that there was deep water under their swing moorings. The price was very cheap, and they had a hot shower... so we motored in and picked one up. After staring at the blinking depth sounder for a while - there would only be 50 cm beneath us at low tide - we switched it off and resolved not to look at it again.

After setting up the wind vane and unlimbering the tender, we rowed to shore and had a long and enjoyable shower before walking to the RSL for a welcome Sunday roast and a few glasses of porter.

March 29, 2009

Port Stephens to Camden Haven

The forecast called for southerlies from Friday to Sunday, although there were strong wind warnings for the beginning of the change on Friday morning, along with three metre swells, abating in the afternoon. After that, it looked like we were going to get a nice 15-20 knot SE or S wind which should neatly take us to Coffs Harbour, about 140 miles up the coast.

We accordingly had a leisurely breakfast and spent the morning preparing the boat for sea. This can take a little time but is always a nice way of tidying up. On deck, we dismount the wind generator, reconfigure it as a tow generator, and stow away the fan blades and tail. Then we tie the oars to the dinghy, hoist it on board using a halyard, and tie it down to the fore-deck. Fit the jack-stays, if they aren't already in place, take down and stow the sun shades, ensure that all the safety lines are secure, and clear the cockpit of clutter. Down below, all the washing up needs to be finished so that we can put away the washing-up bowls, and all loose items stowed somewhere where they won't move in transit (never wholly successful!). All the hatches and stopcocks must be closed, and the correct charts, wet weather gear, life vests and safety harnesses fetched out.

We set off a little after twelve. There was quite a bit of swell coming in through the heads and we didn't really want to have the sails up going across the bar, so we gunned the motor and took her through. It was a bit bumpy and we left a trail of smoke, which was a bit worrying; it was the second time that I'd seen engine smoke this trip. Put that on the 'to do' list.

Once we were clear of the bar, I went out onto the deck to attach the halyard so that we could hoist the main. This is never a pleasant chore at sea, as you get thrown around a lot and everything gets twisted. A few years back we did try attaching the main halyard early so that we could simply haul up the main from the comfort of the cockpit, but it's a long and feisty steel cable that swings with a lot of momentum, and it really enjoys wrapping itself around everything in sight. If you leave it alone for a moment, it has a particular affinity for the light cluster half way up the forward side of the mast.

Eventually with some co-ordination between deck and cockpit we disentangled it from the light cluster, put up the sails and headed out to the 50 metre line. The 3 metre swells were definitely very much still in evidence, and not very comfortable in the shallows close to shore, but they got less confused in deeper water and we set a course for the NE and gratefully turned control over to Harriet the Hydrovane.

The wind was actually an easterly, so we were close-hauled and getting a fair bit of water over the deck and some in the cockpit. One made it into the galley while I was getting a drink. We put in the second reef and then, when we hit 9 knots (a new Pindimara record!), the third one. The standard Bavaria 34 doesn't come with a third reef, and we are always very glad that we thought of having one put in. Far from abating, wind speeds were 25-30 knots and showing no signs of changing.

Petrels skimmed the swells around us, and dolphins showed up to say hello and to play in the bow wave. One scene will always remain in my memory. The swells had opened up, as they sometimes do, into a huge bowl-shaped depression with steep-sided waves on all sides. As Pindimara slid down one of the sides into the bowl, we realised that all the other sides were packed with dolphins, dozens of them, all surfing down into the centre with us.

As afternoon turned to evening, the wind and waves remained constant. We were feeling woozy from eating sea-sickness tablets, and very grateful that Harriet could take care of the steering, which would otherwise have been very hard work. Skandia, the maxi racing yacht and oft-times winner of the Sydney to Hobart, passed us by on the port beam. The Cunard liner Queen Victoria passed on the starboard. Apart from that, it just seemed to be us and the dolphins.


