Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Australia, Sydney - 22/4/14

We've made some big decisions in the last few weeks. The first of which was deciding not to try and go through the Red Sea. We'd always planned to change our route if the pirate situation looked too dangerous, but it was still a bit of a shock to realize we'll now be going the opposite way around the world. The wrong way, against the wind for months. It took a while for me to get comfortable with the idea - it felt like everything had just been turned upside down and now we were venturing into the unknown. We'd researched ports and anchorages in India and Indonesia, we knew what to do for our visas and we knew where and when we were leaving from. Now we're leaving on a date to be determined, from somewhere up the coast of Queensland and crossing the South Pacific across a vast amount of ocean to eventually end up somewhere in South America.  This new plan didn't exactly leave me brimming with confidence. But it's been a few weeks since this decision was made and now I'm excited. Largely due to having entered the words 'Pacific Islands' into google images.

I'm disappointed we won't get to play with monkeys and elephants in Indonesia, and that we'll miss the eclectic chaos of India. But those countries aren't ideal for sailing through anyway. We're on a boat, and it makes more sense to visit tropical islands. We'll get to go back to New Caledonia and probably Fiji as well, along with Vanuatu and French Polynesia, which should be well worth the 3 months of headwinds. I hope. I very much wanted to see a good chunk of South America as well, which probably wouldn't have happened on our old route, so the decision seems to be pretty positive all around. Plus our chances of being ravaged, tortured, held captive for ransom and losing our boat to pirates in the Red Sea have been greatly reduced. So that's good.

This is a picture from our spot tracker - the dotted lines are the route we've taken so far, and the red X in South America is the general area of our destination. We've got a long way to go!

We've also recently decided to blow a significant amount of cash on a fancy new navigational system. Eating into our savings will mean missing out on something fun we could have done, or a few months of sailing. But it will also make it a lot harder to run into careless boats in the dead of night. Or the middle of the day. Or ever.

We went past a lot of crazy people driving massive ships down the coast of Australia, and they freak me out. Knowing they're out there makes being on watch much, much more stressful - it's like sitting in the middle of a speedway surrounded by drunk drivers whizzing past in formula 1 cars. My levels of nervousness around land escalated significantly after that little yacht behind us nearly got run down near Bundaberg. So considering how much more traffic will be around us in busier areas (once we're away from the chilled out awesomeness of the South Pacific), we've decided we need an AIS. It's a handy little electronic device that sends our location out to other ships and lets us see what boats are around us. Unlike radar, the AIS also tells you what speed it's doing, what kind of boat it is, where it's going, the last port it was at and if it's going to run us over. All useful information, though the majority of it is just to entertain me while I'm on watch. It's pretty cool staring at a dot in the distance and knowing the name of the ship and where it's going. They usually have collision alarms as well, just to be extra safe. I think we'll see a lot less boats now - I noticed during the day when we're more visible, the big guys just went around us. But they have to know where we are first.

We're also finally giving in and submitting to the advances of a permanently mounted chart plotter. Which we refused for a long time - the boat is overrun with GPS devices, 3 of which have charts. We're just too broke to buy the stupidly expensive charts to put on them, which renders them kind of useless. So we mostly use Navionics on Garth's phone and my tablet, as they can be shared between the two and are cheap. That has been great so far, but we need a grown up system to run the AIS on. So an upgrade it is. I've never been so excited about boring electronics - the chartplotter even has wifi! As in, I can look up the charts on my phone whilst lying around in the cockpit like a sleepy sloth. Fabulous.

Our new crew member has arrived as well, which is exciting! Sam is one of Garth's best friends and he'll be chilling with us up the coast until he gets bored of boats. He's been a lot of help and is great fun to be around. Since he arrived we've actually made an effort to be tourists - we spent a whole day exploring Sydney in the rain and had a blast.

We wandered round Paddys markets, ventured to the rocks, stared at the Sydney Harbour bridge and licked the Opera House. Sam assured me that licking it was more normal than just touching it. All the cool kids seemed to be doing it.

So I have a lot of obligatory tourist pictures. But the good news is that Garth is using the big boy camera again, instead of just having me snap pictures on my phone. So hopefully now my visual aids will be fancy and shiny, with a few artsy pictures thrown in when Garth gets excited by pretty things.

The bad news is that we all seem to be as bad as each other - Garth and Sam encourage each other's ridiculousness and neither of them care when I climb on stuff. And then they follow me.  Or I follow them. So I think we'll have some exciting adventures over the next few months!

We found some random boxes on the side of the road. We couldn't figure out what they were for... The conclusion was to climb in them.

There's some beautiful rock walls in Sydney - it's actually a very pretty city. We had a blast exploring and now we just need an expedition to the zoo for our Sydney tourist expedition to be complete!

Xxx Monique

This sign had fallen down and I couldn't resist putting it back up...

Friday, 11 April 2014

Australia, Sydney - 8/04/14

We're in Sydney. But all we've done since we got here is work and sleep, which I guess makes us terrible tourists. Our trip down the Australian coast was pretty uneventful, but pleasant. We checked into Bundaberg and were instantly irritated with Australia. I'm a Queenslander, so I was coming home after being away for four years. I love my country, but this is a different place to the amazing home that I left behind. 

Everybody is obese. Which is probably an unfair observation, but I'm shocked by how many more take-away joints have filled the streets, and by how many people seem to be incapable of walking without assistance. I think everybody has the right to be whoever they want and whatever size they want, but it was just a bit shocking to be surrounded with so much extreme obesity. It seems like Australia is getting closer and closer to America in every way, and this feels like a big step towards losing our Australian identity completely. 

