Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Week 5: Port Stephens

Home sweet ocean

Thirty hours later we arrived at our destination; the Port of Stephen. Conditions had been less than ideal; a constant large swell combined with a variety of wind strengths competing with an opposing current. Rounding the last cliffs into the Port Stephens inlets was the slowest part of the journey, sails flapping noisily, ditsy wind all over the shop, (remember we had no engine to motor us through this part). Tired skipper and crew finally drifted to a halt, dropped anchor and staggered about the cabin muttering with slow weak jerky withdrawal symptom-like movements. We cooked and ate in a daze before collapsing for a well overdue rest.

We loved remaining marooned on the boat for the entire next day, indulging in chilling out, reading, smiling, and stuffing our faces with M&Ms (Paul’s one vice) whilst film watching. 
Duchmans Bay

Energy restored, we spent the remaining days tied to a free mooring jetty alongside a gaggle of fellow yachties. Our first boating community was born.

Our yachting community
Weather reports dictated that it would be at least a week before we would be able to leave again... such is the cruising life (on a boat with no engine :p). And so that week was spent slowing down and adjusting to the leisurely pace of our days to come, hilltop walks, 4-wheel drives over sand dunes and evening strolls along stretches of sand.

Free climbing
Paul's Spiderman impression
Look at meeeeeeeeeee!

Evening cruise through the sand dunes

Cosy evenings were spent filling our nostrils with fumes from storms (of the food variety), which were taken in turns to be cooked aboard each vessel in our community, re-enacting nautical versions of the TV program “Come dine with me”.

Dinner on Gypsy Lover, a Roberts 37 with Brad, Jon & Cheryl

Burritos on Windy, a Beneteau 43

I remember feeling frustrated when first learning that it was going to take so long to get moving again, but after having taken time to slow down and enjoy such a beautiful place, I feel lucky.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Week 4: Sydney to Port Stephens

"It's just the night in my veins... It's just the night under my skin..."

Finally the wind (amongst other things) gave us it’s blessing to make our exit out of the heads and we were off, leaving Sydney behind to shrink into a collection of twinkling dots in the darkness. 

Most of that first night I kept watch alone in the cockpit, fuelled by the thrill of finally being out on the open water. This enthused Paul’s perception of having party people as crew as it meant he could get some sleep :p . In my mind I had transformed the cockpit into a mini disco that night, alone with the elements, surfing downwind, headphones blaring. I delighted in the way helming is so well suited to dancing. It was a great feeling, disco and motown in my ears, stars overhead, alone on the water, the night to myself, rain pelting down and the wind racing past. Hours were lost to dreaming, writing novels in my head, inventing endless scenarios and stories… oh and occasionally glancing around for other ships :p … a task I was supposedly carrying out diligently.

It ‘s empowering being alone riding the waves in the darkness, just you and the swinging mast light, dancing together under the star-littered sky. Lights from the houses on the shore now a distant vision, a nostalgic reflection of a life left behind. A life of comparative comfort, filled with warmth and light. I loved indulging in the contemplative nature of being alone out here with your thoughts… Well not quite alone, best not forget the existence of the gigantic container ships; stationary vessels of terror looming threateningly in the distance - the main cause for requiring a night watcher in the first place. Having one of those intimidating demons creep up on you, torches blaring like a colossal witches head on fire, quickly jolts you back to reality. They are seriously massive. Alone in the darkness somewhat deranged from sleep deprivation, your eyes find it the perfect time to play tricks on you. They tell you that these beasts are coming straight for you…

Being just the two of us, we took it in turns to be awake and asleep, thus our bodies had to adjust to alternating between these two states every few hours. Every shift felt different, dependent on the environment, weather and any accompanying wildlife. Fresh sunrises having breakfast with dolphins, lazy mornings rolling over the waves with Peter Green’s guitar singing out Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”, whilst real albatrosses soared overhead, bright afternoons, nostalgic sunsets, electric nights….

Monday, 21 May 2012

Week 3 - Go!!!

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 

Mark Twain

Departure date in sight, jobs completed, equipment bought and with final sailor style farewells the bowlines are cast away… 
The last supper

Monday, 14 May 2012

Week 2 – Get set...

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” 

Charles Darwin

And that was week 1 over in the flick of a whale’s tail... Week 2, my golden girl Tina arrived, corks started popping, laughter bubbled and together (a force to be reckoned with) we tackled the nuts, and bolts, rust, installed a solar regulator and battery monitor, fitted the bilge pump, serviced the winches… and a bottle of port… ;)
Miss Tina
Sparkling on the dock of the bay
Row row row your boat...

There's nothing like a fresh air and exercise...
I had begun to settle into my new life, like a hermit crab finding a new shell home; I had conquered the galley (well, the little patch of floor in front of the rocking stoves that I enjoyed lording over), ...

...I successfully dodged ferries when sent on rowing missions - thanks to my time on the canal at the end of our garden at home…ah home, all those millions of miles away, I’m coming back to you!... If the wind will allow! - ...