We shook out the third reef at dusk, because the wind had eased to 20 knots and had swung around to the SE. Maybe we were finally going to get our perfect southerly? I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, and was woken by Bronwyn shouting my name from the cockpit. Rushing out onto the deck, I found her looking at a huge bulk carrier of some kind with very odd navigation lights. We couldn't figure out which way she was heading, but she certainly didn't seem to be at anchor. I got out the million candlepower searchlight that we keep for these occasions, and shone it first up at our sail, and then at their bridge. After a while she turned away and we realised that she was showing all white lights at the front and sides, with red and green navigation lights on the stern. Weird, and very disconcerting. It's customary to have them the other way around.

We were still travelling very fast, a steady 7 knots, and had cleared Seal Rocks with its associated shoals and reefs. Lightning flickered in the sky ahead, and I checked the BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) website on my phone to see if there was anything up there that we should know about. The forecast was still the same; apparently we should be sitting in 15 knots with 1 metre swells, not 25 knots with 3 metre swells. Ah well, it's not an exact science. We put the third reef back in.

I took a short video of what it's like to be travelling in Pindimara at those speeds. Note that I had to take the video during a quiet period when I had a hand free to hold the camera.


Bronwyn was feeling somewhat the worse for wear and retired to the cabin, while I kept watch under the stars. Occasionally we hit 8 knots; not bad at all for a big fat tub, but our actual speed over ground was a knot or two less because by now we were in the East Australian Current which runs down the coast hereabouts. The usual advice is to stick close to shore to avoid it, but we had cut across a bit too far and the swells made it really uncomfortable to go back inland, so we just lived with it.

A large sailing boat came by in the dark. We did some mutual shining-the-spotlight-on-the-sails to make sure that we each understood what the other one was and where we were going. An hour or so later, another one showed up, this time on a collision course from behind. I had right of way, so I didn't change course but lit up my sails and played my spotlight over their sails until I heard voices. They got closer and closer, and I realised that it was another maxi travelling very quickly indeed with three enormous sails up. I hovered over Harriet, ready to disengage and take evasive action and a little concerned that they hadn't flashed me a signal back, but figured that they were professional racers and probably knew what they were doing. She passed about twenty metres off to starboard, enormous genoa eclipsing the stars above me, and as she came level and I called out some cheery greeting, I distinctly heard a voice from the cockpit say "What was that? F__k me, it's a boat!"

The night passed, and the wind finally dropped as Bronwyn came up to take the dawn watch. It was now definitely a southerly and we furled the foresail and ran on reefed main alone. We needed to get closer to shore, but crossing the line of swell was really uncomfortable and neither of us was feeling too great. We agreed to keep on as northerly a heading as we could, because the shore curves around to the north east and we would intersect with it later.

The only entry in the ship's log between 07:40 and 10:00 is "Sloppy as all hell. Going backwards?".

By ten o'clock it was clear that at 25 miles offshore we were far too deep into the East Australian Current. We were travelling at 7 knots, but only making 3 over ground. The wind was a reasonable 15 knots and the swell a mere 1 metre of nothing, but the night had taken it's toll and we plotted a course for Port Macquarie and an overnight anchorage. Under un-reefed main alone we put the now SE swell behind us, which was much more comfortable except for the odd roller that tried to climb up into the sugar scoop.


We didn't much like the look of the description of the bar at Port Macquarie, and we'd be unlikely to be crossing it in daylight, so we looked for another option. We consulted Lucas, the definitive cruising guide for the NSW coast, and saw that he recommended an anchorage called Camden Haven, which was a bit closer and was described as having lead lights that were 'obvious from deep water'. Lead lights are land-based markers that, when aligned, point to safe passage through a shoal or reef. As we emerged from the East Australian Current our speed over ground was picking up, and we could arrive well before sundown. We set course for Point Perpendicular beneath Brother Mountain, which was in fact already visible on the horizon, albeit twenty miles away.


We arrived at the bar with plenty of time to spare before dark, but unfortunately just before low tide, so we hove to and waited for the water to get a bit deeper. While we were waiting, we cruised up and down to see if we could get the lay of the land and locate the lead lights.

Obvious from deep water, my foot! We easily located the causeway on which the markers were built, but even through binoculars it was clear that the area was littered with structures of various shapes and sizes, and completely unclear which of these were the ones that we needed to line up to get our safe passage. We experimented with a few combinations, but they all seemed to either take us through the solid harbour wall or across the obvious breaking shoal. All the structures were the same colour as the background, and all were obscured by the haze of the setting sun. We went back out to sea and waited for sunset, when hopefully the "real" markers would light up blue and show us the way.


