Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Nakiska Ridgetop Weather Station – 50° 56’ 37” N 115° 11’ 23” W

Being tethered in place is much worse for some than others.

As COVID restrictions have flattened our appetite for straying too far from home, we have dedicated this summer to exploring the less-known trails close to us. We are doing mostly day-trips. Names that we have heard mentioned – Sarrail Ridge, Windy Tower, Old Goat Creek – have been added to a list of Hikes We’ve Been Meaning To Get To. We decided that adding to our quiver of “known hikes” will make it easier to show our future guests a good time. When it is overcast (or smoky), you can still hike – you just stay in the valleys and trees. If you are hiking with friends that aren’t used to the altitude (or who aren’t as fit), there are less strenuous hikes. Some hikes feature waterfalls. Some hikes are more technical (meaning there could be some light climbing/scrambling). Some hikes have criss-cross back and forth over streams, with quaint bridges. Some hikes have panoramic views … but require going up 1,000+ metres to access those views.

Although each hike is quite spectacular in retrospect, I haven’t been blogging about each individual one. Here’s a summary of some of our outings.

Click on any of the pictures below for a BIGGER view.

June hike, on our way to Old Goat Glacier

Pip on the Ha Ling stairs

Hiking through the smoke on the way to Helen Lake

Old Goat Creek valley

Canmore and the Bow Valley from the top of EEOR (East End of Rundle Mtn.)

Parker Ridge with Mya and Pip

Bow Lake in the smoke

Fire carnage on the way to Helen Lake

Sometimes we hike with wheels.
Here we are riding the Bow Valley Parkway to Lake Louise
with Sean, Gaetanne, Chris and Anne-Marie

Early morning shadows, volunteering for Epic Trail Day at Canmore Nordic Centre

Centennial Ridge Hike

Leaving Mt. Allen Summit

Grassi Knob and Three Sisters behind

The cairn at Olympic Peak

Sentinel rocks on the Centennial Ridge trail

Pip having lunch on the way to Old Goat Glacier

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Calgary Airport Hotel, in Quarantine - 51° 08' 15" N 114° 02' 05" W

We are back in Canada, settled into quarantine in a hotel near the Calgary airport after our Australian sojourn, 1,200 kilometres from the nearest open water … and we’re thinking about a sailboat.

A sailboat was bound to factor into our future.  After our adventure of bringing Popeye from Thailand to Hamilton Island, we knew that we could handle actually living aboard a 40+ foot yacht for extended periods of time. We had offers to crew on other yachts or even to borrow Popeye when we were in Pittwater, but cruising on someone else’s schedule and route doesn’t afford the same feeling of freedom that having our own boat would. As much as we love our place in Canmore, we keep running into people who give us great ideas for places to go, sights to see, experiences to have ...

An idea of the marine traffic in part of the Northern Hemisphere right now ... 

When COVID closed down everyone’s access to travel, Kate and I turned to vicariously exploring far away places via ‘blogs and YouTube. Originally, I began watching a young couple who were renovating an abandoned sailboat in Brasil with plans to sail it to far away places. I found a Swedish couple who had been around the northern hemisphere and were now poking around the islands and fjords of Sweden and Norway. There was a couple from Australia who travelled to the ‘States and bought a Tayana 42 and were making their way through the Caribbean Islands. A brother and his friends had sailed to Greenland and then transited the Northwest Passage. Another couple was in Tonga and exploring the South Pacific islands on a catamaran. Seeing all these far-away places, jaw-dropping scenery and magical experiences fueled our desires and spurred us into action.

A Hans Christian 48 in Johnstone Strait off of Vancouver Island

For a pair of planners, “action” starts with making lists. Where did we want to go? Norway, Sweden, the canals of western Europe, the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy, Croatia, the Greek Islands, Morocco, the Strait of Gibraltar, the Shetlands, the Caribbean, Coco Keeling, go through the Panama Canal, the west coast of Canada, the Aleutians, the South Pacific Islands (Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, New Caledonia, Micronesia, Samoa, Vanuatu), New Zealand and (of course) back to visit Australia. This was a whole lot of sailing - by our calculations, at least ten years worth. If this was what we intended to do, we had best get to work finding a boat. But which boat?

