13 December 2007


I wasn’t going to post (if you can’t say anything nice, etc) but for the sake of all within mumbling range I really should vent. I’ve been a bit cranky. Those who’ve shared house with me call it wearing the cranky pants, though I prefer ‘Grumbellina’, it sounds a lot nicer. Can’t put my finger on it. Should be feeling up after visits from family etc and a sunny and moody grey non-work day on the Mornington Peninsula with an afternoon visit to a chocolatier and touring (ok, got me, lounging around) Merricks Estate. Here’s a few (trivial, indulgent) possible causes…

sticky flies
lack of sleep
overconsumption of wine
cabin fever
crazy dreams about boys who’ve left
award-winning pies that trick you into eating them and leave your digestive tract to deal with the aftermath
reality doom books
perennially split fingers and lips
boatloads of people people people

Find of the week: Merricks Estate pinot noir (hello santa!)

Coveting: free time and a very long bush track

04 December 2007

eggplant doesn't digest

I know this because, after sailing almost the entire east coast of Australia, I’ve just had my first onboard barf. Having withstood a sweaty galley in the lumpiest sea-states skip has encountered in his forty-something sailing years, I finally succumbed on a wee outing from Queenscliff to Flinders. Blame not the sea, but last night's hardcore imbibing. Excess is a grandiose understatement. Pink wine segued nicely into red but my no-barf record was in danger when we started on vodka shots (sweetened with lychees, yum). Four of us emptied a whole litre of ‘woddy’ in this way, mysteriously acquiring Russian accents into the bargain. When I awoke, I knew it was bad. Not only could I not face coffee, I couldn’t recall going to bed or how I made it into my long johns without falling over (must check for bruises). Anyway, after no coffee or breakfast, I started feeling up at the prospect of cheese and tomato toasties for lunch. Should have known that the galley time required to prep toasties for seven, in my fragile state, would be the end. After about half an hour below, I started re-living the ‘hug the bucket’ part of skip’s safety briefing. That’s how I know eggplant doesn’t digest. I finished making the toasties and sat and watched everyone eat recovery lunch. Pooh.

And in other news:

1. I once thought the ubiquitous 'other duties as directed' catch-all was designed to compel you to keep proper files... bah! Now I know it's meant for cool stuff like puppeteering! At the Two Bays launch on Sunday I was the tail end of the giant Weedy the Seadragon. (Weedy being the Victorian marine emblem.) And this is why I don’t have any photos of Andrew Denton’s big hair. (I had readied myself for him to be little but not the hair to be big.) Or Weedy. Or much of the launch at all. I was consoled by a surprise cheer squad of friends from my corporate Melbourne past, but especially D, who said I showed excellent tail characterisation.

2. I’m writing this whilst fondling a bag of frozen peas. Tomorrow I will have a very big finger but am lucky to still have finger after incident with a spring line which in the dark I thought was off but was still on. Finger got squashed in between line and boat. F@!** ouch. Blame it on my stupid faulty head torch. On the bright side, same finger on other hand is now fully recovered from rope burn after botched gybe some weeks ago.

3. Still coming down from sensory overload in Melbourne. Eg:

Endgame, Derrick Jensen; The slow guide to Melbourne
music: Feist, Kaki King, Cat Empire, Machine Translations
movies: Into the Wild (Margaret gave it five stars and I agree)
etc: Dumbo Feather and a kitsch little Chinese soup place on Swanston street and everything in Degraves Street and Collingwood and the Vic markets and Merricks Estate wine and rooftop movies

4. Have succumbed to Facebook. Was lured in to see a Swiss friend's photos and discovered half the literate world is signed on. Despite continuing reservations I have now logged extreme time there. It cannot be maintained.

26 November 2007

coming to a port near you...

Yeehaa. Yeehaaah. Yeeeehaaaaaaaooooowwwwww!

* tucks shirt in and composes self *

Now I've got that over with, here is the schedule for Two Bays.

(If you knew how long it took me to place and format this data manually after giving up trying to create a legible image by importing from both Word and Excel into Photoshop, you'd feel better about the long drive and just come.)

And, if you're like me and dying to know how tall Andrew Denton really is, come along to the launch on Sunday 2 December at 11am at Boatman's Wharf, New Quay, Docklands (off Docklands Drive - mel ref 2E, C5).

Sun 2
Leg: Docklands to Queenscliff
Berth: Queenscliff
Activities: Launch

Mon 3
Leg: PPB entrance
Berth: Mud Island/Rye/Queenscliff
Activities: PPB exchange transects

Tue 4
Leg: PPB to Flinders
Berth: Flinders

Wed 5
Berth: Flinders
Activities: Pier Engagement*

Thu 6
Berth: Flinders
Activities: Citizen Science Day

Fri 7
Leg: Flinders to Hastings
Berth: Hastings
Activities: Ocean dialogues & CMA led discussion about Western Port study

Sat 8
Berth: Hastings
Activities: Citizen Science / Pier Engagement*

Sun 9
Rest day, Hastings

Mon 10
Leg: Hastings to Hastings
Berth: Hastings
Activities: CMA Pelican catchment tour

Tue 11
Leg: Hastings to Rhyll
Berth: Rhyll
Activities: Ecosystem Indicators, Research Partner & Pier Engagement*