Meanwhile we'd been watching the bar itself, which to our dismay was regularly obscured by huge green rollers with foaming caps. Obviously low tide was not a great time to pass.

Two hours past low tide, at half past six in the evening, the setting sun went behind a cloud and we could suddenly see the correct markers, which were in fact none of the ones that we had considered earlier. This was much better than waiting for them to light up and having to navigate the channel in the dark, so we started the engine (which didn't smoke at all. Maybe it had just been clearing its throat after weeks of inactivity) and lined them up.

We'd noticed that the big rollers were coming in in twos, so we waited for two to explode over the bar and then powered ahead of the next pair. I surfed half the way on the first one, then picked up the second, dropping off the top just shy of the bar itself as the top started to curl. The wave hit the shoal just in front of us, and as it did, a whole pod of dolphins exploded out of it. They'd clearly joined us for the ride, and were going back to catch the next one. I couldn't stop to play, though, and dropped through and into the channel, powering up to escape the next roller, and then throttling back to nothing as we came to the shallows. We were through.

March 27, 2009

An evening with Evie

The long-expected southerly has apparently been delayed until Friday, so on Thursday we motored over to Nelson Bay to pick up a few supplies and to take our new friend Evie for a sail. We managed to get the furler jammed when stopping for a salmon and wine lunch in Salamander Bay, and one thing led to another and (after suitable repairs) we ended up drinking the boat dry and then heading back into town for more supplies. We vaguely recollect trying to press-gang Evie into coming with us as crew. We vaguely recall that she almost agreed.


Somehow we ended up anchored outside the marina at Nelson Bay, perfectly positioned for an early escape. If the wind comes.

March 25, 2009

Fame Cove

The guys at the Noakes shipyard were able to fit us in on Monday morning, and since we're not expecting the southerly that is our ticket out of here until Thursday, it all fits in beautifully. The holding tank was a quick and simple job. Naturally, as soon as we had Pindimara out on the hoist, it was immediately apparent that a few more things needed doing. Despite the recent antifoul paint job, we had a good inch of coral which had grown while she was sitting still back at Gibson marina, and I suddenly noticed that when the Bayview marina guys had antifouled our hull, they had neglected to paint the saildrive, which was by now down to the bare metal. Not impressed! But needless to say, Noakes sorted it out.

While all this was going on, we had popped into a local bar for a drink. Our new budget certainly doesn't run to foreign beers, but we allowed ourselves just one premium $10 German beer on the waterfront, and then we'd head to the RSL for a coldie and a schnitzel (non-Australian readers probably should just ignore that. You don't want to know. Trust me).

But then it magically happened to be Happy Hour, and it would have been rude not to. And then we met Evie, who had a similar story to ours, to whit she had just left her high powered job to run away to sea, and the evening just seemed to get better.

By the time the Noakes boys had fitted the head tank and attended to all the other little tasks, it was time for them to go home and we were nicely sozzled, so we just stayed tied up inside the lifting cradle and spent the night there.


On the morrow, I was up bright and early and motored out of the marina to find us a new anchorage, while Bronwyn slept on. I tried a few places, but there was quite a bit of swell, and eventually I just dropped the pick in a channel while we had breakfast and decided what to do next. We had just about decided to try Fame Cove when a northerly blew up and our anchor started dragging, so we hauled it up and used the wind to get to Fame Cove, deeper inside the Port Stephens area.


It really is a lovely spot, and we spent a couple of great days working on our schoolwork. Yes, really! I'm sure that my previous university studies would have gone much more smoothly if I'd been able to do them moored in a private little bay in the sun. Be that as it may, I also took the opportunity between swims to refit a few instruments that I have been "repairing" for the last couple of years, one of which was at the top of the mast so I got to try my snazzy new tool belt, which Bronwyn bought me to stop me from dropping my tools over the side.