The government and the red tape over here are completely insane. I'm sure it never used to be like this. Garth can't open a bank account or get a Medicare (healthcare) card or do anything because he doesn't have Australian ID. He can't get Australian ID without already having Australian ID to prove his identity. I can't get a new passport in my married name because I don't have an Australian drivers license or a Medicare card. I can't get a Medicare card without a license, or a license without a Medicare card. The whole thing is ridiculous, and I've spent weeks running around trying to fix this to no avail. I need to lodge 3 different forms, waiting weeks in between for each one to arrive before I can lodge the next one. Each one is harder to do than the last and I'm not sure I'll actually be able to get a new passport, which is worrying. 

We came across more stupid red tape when we tried to get pre-paid SIM cards so we could use our phones. We spent an ENTIRE day walking around Bundaberg - we walked to the bus stop, then walked all around town looking for somewhere to buy a SIM card from. Every single phone company needed to see our passports before we could buy one. Of course we hadn't brought them with us... Why would we? And we were leaving the next day, with no plans of being in another city again for quite a while. We eventually managed to buy SIM cards from a department store without our passports, but we needed the Internet to register them. Hours and hours of more walking. No Internet cafes. The whole thing was just a ridiculous amount of effort for a prepaid product - we were happy to leave civilization and red tape behind and take to the sea again. When I got to NZ, I walked into a corner store, asked for a SIM card and they gave it to me. Done.  It's still amazing to be home, but I'm genuinely sorry that my country has become so stupid in my absence. End rant. 

Heading down the coast was a bit exciting at least. We sailed through a few lightning storms, with only light drizzle and a warm breeze. It was scary having a giant lightning conductor sticking up out of our boat with nothing else nearby to distract the weather from incinerating us, but we were fine. We just tried to ignore the bright forks of light surrounding us all day, which was difficult. 

We also came across a small water spout off the coast of Fraser Island, which was pretty awesome... Mostly because it was nowhere near us.

We tried to stop in at Fraser, but couldn't find anywhere easy to anchor. We got stuck in some shallow water along the way, and just sat there for a while pretending we weren't stuck as the tide came in. Slightly embarrassing. I don't want to know what the bottom of the keel looks like now. 

We then spent a week or so on the Sunshine Coast and in Brisbane visiting my family and friends who I hadn't seen in a long time. It was wonderful to be home. We spent a few days with my Mum and then my sister and little niece, catching up on much needed family time. In the last four years I've only seen them once, on my wedding day. So we were sad to leave but it was so wonderful to see them again.

On our first day in Brisbane we caught up with Espie, a dear old friend of mine. We were just intending on catching up for a few hours then heading back to the boat. But he ferried us around, fed us, took us home and insisted we sleep in his giant, comfy bed. It was amazing after sleeping on the boat for two months.

First thing in the morning we picked up some new mattresses and cut them to fit in our berth. Now our bed is super comfortable too! We were ridiculously grateful for the motivation to fix the bed, because otherwise we probably wouldn't have bothered. The difference it made was phenomenal.

We anchored next to South Stradbroke island for a night after we left Brisbane, where Garth proceeded to scare the bejesus out of me. We decided it was too much effort to blow up the dinghy, so put our clothes and towels in dry bags and swam to shore, ignoring the fact that the area is riddled with sharks. It was definitely easier though - we got to shore, dressed, and were ready to explore straight away. There were fun sand dunes to climb and little wallabies everywhere, which was pretty cool. We walked to the other side of the island and sat on the dunes watching the waves, with the outline of the Gold Coast towering behind the picturesque beach. It was beautiful. 

Then Garth decided to walk through the bush back to the boat. I'm not sure how to get him out of the NZ frame of mind he's stuck in, where nothing is poisonous and running into the bush is perfectly safe. There were spiders everywhere and I was terrified we might find snakes... I'm not sure if Straddy even has snakes, but I'm allowed to be frightened of them nonetheless. We eventually made it back, but not before Garth lost a good chunk of his leg to a mud pit. Served him right. 

We had to stop in at Coffs Harbour for a few days to hide from the weather, which ended up being a lovely detour. It's a sweet little town, with lots of cute caf├ęs and a fun, carefree vibe. We anchored next to the massive jetty in the middle of the harbour and swam to it with our clothes in dry bags again. The next day somebody got attacked by a shark on a nearby beach, and that was the end of our swimming adventures. From now on we pump up the stupid dinghy.

We finally arrived in Sydney on a beautiful day, right into the middle of a yacht race. There wasn't really anywhere to hide, so we just tried to skirt around the edges of it. Garth was unimpressed with my enthusiasm for capturing our arrival on camera and kept tacking back and forth to avoid all the boats, ruining all my pictures. But it was definitely beautiful sailing in with the opera house and Harbour Bridge on the skyline of the harbour.

We were then rescued by the fabulous Nick, our sailing instructor from Wellington. Now living in Sydney, he and his amazing wife Candyce opened up their home to us and treated us like royalty for a few weeks. It was actually like living in a palace, and we were stupidly grateful to be looked after so well. 

Then we got to stay with one of my best friends and her family for a few weeks after that, catching up on a lot of lost time. I've never in my life been looked after so well by so many people! So our Sydney adventure definitely started off well.

Now we're living in a lovely apartment with the sweetest Czech/Slovakian couple, and life is good. I'm both dreading moving back into the tiny space on the boat and am stupidly excited to continue our adventure at the same time. It's been nearly six months since we arrived and we have to head off soon, so we have to cram as many cheap touristy activities into the next few weeks as possible. I figure we can't leave Sydney after so long without actually seeing it!

xxx Monique