At the time this post was typed, yachtworld.com has 12,834 sailing vessels available that you can buy … and that is just in the second-hand market. We needed to have some criteria to narrow down what would be the right tool for the job. Here’s our “must-have” list:

  • sloop configuration - meaning just one mast – a style we are comfortable with.
  • 40 to 50 feet long - big enough to live in comfortably and sail through seas, waves and swells we would encounter on an ocean crossing, but not so big as to be unmanageable by one person (if one of us were to be sick or injured)

  • metal hull – as we would be in places where we may encounter ice or uncharted obstacles, we wanted a hull that dented rather than shattered when hit
  • sensible draft – meaning shallower than Popeye's 2.85m! "Draft" is how far into the water a boat sits. We were also open to a boat with a lifting centreboard so the draft can be reduced to motor through canals or get into shallow anchorages, but at times have a deep draft when sailing upwind or on a broad reach (wind from the side). Unlike a lifting keel, the righting moment of the boat would not be compromised when it is raised

  • modern luxuries – good galley; thermally insulated (warm in cool climates, cool in warm climates); accommodation for guests; clothes washing machine; two heads (bathrooms) for redundancy; proper shower rather than a hand-held fixture over the head

  • simple systems – non-furling main sail; multiple and easy-to-deploy jib sails; redundant anchoring and safety systems (like water evacuation, propulsion, steering and navigation lighting)

  • self-reliant – long motoring range (big fuel tank); fresh water making capabilities; electrical power generating capabilities; lots of storage for provisions

  • pretty and graceful – although last on this list, any boat could be instantly dismissed if it didn’t have the ‘vibe’ of cutting a quick, elegant line through a shimmering, smooth ‘rock-star’ sea

Of course, whatever boat we chose needed to leave no doubts that we would be safe.

And so with these criteria, we began to search in earnest.

There are many ‘blogs and electronic founts of knowledge with regards to bluewater cruising yachts (which is the class of boat we have described) – not to mention a cornucopia of books to pour over. Yachtworld.com was a place to search out pictures and details of specific vessels we found mentioned. We decided to dismiss custom “one-off” vessels, as the build quality and sea-worthiness would be very hard to assess between individual boats. We were also looking ahead to an exit of our adventure, when we would need to pass on or dispose of the yacht when we no longer needed it. Having a boat of a well-known type meant that it would not take years to sell – perhaps just weeks or months. Also, going with a production or semi-production boat meant that we could glean the experience of boat owners on what they cherished or wished they could change about their own boats of the same design.

During our wanderings across the interwebs, we saw some videos posted by a couple who were just beginning their sailing adventure. They had recently retired and (after much research) had ordered, customized and purchased a type of boat called a Garcia Exploration 45. Both working in jobs that were highly methodical (he a scientist; she an inventory manager – both civilians working with the Australian military), they were list-makers and researchers. It took them two years to finalize the yacht fit-out specifications.

An axial diagram showing some of the innards


Having recently come to Cherbourg, France to take possession of their new vessel, Rick and Carolyn wanted to give a bit back to the yacht-browsing community that they had spent so much time being part of. They were making small videos about the details of their new boat and were posting them on YouTube. They included what they liked (lots) and didn’t like (not much) about their boat, and would often bring out the tape measure during their videos to quantify sizes of lockers, cupboards and hatches.  They also filmed each other doing some of the ordinary tasks onboard, which we found especially informative. 

We had heard of these Exploration 45s before as many considered them to be an exceptionally well-built and well-thought-out yacht. The advertising videos and reviews all heralded the attention to detail fundamentally good design elements that these boats were comprised of. Although there were some reviews to look at, this couple were living aboard and currently critiquing a boat that was one of the top of our list, so I wrote them an e-mail asking if they would be willing to do some on-on-one video chatting about their purchase process and their specific boat. They responded that they would be thrilled to do so.

Rick and Carolyn turned out to be accommodating, helpful and just lovely people. They talked us through how they chose this brand and type of boat, the purchase process, the design process, the education and sea trials they were going through right now and their plans for the future. They also kindly answered ALL our questions with great and helpful detail and offered to answer any further questions or queries we might have. We hope that sometime during our own adventure that we can spend some time in their actual company.

The more research we did, the more the Exploration 45 stood out from the other models in the “expedition” and “blue water” class of boats. It had the aluminium hull for sturdiness. It had fuel, water and provision storage capacity. It was luxurious. It was extremely well thought out. It had been designed by a team that included a world-renowned blue water cruiser named Jimmy Cornell (who had sailed over 300,000 nautical miles) and shipwrights who had been designing and building blue water sailing vessels since the 1970’s. Best of all, it looked very, very swish. However, being a highly regarded and hand-built boat, there were very few built every year – numbering only 34 builds so far.

A Boreal 47, similar to the one we toured

With time to deliberate, we poured over our choices. We got to meet the owner of a Boreal 47 and tour his boat in Vancouver and quickly dismissed it for its design and appointments. Yachtworld became a regular check in Sean’s internet rounds. Any opportunity to talk with someone who had done blue water cruising was happily followed. Must-have and nice-to-have lists were revised every few weeks. Yacht brokers were contacted in British Columbia and Seattle with instructions to get back to us if a suitable boat became available. We were still at least a year away from wanting to take possession, but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity.