The only down side to Fame Cove is the incredible number of house-flies. Our boat is full of them! We can't figure out what they're after; they ignore any food that's laying about, they don't seem to be interested in water. The only common theme is that whenever Bronwyn opens her MacBook, they all swarm over and sit on the screen. Very strange.

Today, everybody else seems to have remembered that it was my birthday. Which is great, because I had completely forgotten.

March 22, 2009

A Magical Interlude

I discovered early on in our live-aboard life that while I have the knack of sleeping through all manner of shipboard noises, if the boat once moves in an unusual fashion or there is any untoward sound, I am awake and on deck in a flash.

At three o'clock this morning I found myself standing in the cockpit in mirror-smooth conditions under a crescent moon. The Milky Way hung above in all its glory, the Greater Magellanic Cloud a splash of white high above. All seemed calm and silent and I couldn't work out why I was there.

Then right at the edge of my hearing I detected faint music, as if somebody was playing a transistor radio muffled under a blanket. I looked around to see if there were any fishermen on the water or perhaps courting couples on the beach, but there was nothing to be seen. All the houses in the vicinity were also dark and quiet.

The volume of the music swelled, and I was able to recognise a violin being played impossibly fast, like a fast Irish jig in double time. After another minute or two, although the music was still very faint, I was able to get a fix on the direction. The sound was coming from the uninhabited mangrove swamp bordering the marine sanctuary. I couldn't make out any lights at all from the swamp, just this crazy fast dance music.

I began to suspect that I was suffering from tinnitus or the remnants of some dream, and then the music got still louder and a dog in one of the darkened houses barked uncertainly a couple of times. A roosting seabird squawked its disapproval.

I began to recall those old folk tales, where an unwary traveller stumbles upon a party of the fairy folk, joins in and is welcomed and showered with gold, only to find that mysteriously back home a hundred years has passed. I thought idly of getting in the tender and rowing over to the mangroves, which were only a couple of hundred metres away, to see if I could get a better look.

Then, from on high, a big fat white shooting star plummeted from the heavens, straight down into the mangroves and directly into the source of the music... which suddenly stopped.

After contemplating the silence for a few more minutes, I went back to bed.

Shooting Star image borrowed from

Thinking about the Future

One day, the money will run out.

On the other hand, we're completely serious about giving up our old careers. It is true that the money was great, and it has allowed us to buy and equip the boat and to purchase enough property to form a nice safety net for the future. The Information Technology industry has been good to us, and for many years we enjoyed the challenges. In recent years, though, as we went from contract to contract we have found that there are no new problems under the sun, and that usually those problems result from the clients making the same old mistakes. We realised that we were just getting frustrated and weren't learning anything new. Being in a senior position is boring; it was time to find a new career and to start from the bottom again.

Over the three years that we planned this trip, we were also researching a number of different future career options. Among others, we considered running a cafe, running a b&b, studying medicine, teaching English, teaching SCUBA diving, etc. In the end, we decided that although we would bear all of these options in mind, we would focus our minds on the mining industry.

Our new home, Australia, has some of the best mining opportunities in the world. The commodities market is all that stands between Australia and the worldwide recession. We foresee a boom time for Australian exploration mining, and there is also a lack of people who are willing to go out into the bush and get their hands dirty; the focus in all industries in recent years has been on the world of finance and business rather than doing the hard miles at the sharp end. In the mining industry in particular, people are rejecting the fly in / fly out remote working because it takes them away from their families and friends and cities for extended periods. We are keen to go the other way, to leave our soft office jobs and get out there into the wilderness. Our theory is that although we are older and less experienced than most career geologists, we will be valuable to employers because we are willing to go out there together and therefore won't be stressed about leaving anybody behind.

This time, too, we've chosen two slightly different study paths. This isn't just down to our differing interests; we're very aware that for too long we've had all our eggs in one very small basket, and it feels good to be diversified. Bronwyn is doing a degree in Surveying Science. and I'm pursuing a post-grad diploma in Mining Geology. It's good to be using our brains again, and we're both enjoying our courses immensely.

Salamander Bay: The morning fish fry


There's no sign of another southerly until the middle of next week, and the guys at Noakes are not free to fit our holding tank until Monday, so we've settled down to relax for the remainder of the week.