Rowing in style
...and I got a kick out of being halfway to the shops and realising that I’m not wearing shoes... take that society! The other strange realisation which began to dawn on me was that after having spent most of my life dreading opening my eyes in the morning (especially if the clock hour was still in single figures), that I had started to find it one of the times I looked forward to most; that moment when I poke my head out of the hatch to be greeted with the million-dollar view of the sun rising over the bay, boats bobbing in the surrounding silky water. My eyes surrendering to the notion of revealing themselves to watch as the sky changes from purple through all the shades of blue until resting upon one bright enough to wash away all of yesterdays worries… with a cup of Earl Grey and cigarette in hand… There’s nothing like waking up on the water…

That is not to say that my affection for time spent after the sinking of the sun has diminished. Far from it. Evenings aboard have a magical quality, wrapped up inside this cocoon of light and warmth, bobbing and cooking, cooking and bobbing, stirring it up with Bob Marley, reading, writing, card playing, wine drinking… whilst the rest of the world lives on in the darkness outside. Rowing at night has a special quality too, gliding through the water under the moon and the star shine, surrounded by the glimmering lights of the millionaire houses that will surely be yours one fine day…

And of course time still exists in between these mornings of awe and nights of wander; those moments spent stitching sails on the deck soaking up the last rays that the day had to offer, rowing around the boat in the dingy to wash it clean whilst singing along to '80's tunes, being locked in the cockpit locker to check for leaks.

Paul changing the mast light
Or there were the occasional days when my skipper would wake up on the right side of the cabin and unleash me from duties to enable me to participate in the now almost foreign activity of actual sailing…

Adrian, aka our guardian angel
...and of course there were the more frequent occurrences of socialising on yachts, wining and dining, entertaining the champagne lifestyle on beer budget. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always easy, and it is definitely a life stripped of comforts. Joints complain after sleeping on a sliver of sponge barely covering a wooden plank with my head resting on my fur coat stuffed into a pillow case shivering my way through the night (we need to head north!). Fingers moan after sanding until they bleed, nose sulks after de-blocking the toilet pump. Whole body whimpers after being soaking wet, freezing cold, covered in barnacle juice and having to complete a half hour row in that state to reach the showers. Mind frets when not able to check Facebook every 30 seconds… and taste buds can only dream of the phrase “skinny cap with one”, a now distant memory…

One thing is for sure though; I have spilled a lot of laughter all over this boat. According to Paul I’m always either laughing or singing, which I think is a really nice reflection. Let’s hope these good vibes provide some protection once we’re out on the ocean...

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Week 1 – On your marks...

All aboard

The time to leave Melbourne snuck up behind me, and stood watching over my shoulder as I packed up my life, and transported it by car, plane, train and finally rowing boat out to an anchorage in Greenwich, on the North shore of Sydney, where I poured it unceremoniously into a little 27ft Albin Vega. Paul, my skipper, nearly had a heart attack when he saw the mountain of clothes that emerged from my bag ;) he reckons I have an outfit for every day of the trip…hey, will save on washing :p  
That first week saw alarm clocks blasting at 6am (previously more likely to have been my bedtime!), to get the boat out of the water in order to scrape off the blanket of barnacles engulfing the hull, to then sand and repaint the whole thing with antifouling… A slight contrast from sitting at a desk in an office researching quantum spin chains…  
The boat yard

Et voila!
Dave & Cheeka, boat yard guru
Rod, boat yard barfly
Life for me was beginning to change; we were up and down with the sun, and chugging at a much slower pace. Tasks on a boat consume more time than on land, caused by the diminished equipment, space, water and power (obtained purely from solar panels and wind generator). Sometimes it feels like you’ve barely just finished getting dressed in the morning when suddenly it’s time to start cooking dinner! Cooking is achieved purely on little alcohol-fuelled stoves rocking adorably on pivots. Cleaning… well cleaning is never ending and is achieved in confined spaces with minimum water usage. Want to shower? Run out of water, food, red wine or cigarettes? Time to row ashore...

It was a striking contrast to have the highlight of my day revealing itself as the successful welding of the wind vane or having ones companion make joyful exclamations for the love of his clamping vice! The type of work involved in boat repair/preparation is not the sort that comes naturally to me (…work itself doesn’t come naturally to me :p ), as evidenced by the disbelief on Paul’s face when I asked what a chisel was when asked to pass him one… And there was the occasion (that I’ve been trying my hardest to forget), when I dropped the keys to EVERYTHING in the sea on day two (luckily Paul dived down and got them – hence why air is still allowed to circulate through my lungs). Or how about the time I tried to switch on the music just seconds after witnessing Paul take the battery out… And then of course there are the half empty red wine glasses that get left on the sparkling white deck overnight… Plugging up the vent through which these sorts of calamities spill out of me was one of the reasons I wanted to embark upon a trip like this in the first place. I was hoping become a more practical person… We’re all allowed to dream right?

Inside Rebellion
That first weekend we escaped the city (and the noisy speedboats, jet skis and other motorised monstrosities whose wave production not only disrupts the balance of the boat, but also that of the chemicals inside Pauls head). We headed to Nowra (a couple of hours south of Sydney) to do some climbing with a bunch of friends. I won’t bore you with the details about my reincarnation as Spiderman, but I did get pretty “hooked” and reached some new highs… Topped off with red wine around a campfire… What more could you ask for from a weekend?