One of the other variables we struggled with was: Used or New? Both had their pros and cons. One of the major disadvantages of a used boat was the lack of availability of what we wanted. The more deliberation that we did, the harder it became to consider anything except a Garcia Exploration 45.   As part of the many irons in the fire, Sean had been corresponding with Cyrille, the Garcia salesperson in France. Kate and Sean had video called him and talked through the process of placing an order for a new boat (if it came to that). We heard that the wait list had now extended to over 24 months from receipt of a deposit to start of the build, and the build would take 9 months beyond that. Sales had been brisk and the wait time steadily increasing over the past year.

The Garcia factory, fitting out an Allures 44

Going sailing has been Kate's dream forever and it was one of the drivers that lead us to retire early. We found the boat that ticked the vast majority of our boxes but COVID restrictions prevented us from going to France and meeting with the builders and sailing the boat.  Chatting with Gabby, she encouraged us to take the plunge -  “You obviously like this boat and you can afford it. What else are you going to spend it on?” What indeed!

An e-mail was sent.

A bank transfer was arranged.

A confirmation of receipt was received.

We now are owners of Hull #47.

An Exploration 45 - just like the yacht we will end up with!

Although we have arranged to purchase the base model, we have yet to determine all the options on our boat. We have until August 2023 to finalize how the yacht will be appointed. Sailing on a few Exploration 45s, talking to other owners and attending boat shows will help us decide on what we like and don’t like.

We are SO excited.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bermagui - 36° 25' 35" S 150° 04' 17" E

Last week, Gabby received a call from her friends Allan and Vicki.  They were having their new catamaran delivered from Perth, Allan had fallen ill and they needed crew.  Would Kate and Sean be able to help out by crewing from Portland to Bermagui?

It didn't take much pondering and we found ourselves on two trains and then a bus bound for Portland. Portland is in the SW of Victoria and Bermagui on the south coast of NSW. Therefore our route was to include a transit of Bass Strait. Bass Strait is the passage of water that divides Tasmania from mainland Australia. It has the reputation as one of the world's most treacherous waterbodies due to shallow water, currents and weather systems. Indeed, the coastline from Port Fairy to Cape Otway is known as The Shipwreck Coast. 

"I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline." 

- Captain Matthew Flinders

What were we thinking?!

Our route

Fortunately due to improved navigation and weather forecasting, a transit of Bass Strait is no longer the crap shoot it once was. That said, there was a very nasty system blowing through and we needed to stay in front of it.

"Red sky in the morning, ... " (Portland Sunrise)

We arrived in Portland to discover that Keshi was more an apartment than a sailboat! At 46' long and 26' wide, she was as big as two Popeyes lashed together. And she is fast; we would need to be fast if we were to stay in front of the weather. We met the skipper - Mark, the most delightful chap - full of excellent stories and sailing adventures.

And off we went!

Keshi - on the wharf and ready to go

The salon

Able-bodied crew, ready for cold and wet weather

We past Cape Otway at sunset - we had survived the Shipwreck Coast! We rounded Wilsons Promontory, the southern most tip of mainland Australia, at sunset the following day.  We weaved through the oil rigs, recalling horror stories of 70kn winds at The Prom and the Tasmanian Ferry pounding into 11m waves.  The system was just behind us.

The Spirit of Tasmania pounding through the waves

Keshi's well protected steering station (not dissimilar to a ferry!)

We rounded Gabo Island and within half an hour, the lighthouse was recording huge seas and 50kn winds.  Gabo Island is the eastern gateway to Bass Strait and once around, we headed north and into more protected waters. Phew!

Looking out 'the back porch' towards Gabo Island lighthouse

We arrived in Bermagui after a voyage of 541nautical mile taking us 65 hours, 13 minutes - averaging over 8 knots with a maximum speed of an impressive 24.2kn! We enjoyed a few days exploring around Bermagui before flying back to Melbourne. What an adventure!

Safe in port with Captain Mark


Keshi's galley

Bermagui sunrise

Keshi's Owner's cabin

Not all champagne and sunsets - Mark and Kate doing some engine maintenance

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Portland (AUS) - 38° 20' 46" S 141° 36' 39" E

Having accomplished the task we came to Australia for (Graham's memorial service), we wanted to get back to some 'normal' routines.  As autumn is surely on its way, preparations like cutting and stacking firewood for the winter are things that need to be done.  As all the Findlay girls and their husbands were available, we jumped into this task with both feet.

Susan and Graeme turning logs into bite-sized pieces

Log-splitting fun!

The two properties have no shortage of firewood, having at least 50 acres each that rolls down to Main Creek.  Graeme and Wendy headed down to cut up the bigger deadfall at the creek and put it on the trailer.  It was then brought up to the shed, where we had a hydraulic log splitter waiting.  If you've never had the opportunity to play with one of these marvellous toys, I enthusiastically endorse the satisfying and effective work that can be done with it.  We all finished the work with our fingers and toes attached and working (except for Graeme, who started with half of one missing).