This is no great hardship, because Salamander Bay is a superb and well-protected anchorage. The neighbouring marine sanctuary is packed with life, and every morning the seabirds put on a great display as the bait fish come to the surface.

I'm usually sitting in the cockpit each morning for an hour or so after dawn, catching up on email or reading a book or just sitting and thinking. Then I hear the first characteristic fizzing sound, and the surface starts to boil in a circle a few metres across as the fish begin to jump. I can only assume that they are trying to avoid some predator fish circling below.

The first gulls arrive; they seem to be able to detect the fizzing from far away. They land inside the circle and try to spear passing fish with their beaks.

Attracted by the commotion, the first terns arrive, wheeling fifteen to twenty metres above and then folding their wings to plummet into the water with a signature 'splosh', returning to the surface a moment later with fish grasped firmly in their bills.


If the fish stay active for more than a few minutes, then a stately pelican will drift over before landing in an unsightly flurry of wings and water, losing no time in cruising through the centre of the disturbance with enormous beak agape, scooping up fish by the litre.

Then as quickly as it began, the fish boil will stop, and all the birds relax and bob on the surface and wait for the next one.

March 18, 2009

Pittwater to Port Stephens

It was a working weekday morning. Usually when we've been out beyond the heads it's been a weekend or a public holiday, and so it was a slightly eerie feeling to make it all the way through Pittwater and out to sea without seeing a single other boat.

On the other hand, we had plenty of animal company. We surprised a gannet asleep on the surface with its head under its wing, and sighted some others drifting in formation high above the mast. Petrels skimmed the surface all around, scooping fish from the water, and the occasional pelican soared regally past.

Down in the water, we spotted a good number of my favourite jellyfish. I haven't been able to find out what they're called - or even find any reference to them in the literature - but they're common near Pittwater. They're a good 20cm or more long, thick and chunky and yellow, and look like something out of Star Trek. Like many jellyfish, they're also very curious, and will come and bump on the bottom of the boat to see what you are.

A few hours further on, we were joined by a couple of pods of dolphins, who put on a display for Bronwyn as she stood in the pulpit, jostling with each other to see who could dive closest to the bow, and rolling and surfing in the swell. The scars on their backs show that they must occasionally get too close to motor boats, but they obviously enjoy it too much to stop.

The day passed in pleasant conditions. The last time we'd been here, there were more than forty bulk carriers queued up to get into the coal port at Newcastle, but it looks like the backlog has cleared because there were only half a dozen or so waiting now. As the sun set rosily over the coast, the carriers all lit up like small towns, and Bronwyn went below to rest.

Night fell, and we put in a reef and began to take watches. We don't really keep a rigid watch system on Pindimara. One of us is awake and the other is asleep, and we switch when we're tired or when something interesting happens that means that we both have to be on deck. For the remainder of the night, we slept turn about for two or three hours at a time.

Usually on a passage we sleep in the sea berths, which are the benches in the main cabin, but we haven't fitted any lee-cloths yet and so there is always the feeling that you're going to roll off onto the floor. On one of my off-watches I chose to sleep in the cockpit with the milky way wheeling above. The night was crystal clear, and there were so many stars that the familiar constellations were all but drowned out in the pointillist background. On one off-watch I decided to try sleeping in the fore-peak, which is our usual master cabin when not at sea. We had recently replaced the original hard foam cushions with blocks of latex, beautifully covered by a local sail maker. With the boat corkscrewing from side to side, I found that the latex bounced pleasantly with each swell, and I quickly fell into an easy sleep.

We enjoyed excellent although rather light winds most of the way, never attaining more than three or four knots, along with a couple of hours of intermittent motoring when the wind died completely and we were getting slopped about in the swell. When morning came, we shook out the reef and sailed up to the Port Stephens lighthouse, avoiding the reefs and aiming for the large and easy entrance to Nelson Bay to our north west. It was at this moment that the forecast nor'wester came in, blowing straight out of the heads, and so we took down the sails and motored in. Behind us, the first of the fishing trawlers followed us in with their catch, surrounded by clouds of hungry seagulls.

