Thursday, March 7, 2019

International Women's Day

I was chatting to my Mum today who was just home from the funeral of Nancy Stephens.  She described the funeral as lovely and went on to say what a huge support and mentor Nancy had been to her as a young mother in a small town far from family.  I then happened to read Jac Stephens’ beautiful post to her mother and her “Sticky Lemon Delicious Cake” on Facebook.  And Richard Cornish posted about his Mum on International Women’s Day, the beautiful words he posts each year and never fail to send a shiver down my spine. 

I look at the family and the community I grew up in and see, not just an idyllic childhood of farms, beaches, horses, sailing and home-baked cakes but also the number of extraordinary women who influenced our world.

From my grandmother who was widowed in the late 1940s with three small children, who ran an orchard and privately educated her children, to my mother who believed her girls could … so we did.  There was the big group of kids who travelled an hour each way to the private schools of Toorak, Peninsula and Woodley because our parents wanted to ensure we had a progressive education.

The women who did, because they just did: Robyn Cornish, also widowed young with four small kids who ran a dairy farm; Sue Lawson, through whom a generation learnt to ride; Margaret Bell, our kindy teacher and later a politician and to this day I remain both in awe and just a little bit scared; Betty Taylor; Judy Hines; Nancy Stephens; Isabelle Trahair, our baby sitter who taught us to deal a mean Canasta hand; Sue Winneke, one of Victoria’s first women barristers, who told me being a female engineer would be tough but get over it.  And so, so many others…

And I watch as this amazing group of women, now mostly into their eighties, support each other through divorce, widowhood, ill-health and all the associated joys of ageing.  And all the while they still live on their farms, maintain their large gardens, grow veggies, bake and make jam.

On this International Women’s Day, thanks to all the amazing female role models of Flinders/Shoreham/Main Ridge/Red Hill who, by doing, allowed us to believe that girls could do anything – and guess what?  As it turns out that, we can!

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity - 51° 10' 18" N 115° 33' 41" W

The Banff Centre of Arts and Creativity is an absolute gem and an amazing institution to have in our backyard.  From opera to the Banff Mountain Film Festival, we are spoilt by the range and quality of performances - and we get to wear our hiking boots!

Billboard on Highway 1 going to the Rockies

Last night we went to see Alan Doyle, a favourite Canadian folksinger/actor/author from Newfoundland best known for being the lead singer of the band "Great Big Sea".  Unfortunately, a major snow storm and a vehicle breakdown caused the performance to be delayed for two hours.  As we were readying to leave Canmore, an e-mail pinged through that told us this, so instead of having to wait outside the locked concert hall doors, we just settled back into the sofa, topped up our drinks and left at 8:45 instead of 6:45.  We arrived at the concert hall with just enough time to briefly catch up with some friends, then we filed in to find our seats.  The band, on the other hand, literally screeched into Banff and ran on-stage.

It was fabulous! The stories, the Celtic-influenced songs and the fiddle made for a kitchen party (a Newfoundland tradition of food, music and stories) vibe.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Phuket Boat Lagoon - 7° 57' 49" N 98° 23' 15" E

Upon arriving at Phuket airport at 1 am, we exited the terminal and made our way past the gauntlet of tourist-hardened taxi drivers and carried our backpacks out into the humid, tropical night.  We had cleverly booked a hotel just 350 metres down the road from the airport.  After checking in, we quickly fell asleep after the 25 hour journey.

Nai Harn bay

In the morning we woke up, checked out, then made our way by taxi to the south end of the island to Nai Harn beach where our friends, Mark and Julie, were waiting for us.  Nai Harn beach is one of the quieter beaches due to its distance from the airport (farthest on the island) and lack of accommodation close by.  It is a sheltered anchorage from north- and north-east wind and swells, and it also has a convenient public dock for dinghies so the bay is well-used by yachties.  Kokomo, our home for the next few weeks, was happily anchored there, waiting for us to join it and start the adventure.

