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!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Running Norway - above 59° 54' 52" N east of 05° 19' 24" E

With Susan in training for a half marathon, running became part of our sightseeing plans! A fabulous way to see the cities of Oslo and Bergen in the quiet of the mornings before the hoards of tour buses arrived.  Running on our Hurtigruten stops helped burn off some of the food we were eating and allowed us greater range in the short time frames of the stops.  And, of course, running under the midnight sun (and the blood moon) at 12:30am in Trømso was very cool!

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Oslo - between 5-7km each morning exploring different parts of the city

Bergen - 5km most mornings with a hike up the hill one day

Ålesund - a speedy 5km along the river

Trondheim - 10km under picture perfect blue sky

Svolvær - 5km, or was that 3km?!

Kirkenes - 5km in the pouring rain.  Our only true rain day!

Trømso - 10km under the midnight sun and the blood moon (very cool!)

Brønnøysund - 5km with lots of groaning

Trondheim - 10km with aching legs

 Florø - short, gotta get off the boat and and burn off some of the food we've been eating!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Nordkapp (North Cape) - 71°10′21″N 25°47′04″E

Well this is a long way north...

The most northern point in Europe!

 ...well, not quite. That would be an island well north of here. 

The most northern point of mainland Europe?

Nope, as it is on an island it cannot be!  That honour goes to Kinnarodden (Cape Nordkinn) a little further to the east.  (We did sail around this so we can claim to have passed the northernmost point of mainland Europe!).  Kinnarodden is remote and difficult to get to, requiring a full day's hike each way over some fairly gnarly terrain

The most northern point of Europe accessible by road (read tourist bus)?


So we intrepidly rode the bus to the over touristy Nordkapp - the northernmost point of Europe accessible by road!  We were fortunate to arrive at a time when the weather was clear and the tourist buses few...

At 'The Top Of Europe'
We can almost see the North Pole from here!
Wild and windy
The Most Northermost Point in Europe (that can be accessed by road)

Monday, July 23, 2018

Polarserkel (The Arctic Circle) - 66 33' 00" N 13' 02.196" E

The Arctic Circle, that circle of latitude that marks the southern most point of the polar night of the winter solstice and the polar day of the summer.  Its actual latitude does vary due to the Earth's wobble but it is at roughly 66 33' N.  And we crossed it! We are close enough to the summer solstice to experience the 'midnight sun', the endless day that the Arctic enjoys.

Yay for our windowless cabins!

Crossing the Arctic Circle
Yep, midnight and it's still light
And the certificate to prove it!
The midnight sun
'Sunrise' in Trømso
Running at 1am!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Aboard the MS Lofoten - 66 04' 48" N 12 40' 44" E

The next leg of our trip is a voyage on the Hurtigrtuen Coastal Ferry, the MS Lofoten, from Bergen to Kirkenes and back to Bergen. Travelling through the famed fjords, across the Arctic Circle and over the top of Europe to the end of Norway and back! MS Lofoten is a grand old girl, the oldest and the smallest ferry in the Hurtigruten fleet. Along with the 100 'cruising' passengers, the ferry carries cargo and up to 300 day passengers stopping at 36 ports, towns and villages along the 2500nm journey.

Ruteplan - Bergen to Kirkenes and back!
Our cabins are on C-deck, in the bowels of the ship well away from the engine noise, the flushing of the shared toilets and the clatter of day passengers. Our inside cabins are wonderfully dark for sound sleeping during the endless daytime of the Arctic north.

Cabin 103 - remarkably roomy
The meals on board are plentiful and delicious. Breakfast and lunch are a buffet and, with a nod to its 1960s heritage, dinner is a set menu with assigned setting and full silver service. We gorge on salmon in all its forms, cheeses, home made ice-cream, caviar and reindeer. Hunger is definitely not an issue.

The dining room set for breakfast
Fancy - even down to the engraved silver napkin rings
We stop day and night.  Sometimes for several hours enabling a shore visits and at others just a quick 15 minutes to offload/onboard passengers and cargo. The cargo is craned on and off with the cargo stored on deck or in the cargo hold. The cargo ranges from roofing materials to small boats, agricultural equipment to unidentifiable pelleted and wrapped parcels.

Off-loading precious cargo
What on earth is that??
The crew is attentive and happily assist with any request from a fact about the area we are passing through to fixing the arm on my reading glasses. The restaurant staff are professional and hysterical. We are not drinking (gasp!), a decision made easy by the $20 glasses and $100 bottles. We told the waiter we were unable to drink because Wendy is an alcoholic and we cannot drink around her.  It has provided much mirth...

The lovely Heidi
Divide by 5.5 and that, my friends, is why we weren't drinking!
Our fellow passengers are a slightly older crowd from a wide range of countries.  Manfried from Germany is our 72 y-o walking buddy and GPS. He has an uncanny sense of direction and, between that and his brisk gait, we are never at risk of missing the boat! Etienne from Marseille is travelling with his parents and 97 y-o grandfather.  Grandpa is amazing negotiating the steps and rolling deck with his walking stick hung around his neck.  John and Pat from the Napa Valley, quick with a joke and an invite to view his slide show each evening. Galena (Galena, Galena vacuum cleaner - how else are we to remember?) from Holland is the uber participant in on-shore excursions.

The daily routine involves a lot of eating, lounging in the Panorama Lounge or on the Outdoor Explorer Deck ( how intrepid!) enjoying the stunning scenery and going ashore at every opportunity. Sometimes this is to do an organized shore excursion, sometimes a wander around the town and, most frequently, a run to burn off some of the calories consumed.  An hour stop means 5km, an hour and a half is 10km... Time is not an issue due to the 24hrs of daylight.

The Panorama Lounge
Enjoying the sun on the 'Explorer Deck'
Prime spot on the 'Explorer Deck'
Doing it tough on the 'Flag Deck'
A visit to The Bridge
The boat is well equipped for rough weather with the tables all bolted down and the chairs on chains thus limiting the damage by a bouncy sea. 'Stormy Weather Bags' are liberally sprinkled around the public spaces and each cabin well supplied.  And due to the chilly water, our life jackets are partial survival suits!

Sturdy chains to prevent chairs flying around!
How subtle...
Hope we don't have to deploy these babies!