It was eight in the morning, and we'd been at sea for twenty-four hours. Hardly a world-beating passage, but very enjoyable and a good shakedown.

We popped into the Noakes shipyard to discuss some work that we needed doing, and then went around the corner to Salamander Bay, where we dropped anchor in pleasant surroundings at the edge of a marine reserve.

March 17, 2009

We're off, you know

The one thing that we'd been waiting for, a delivery of rock samples for my post-grad geology course, had been lost for a week in some courier black hole. On Monday morning, with our southerly already blowing, they reported that they had tried delivery and failed, so I got them to hold the parcel at their depot. Although we'd sold the ute, we'd hung on to the motorbike for precisely this eventuality and so we took a last four-hour commute across Sydney afternoon traffic to pick it up.

With the bike now abandoned at the marina (enjoy her, Elizabeth!), there only remained the little task of preparing Pindimara for sea.

We hauled the Walker Bay dinghy up onto the fore-deck and tied her down. This is the first time that we've tried this without deflating the RIB. The RIB is removable, and in the past we've let it down or taken it off to give us more deck space, but the Walker Bay dealers have been more than a little incompetent about replacing our lost pump valve adapter (it's been over a year now!) and we haven't been able to source one from the internet, so we don't want to go to the hassle of trying to borrow one at the other end so that we can pump it up again.
In any case, we've designated the Walker Bay to be our inshore "life raft" if things get really nasty, so it's better if we can leave it inflated. We lashed the oars inside before tying it down, and mounted a knife inside the anchor hatch in case we need to cut the dinghy free in a hurry.

We pulled down our Ampair wind generator and converted it to tow mode, and mounted the Hydrovane rudder (which has been out of the water for antifouling) and sail (which has been stored below while we've been on the mooring to minimise UV damage). Finally we mounted the jack stays on either side of the deck, and went around the cabin securing all the bits and pieces so that they wouldn't fly out and hit us on the head at sea. We were ready to go!

Except for one little thing. We were expecting it to take us 19 hours to get to the next deep-water destination, Port Stephens, and we prefer to do our in-shore and reef navigation in the light. This suggested a mid-morning departure, so we went to bed.

The following morning, we checked the BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) and Tuesday was still forecast light southerlies, changing to northerlies on Wednesday and Thursday. It really was time to go.

Bronwyn cooked up a hearty oatmeal breakfast while I prepared the boat and then, coffees in hand, we motored out of Gibson Marina for the last time.

It was a strange feeling, looking back and watching the familiar shoreline recede into the distance. Almost everything we know, we learned here in Pittwater. Not only did we do our initial 'Competent Crew' qualification here, but over the years as we learned to sail our own boat, we have known joy and laughter, sunshine and storms, frustration and anger and even fear. We sat in silent and companionable contemplation as we chugged out towards the heads.

Passing under the Barrenjoey lighthouse, we hoisted the main and the friendly light southerly took us out to sea.

March 15, 2009


It's been a busy week. We went to our storage unit and threw out a skipload of stuff. The rest of it either went to the boat or into a friend's basement, which meant that we could shut down our storage account and save hundreds per month. Having completed all of our removals, we sold the ute and used the money to provision the boat.

We had grand plans to set off on Friday 13th, but we were prevented from doing so by a number of problems:
(1) The superstitious horror of our sailing friends.
(2) The tail end of Cyclone Hamish.
(3) While filling the fuel tank, the filler cap broke off and fell off into the sea. Naturally we can't find a simple replacement, so I'll have to fit a new through-hull unless we want water in our diesel.
(4) I was expecting some rock samples for my postgrad correspondence course, and they're currently lost in courier-land, so I have to hang on to the motorbike until I find out where they are, in case I need to go and get them.
(5) All that stuff that we moved to the boat, is still in the cabin and littering the deck, because we haven't yet figured out where to put it.


On the plus side, we see that (finally!) the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting a whole week of gentle southerlies starting tomorrow, which is exactly what we've been hoping for.