Kokomo (in the marina)

When we are on Kokomo with Mark and Julie, we are instantly relaxed because: a) Mark is an excellent mariner who has been 'round the world multiple times on multi-thousand ton cargo and container ships and therefore knows almost everything about navigation, boat maintenance, weather at sea, etc., and b) we're not solely responsible for the boat.  Mark and Julie aren't as comfortable with "the white, flappy things," ... and that's where we get to lend some expertise.  After settling in on the boat, we spent a few days provisioning, relearning systems on the boat and overcoming our jetlag and planning where we were going to go.  The plan was to sail north along the coast to Ko Phra Thong and spend two weeks sailing, snorkeling and exploring the island and the waters around it.

Once everything was ready, we pulled up anchor and started north.  The winds were brisk at 15-25 knots and coming from the northwest, which suited us just fine.  It was looking like a lovely day for a sail.  We ran into some trouble with the in-mast furler for the main sail, so decided to pull out the smaller "yankie" headsail to get some forward non-engine speed.  The headsail popped out on the breeze and things started to feel very familiar.

This isn't how your rigging is supposed to look
Kate and I were standing on the foredeck, discussing how we could get the main sail deployed when there was a loud "poing" from the starboard rigging.  The heavy 5/8" steel cable that held the 17 metre mast upright was beginning to fail ... under just the relatively light load of a small headsail.  Most of the strands had snapped at the swage, but six of them were holding fast ... for now.  Kate was facing forward with her back to the shroud and I was facing Kate.  I saw it happen and we both quickly hustled to the cockpit where the lines led to bring in the headsail.  We were able to get the headsail rolled up before a catastrophic failure happened, but we knew that we weren't going to be pulling out sails before some major repairs happened.

Suddenly, we were bound for a different adventure.

In order to get the rigging fixed, we would need to inspect ALL the rigging and replace anything that looked suspect.  It would be a costly exercise, but no where near as costly as if the rigging had completely failed and the mast had collapsed and/or broken off.  We changed course south and motored around the island of Phuket to a marina that had riggers, sailmakers, engineers (for casting/welding/machining metal and plastics) and all the necessary expertise to get our rig back in working (and trustworthy) order.

heading into Phuket Boat Lagoon
Even just motoring into the marina was not straightforward.  As the marina is up an inlet that is heavily affected by the tides (and Kokomo's keel hangs down 2.5 metres below the water line), we needed to wait for not just a high tide, but the right high tide. Luckily, the right high tide was just a day away and an overnight anchor outside the inlet was all that was required.

While we were here, Mark and Julie decided to tackle a few other boat jobs.  Here was our work list:
  • inspect the forestay, back stays (2), shrouds (4), running back stays (2), all turnbuckles (7) and topping lifts and replace as necessary 
  • lay out, measure and reflake the two main sails, yankie, staysail and genoa
  • inspect sails for damage and wear and repair as necessary
  • whip all line and sheet ends as necessary
  • remove the in-mast hydraulic motor, which requires disconnecting the hydraulic lines at the foot of the keel
  • replace a forward bilge pump (which had been acting a bit flaky anyway)
  • freshwater flush the cooling systems of the engine, generator and get-home engine/backup generator
  • rebuild the carburetor on the outboard engine
  • re-glue one of the oarlocks and one of the handles to the dinghy
  • have new chaps made for the dinghy and put them on
we get sails re-rolled after inspecting and reflaking them

Jai, our rigger, gets new steel shrouds
connected to the spreaders
Sean installing a leather wheel cover for Kokomo
- a little thank-you gift for having us onboard.

Our worklist is long, but we start (and then finish) early so we are not working in the afternoon sun.  The Boat Lagoon has a very nice fresh water swimming pool with coconut and palm trees all around, which makes for a great place to escape the heat once the boat jobs are finished.

where you will find us most afternoons

So, even though we aren't out sailing, it's gonna be hard to get sympathy from our friends for being here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Coffs Harbour - 30° 18' 15" S 153° 08' 49" E

Riding the EAC!

Remember in 'Finding Nemo' when Dory and Marlin used the EAC Superhighway with the turtles to get to Sydney?

We did it too - although perhaps not quite the same speed and minus the turtles!

The EAC is the East Australian Current that runs down the east coast of Australia.  Somewhat larger than the film portrayed, the EAC is a surface current that is up to 100km wide in places.  It is strongest in the Summer and runs up to 4kns.  We picked it up off the coast of Fraser Island and held on for the ride!