We also had the opportunity to help out on one of the neighbouring farms - Nazaaray Estates.  The farm (vineyard, actually) is owned by Param and Nermal Ghumnan, a lovely couple that sometimes put out the call for assistance when it is time for grape picking.

Gabby, Marcia, Sean and Tom picking 

Immigrant workers (shhh!  Don't tell the Immigration authorities!)

Many hands are needed for a short time and farmers are used to jumping in to help on these occasions.  Kate and I get to be part of the fray for a day and were involved in the 2021 Pinot Grigio harvest.  We had a lesson on how to cut the grapes from the vines without including a finger or even quantities of blood in the harvest.  Nermal made scones for an afternoon lunch and we got to have a look at the combined fruits (literally) of our labour after lunch.

Labelled Tupperware - Kate was here!

Not just work, though - we were invited to join the early morning swimmers at the Flinders Jetty - fun!

Swimming amongst anchored yachts - extra fun!

Other little tasks are getting accomplished, too: handrails firmed up; flyscreen replaced on screen doors; pantries re-ordered and stocked for winter.  Having these things to do helps to ease us back into the rhythm that brings a longer-term perspective to life after a big loss.  And then, suddenly ... the call came.

Gabby has some friends that she and Graham met while sailing.  In December, Vicki and Allan purchased a beautiful, big catamaran that they plan to use along the stunningly-beautiful cruising grounds along the east coast of Australia.  They are in the process of sailing from Perth, where they purchased it, to their home on the Sunshine Coast.  They made it as far as Portland when Allan became quite ill and needed to be hospitalized.  They had put out a call for crew to help the hired captain to bring it across the bottom of Australia and partway up the coast.  A sailing adventure ... on a catamaran!  We were very excited to do it!

Kate and I had never sailed on such a big catamaran and wanted to understand the pros and cons of this type of vessel.  This experience would help us to determine if a catamaran would be a consideration when the time came for us to purchase a vessel.  The need to get there and get moving was urgent - a weather window would be open between Wednesday and Saturday ... and it was Tuesday.  We hastily confirmed with Vicki and Allan, booked train and bus tickets, packed that night and get a ride to Frankston with Gabby first thing the next morning.

Masks on, we boarded the trains, then the bus and ten hours later, stepped onto Percy Street in the town of Portland.  It looks like a very quaint spot, but we won't have much time to explore before we cast off the lines tomorrow.  Captain Mark, whom we have not met, is arriving by bus tomorrow.  We'll make sure the boat is provisioned and ready to go when he arrives.

Wish us luck.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Flinders Icebergers - 38° 28' 31" S 145° 01' 30"

There is a group of intrepid folk in Flinders who get together each morning for a swim from the pier to the yacht club and back. Sean and I joined in the fun, meeting at 7:30am.  Although we did not swim every morning as do some hardy souls.  With the tide out, the swim to the yacht club was very shallow.  On these days, we swam out to the boats, around the pier and back to the beach.

When the weather is calm, the water is very clear and swimming is like flying.  The seabed is rippled sand, seagrass and kelp. Over the sand, we kept a watch for the odd crab or a sting ray.  The seagrass is home to Victoria's marine emblem, the Weedy Sea Dragon.  Shy and well disguised, they are hard to spot but we kept a sharp eye our nonetheless! 

A great way to start the morning!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Nazaaray Eastate - 38° 27' 08"S , 144° 57' 27" E


Nazaaray is the vineyard next door to Gabby's and they make the very yummiest wines. We managed to arrive in Flinders in time for the picking of the 2021 Chardonnay. A great day out socializing with the neighbours.  And we were treated to a preview of the just-bottled 2020 vintage!

Nazaaray is the Peninsula's southernmost winery and is run by Paramdeep and Nirmal Ghumman, hailing from Punjab in India. It is managed using sustainable practices - planting of natives trees, minimizing chemicals by using chickens and sheep to keep down the weeds, using hay as mulch, handpicking the grapes (see above!!) and handmaking the wine. Their wines are superb.  Nazaaray Reserve Pinot Noir 2015 was rated in the top five Australian Pinots tasted by wine writer Janice Robinson and their wines appear on wine lists of some of the best restaurants in Melbourne.

And here we are, kicking back sipping on some gems.  We both love the chardonnay, the pinot is amazing and the shiraz we enjoyed over dinner out first evening at Gabby's, was outstanding.  Our favourite, and the wine we will be lugging back to Canada, is the Pinot Meunier.  We had never heard of the grape but Param educated us!  It is a champagne grape and is one of the most widely planted grapes in France and accounts for 40% of the grapes in the Champagne region.

And Param turns it into an absolutely stunning wine.