March 7, 2009

Side trip: Sintonia revisited

Our apartment in Montevideo is a renovation project run by a small local building company Viva Tu Casa which specialises in taking old colonial-era buildings, removing all the original mouldings and woodwork, constructing a new building behind the original facade, and then re-incorporating the original materials into the new fabric. We had been impressed by some of their previous work, and had put down a 50% deposit on the largest or penthouse unit of the project of around ten apartments that is known as "Sintonia". This lies on one of the main thoroughfares through the Parque Rodo district of Montevideo, which we reckoned was a good bet as it is still a bit run down, but sits on the edge of the more prestigious (locals would say "stuck up") areas such as Pocitos.

In fact, on our arrival we noted many new building projects in the neighbourhood, all similar restoration projects because the city council has forbidden any changes to the character of the area. They don´t want a repeat of the high-rise transformation of Pocitos.

The last time we'd seen Sintonia, it was a hive of construction activity (all labour here is manual, with little or no help from power tools) but lacked a roof and much of the internal structure. We had seen some pictures from a few months ago, when the various floors had been finished but it was still a little hard to see what was going on, but now on our third visit the apartment is almost complete.



We climbed the marble stairs in the Italian-tiled entrance hall, lit by an enormous glass-and-wrought-iron skylight, to our four-metre high front doors. This took us to our marble-tiled ground level, with ample living space, more skylights, a "social toilet" and a small kitchen and balcony. Still under construction was the open wooden staircase that will lead up to the bedroom and main bathroom, and on up to the rooftop terraza.



In the original design, the second floor of this apartment was to be split into two small bedrooms with a hallway to the bathroom, but we had arranged with the architect to leave the whole thing open-plan, and we were very pleased with the result.

On the roof, amongst a forest of chimneys and glass skylights, we found our parilla (the wood-fired barbecue without which no Uruguayan house is complete), our gas water heater, cold water tank, and lots of space to lounge about in the sun.

There remained very little for us to do. The builders were leaving the wooden floor and staircase sanded but unlacquered so that we could choose our own finish, and so we organised a quotation from a floor-polisher who happened to be standing nearby. Saul, the owner of Viva Tu Casa, drove us around to a couple of dealers and we chose a wood-fired heating stove for the lounge. We just need for the builders to finish the stairs, complete work on the lounge window, install the electrical fittings and clean up. A couple of the smaller apartments are already complete, so we got to meet one of our new neighbours, and got a sneak preview of the finished product, with which we were duly impressed.

The sad part, of course, is that we won't actually be able to move in when it's finished. Not only is it time to get back to the yacht and start our sailing trip, but we don't know what the future holds, and so somewhat regretfully we have arranged for the apartment to be rented out for the next couple of years until we have a better idea of what we are going to do next. This might cramp our options a little (Uruguay is a very cheap place to live if we run into financial problems), but we really didn't want to leave the apartment empty for what could be a span of years, and in our newly unemployed state it's likely that we will value the rental income.

March 4, 2009

Side trip: Arrival in Montevideo

Aaaah Montevideo. How we love this city.

Following a relaxing three-hour forty-knot cruise across the muddy brown waters of the Rio Plate (First Class, of course. On the Buquebus, First Class is only marginally more expensive than Tourist, and you get a comfortable lounge and free champagne), our high-speed jet boat motored in through the breakwater of Montevideo docks.

A bulk carrier was being pushed gently into position by a couple of powerful tug boats, and I noticed that construction of the promised new freight terminal was well under way. It looked to me as if it would at least double the capacity of the loading dock, and in addition there were no less than two cruise liners in attendance. This pleased me greatly, because one of the reasons that I like the choice of Uruguay as our future home is that I predict a big expansion in its container industry as the world moves away from air freight, and the country´s commodities market expands.

Light was fading as we walked up through the Ciudad Vieja, the largely abandoned old town, and the sweet wood smoke of the first parilla fires wafted down from the restaurant chimneys.


We noticed a heavy presence of 'tourist police' around the old market. This area is mildly notorious for being 'dangerous' after dark, but although we haven't exactly explored any dark alleyways we've never seen anything that we would regard as sinister. Perhaps 'dangerous' is relative, as the rest of Montevideo is perfectly safe and friendly. In any case, the tourist police seem so young... or is that my own middle age creeping up?