The East Australian Current

Steaming past Brisbane - 9.6kn over ground
 with a little help from the EAC!
We experienced its gentle nudge of between 2.5 and 3.5kn.  For a period, we has 4.1kn of current helping us along.  To put this in perspective, each knot of additional speed on a 24 hour passage saves around 3-4 hours.  So that's awfully nice!

4.1kns - thats a nice little nudge!

Weeeee - we love the EAC!

'You're ridin' it dude.'

Friday, October 5, 2018

Whitehaven Beach - 20° 17' 30" S 149° 03' 21" E

Whitehaven Beach

Beautiful Whitehaven Beach with sand like icing sugar and azure waters, it listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world by Lonely Planet. 

Somewhat subjective, some will debate, but there is little argument that Whitehaven is stunning.

...and accessible.

Hoards of tourists flock to the southern end of the beach by helicopter, sea-plane, yacht and power boat, charter boat and fully-loaded day tour boats that purge tourists reminiscent to the wartime landings in Normandy.

Yet despite this, Whitehaven remains stunning.  Anchor a tad further north and all but the most intrepid tourist can be avoided.

The warm, clear waters invite swimming and the bright, white sand is perfect for lazing.

A wonderful place to spend a day or two!

...but Lonely Planet, did you really have to tell the whole world?!

Friday, September 28, 2018

Cid Harbour - 20° 15’ 43” S 148° 56’ 23” E

Paradise with sharp teeth

Cid Harbour

Cid Harbour in The Whitsunday Islands is picture perfect. The water is that stunning shade of turquoise that has you questioning; blue? green?  It is prime cruising season with dozens of yachts bobbing at anchor on the sparkling water.  The weather is sunny and warm.  Dinghies zip around the bay and the sounds of splashing and laughter carry across the water as people leap from their boats into the sparkling, warm turquoise.  

We swam off Popeye, floating and splashing and practicing the backward roll method of getting into the dinghy.  We took the dinghy ashore, wandered along the beach and hiked the track around the headland.  We watched the turtles frolic, completely nonplussed by our presence.  And then we jumped into that magical warm water to rid ourselves of the sweat of the tropical day.

We had just settled in for sundowners with a glass of wine in hand when a blood-curdling scream echoed across the water from the adjacent yacht.  The cries for help were answered by several dinghies racing towards the screams.  We stayed aboard Popeye and monitored the radio, not wanting to add to the confusion. 

Popeye in the media - this photo even
made the German papers

A woman, a shark, a bite to the thigh, an arterial bleed, stage three shock.  The news came through over the next few minutes.  The transom of the yacht was red with blood.  The rescue helicopter came flying in in a race against the fading light.  The woman lowered into a dinghy and moved to an area away from the tall masts so the helicopter could drop a winch line. And as the day faded away, we watched the tiny blinking light against the dark of the land be winched up to the helicopter.

Racing against the setting sun

We live in a country filled with all kinds of bitey and poisonous creatures, we have a healthy respect for them yet rarely give them a second thought.  We swim in the ocean despite the sharks, crocodiles and jellyfish, (except of course, in croc country or during stinger season, that would just be plain silly) we hike through the bush despite the snakes and even happily use the outdoor toilet with the red-backs that like to linger under the seat.  But we never expect those critters to actually harm us.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.  That nauseating, stomach-churning reality, it may very well have been one of us.  That poor, poor woman. 

The weather forecast was for a windy weekend so after a crew change at Hamilton Island, we headed back to Cid, one of the best anchorages in the islands in a strong south easterly. Just as we were coming in, the radio crackled to life.  The rescue helicopter was incoming and they were going to try for a beach landing. It’s got to be a heart attack or a broken bone, surely, surely not…  but yes, less than 24-hour later, a second shark attack. 

The victim, a 12-year old girl.  The shock, another shark attack.  The questions, what happened? who was attacked?  And the judgments, who would allow their child to go swimming after a shark attack?  didn’t they know a woman had been mauled? bad parenting, poor child.  Shark attacks are so rare that, even after witnessing one at close hand, I would likely have gone swimming again.  Lightening never strikes twice and all those adages. 