Ciudad Vieja was largely abandoned during the troubles of the eighties, and never really recovered. It used to be the financial and legal district, and all the impressively facaded edifices remain, although now empty and largely derelict. Here and there are pockets where the old firms linger on; our own lawyer works from an impressive building close to the edge, but in the main it's a curious little ghost town at the edge of the thriving metropolis. Property here is ridiculously cheap, and it is perfectly possible to buy an entire apartment block if you wish. However, although Ciudad Vieja will certainly return to splendour one day, and the potential for significant future profits is attracting buyers from the US and Spain, it seems to us that the payoff is decades away. Although we did view a few beautiful if run down properties here, they definitely fell under the heading of 'renovation projects' and we chose to buy elsewhere.


It's actually only a short walk from the old market to the new heart of the city, a central square dominated by the statue of the national hero Artigas which stands over an impressive underground war memorial; an amazing turretted palace; and the ugliest seventies apartment block in christendom.


Finally we arrived at the London Palace Hotel, a real gem that we discovered on our previous visit. It's small and friendly and the rooms are just big enough to sleep in comfort, without all that extra unnecessary padding that you see so often. Why would you want to sit in your room and watch TV? This is Montevideo, and everybody is outside enjoying themselves, chatting on the street or promenading along the beach on the Rambla. Of course, the London Palace also boasts the best breakfast in town, an incredible selection of freshly baked pastries and cakes, local fruit, and that inevitable staple of Uruguayan cuisine, ham and cheese presented in infinite variety. And that is where I am heading right now.

March 3, 2009

Side trip: Buenos Aires

Most of you will know that we are in the middle of buying a renovated apartment in Uruguay, and the word came through just as we were to set sail that the work has been finished and the second half of the payment was now due. We rarely need any excuse to visit Montevideo, so we popped over for a week to check it out.

You can´t fly direct from Australia to Montevideo, but Qantas have recently made it a little easier by flying direct from Sydney to neighbouring Buenos Aires; as well as bypassing the traditional stopover in Auckland, it means that we can avoid flying the execrable Aerolineas Argentinas, which is always a good thing.

The plane was overbooked, and Bronwyn ended up in a luxurious Premium seat whereas I got squashed into the back of the plane in Tourist class, but luckily I was flanked by some similarly skinny guys none of whom showed any interest in telling me their life stories, so we all had a reasonably painless trip.

Buenos Aires

People keep telling me how BA is wonderful and exciting, but I´ve never seen what all the fuss was about. Since we were flying Quantas, we did manage to avoid the awful Aerolineas terminal, and since we had decided to take the ferry to Montevideo rather than the plane, we also skipped the painful cross-city transit to the domestic airport, with its attendant shouting at corrupt taxi drivers and endless baksheesh and idiot taxes.

Instead, following local advice (thanks, Patricia) we booked a bus ticket with the Manuel Tiende Leon bus company, generally accepted as the only reputable organisation to operate out of BA airport, and were painlessly deposited at their depot close to the ferry terminal.

The period of calm allowed me to get a good close look at the city that we were driving through, and everything that I saw simply confirmed my earlier impressions: the city consists mainly of crumbling and stained concrete slums, a vista of washing lines strung across dirty rooftops, buildings festooned with wiring reminiscent of Shanghai, and every available space densely packed with what seem to be military early warning aerials.

I'm sure that there must be a nice side to the city, but I haven´t seen it yet. Maybe when we live in Uruguay we`ll pop over like everybody else for our evening´s entertainment in the big city, but in the meantime I think that we`ll just keep on passing through...

March 2, 2009

Free! Free! Free!

And now, suddenly, we are either retired consultants or suspicious vagrants with no visible means of support, depending on your viewpoint. For ourselves, we just feel amazingly relaxed. We keep smiling at each other and saying things like 'Are we in such a hurry that we can't just sit here for another five minutes?'. We're both feeling and looking younger as our faces relax, and the crunchy neck that has been bothering me for the last ten years has all but evaporated.