Fisheries and the police did the rounds of the anchorage, advising against swimming.  And the baying for blood commenced, with school holidays starting and two shark attacks, action must be taken.  Three drum lines were placed in the bay, two in roughly the locations of the attacks.  We watched as one, then two tiger sharks were trapped and shot in the space of a few minutes – 2m and 3.3m.  And the following day, the drum line not far from us caught another two, 2.6m and 3.7m.

Popeye's new artwork 

Tiger sharks are very scary and look just like we expect a shark to look like.  There is obviously a decent population of them in and around Cid Harbour.  I will likely never swim here again nor in Nara Inlet nor in murky water nor at sunset nor after dark.  But I likely to continue to swim off a boat!

Friday, August 3, 2018

Cycling Alsace - 48° 27' 44" N 07° 28' 59" E

We first brought our bikes to Alsace in 2012 and immediately feel in love with the cycling here.  Head east, and you ride the flats of the Rhine Valley, through crops of corn, wheat, cabbages and barley and along canals dotted with locks and white swans.  Head west, and it is the hilly terrain of The Vosges Mountains with castle ruins, forests and steep climbs.  North and south, you can choose climbs, flats or the rolling hills through the vineyards of the Route des Vins.

The cycling infrastructure has improved over the last six years.  When we first came, the signage simply directed you to the next village so you had to know each and every small town along the route.  With the villages being only 3 - 4km apart, this was a challenge!  The signage has improved with the use of numbered cycling routes from local loops and the wine routes, up to the EuroVelo #5 which runs 3,300km from London, England to Brindisi, Italy!

The Tourist Offices in the region rent out e-bikes for 20 euro a day and provide fabulous rainproof route maps complete with elevation profiles and points of interest!  And for the times you are actually cycling on a road rather than a pathway, the cars are courteous and tolerant of cyclists and simply sit behind you until it is safe to pass with the legally required 1.5m gap.

Tourist Office Map
Showing each turn and the elevation profile
As we do not have a car, we use our bikes for transport - go grocery shopping, visit friends in nearby villages,  get to the pool etc.  It is a great way to get around and, as we live in the very centre of the village, we can easily get home regardless of the traffic, one-way streets and the frequent closures for summer festivals.

And now for the details of our rides:

Add caption
We rode to Mutzig to visit a bike shop that rents tandem bikes.  With Mum and Wendy coming for a visit, we decided that popping Mum on a tandem behind Sean and Wendy on his bike was the best solution to our transport issues!  We made a few stops along the way to run a few errands - a great way to put some kilometres onto our leg whilst doing the day to day jobs!

The only elevation gains were going up over bridges.  The bulk of this ride is along the canals that run through acres and acres of crops.  The route drops you into Le Petit France district of Strasbourg which is a fabulous place for lunch.  It is flat, fast and fun down the canal before cutting back through the crops to Obernai.

The climb up to Mont-Sainte-Odile is super pretty through the forests of The Vosges Mountains.  And the view from the top is spectacular looking over the Rhine Valley to Strasbourg with its distinctive one-spire cathedral, red-roofed villages each with their church spire, the mountains of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in Germany and the endless grapes hugging the foothills along the mountain range. 

Where will we get to if we just keep going?  Mulhouse!  And we can jump on the train to get home rather than the 120km return ride...

With Mum on the back of the tandem and Wendy on her first major road-bike foray, we headed to the cafes and flowers of Strasbourg. And the train ride home (bikes travel free - even the tandem) ensured we ended before there were tears!

An amble through the ancient villages, complete with cobble stones, village walls and gates, half timbered houses and the ubiquitous flowers.

Wendy borrowed Sean's road bike to see if those spin classes were relevant to the open road ... and they are!  Both sisters scampered up to the top in no time at all.  Nancy and Sean drove the support car and met them at the top with snacks.

Sean went for a ride with "the boys" on a borrowed electric-assist mountain bike and had a great time!  It was almost too easy though, allowing him to climb hills he shouldn't have been able to.

A long, lovely ride out to the canals and back.  The first part of the ride (towards Strasbourg) was not very interesting, but getting onto the flats along the water more than made up for weaving through the industrial section at the start.

Riding to Germany?  No problem! A foray across the border and back.  If the bike computer had been on teh whole way, it likely would have been a 100 kilometre day.

Lots of riding ... and we are still not finished exploring this scenic area.  We will be back!