Wed 12
Leg: Rhyll to Queenscliff
Berth: Queenscliff
Activities: Pier Engagement*

Thu 13
Leg: Queenscliff to Rye
Berth: Rye
Activities: Pier Engagement*

Fri 14
Rest day, Rye

Sat 15
Leg: Frankston to Ricketts
Berth: Mordialloc
Activities: Citizen Science, Sunset Tour led by Kingston Council (Topsy Petchey)

Sun 16
Leg: Ricketts
Berth: Patterson R (?)
Activities: Habitat mapping-Ricketts

Mon 17
Leg: Rickets to Williamstown
Berth: Williamstown
Activities: Habitat mapping – Jawbone & Pier Engagement*

Tue 18
Leg: Williamstown to Werribee South
Berth: Werribee South
Activities: Habitat mapping – Pt Cook & Pier Engagement*

Wed 19
Leg: Altona to Geelong
Berth: Geelong
Activities: Pier Engagement*

Thu 20
Leg: Geelong to Portsea around the coast
Berth: Portsea
Activities: Sea country

Fri 21
Rest day, Portsea

*All pier engagements are between 5pm and 6.30 pm.

I'd love to see you somewhere along the way :)

24 November 2007

'b' is for...

big blog
I’ve been without internet for three plus days. This one’s gonna hurt. But there are chapters, see?

being on the tv
Set thy VCRs. It happens on Monday night. Message Stick, 6pm. ABC (as if you had to ask). Repeated at 1.30pm on the following Sunday.

big eye tuna
Three full days of motor-sailing got us from Southport to Sydney. On the way, FM snared a big eye tuna, which the Japanese deem the best-eating of all sashimi. Within an hour we were ogling an empty plate around a table of spilled soy, pickled ginger and wasabi. (I hereby renounce my affiliation with tubed wasabi in favour of the powdered stuff, it rocks.) We had the rest lightly seared on the barbie after a day's rest in the fridge. The Japanese are on to a good thing.

brekky in Bondi + a boatshed party
Despite my innate repulsion towards Sydney and all its glam, I must admit it is a spectacular place to arrive at by sea. Even the plastic mansions and Tupperware boats can’t mar its spectacle. I won’t mention the candy-striped lighthouse on South Head, since I’ve only just stopped laughing a week later. After waiting for a bridge opening (not the bridge - we’re big but not that big), we motored to our anchorage in Sugarloaf Bay, a quiet, forest-fringed arm north of Middle Harbour and home to L’s brother. ‘Home’ being the black sheep sibling of Sydney waterfront property. Think rattling wooden shack with curtains for interior doors, nestled in the bush, affording an eyeful of water. Who needs air con when the glass slides out of the window frame?

Between the shack and the boat, it was a rather hard way to spend a couple of days in Sydney. Notable events included a blitz on the local St Vinnies; Sculpture by the Sea along the Bondi to Tamarama coastal walk, followed by brekky in Bondi; and a party at L’s brother’s boatshed (a short walk down the 'front yard'). Morning visits from the Vittoria boat had us in raptures. (My new vocation?)

baby vacuum
Skip’s bub was onboard between Brisbane and Sydney and I dutifully witnessed big wads of time just vanish. His favourite things seem to be walking (which he can do on his own but insists you hold his hands while he perfects it), eating bananas and trying to handle unattended glasses of adult-only beverage. His vocab is miserly but he can sign a few words such as ‘more’ and ‘food’ which is quite cool. Mysteriously, he insists on referring to me as ‘aaayyyy’. Some take this literally, as in the letter ‘a’ but I’m convinced it’s a Fonzie greeting. I was unable to embellish the greeting with a thumbs-up, but did teach him to pinch his nose and say ‘pee-yew’ during nappy changes. I’ll make a great aunty one day.

bermagui to bega and back or, the labour of casting a vote while at sea
As a very motivated voter, I’ve been the onboard electoral conscience, analysing our early voting options and recommending voting methods and locations. Which is not terribly straightforward when you don’t know where or when you will make landfall, let alone in which state.

It appeared that Sydney would be our only opportunity to cast an early vote and we were unlikely to make Melbourne by election day. Postal voting was out of the question as we had nowhere to have the ballot papers sent.
Our first attempt at an early vote – in Sydney – didn’t even get off the ground. On our way to shore, FM cut his foot on oysters. Skip spent a good hour digging shards out of the wound, by which time the early voting centre had closed. I tried really hard not to sulk.

At about this time, I learned that when I put my life into storage and moved in with C, I also acquired the distinction of being enrolled in Queensland’s most marginal Liberal seat. (Inward shudder.) When I shared this news, skip’s feelings toward voting appeared to crank up somewhat. The usual grumpy commentary about the difficulties of voting at sea morphed into a personal quest to part the Pacific and speed me overland via golden chariot to a polling place.

Alas, there were no early voting centres in Bermagui, our next landfall and designated pit-stop to pick up L’s dad. So, after a day’s wait for the nearest early voting centre to open (early and nearest being horrible misnomers), we traipsed off in L’s dad’s car to Bega – home of middle-of-the-road cheese and a two-hour return trip from Bermi. We were first in line when the old hall opened. When we came out, we were so amped we had to go for coffee. (In Bega, mind you.)

(In case you’re wondering why we couldn’t have had the ballot papers posted to L’s parents’ place, the Australian Electoral Commission requires that applications for a postal vote be made by mail. Which of course excludes those at sea for long periods.)

L’s mum sent us off with a garbage bag full of herbs and vegies from the garden, a tub of anzac bickies, a fruit cake and a chocolate cake. Yum.

We’ve been hiding from a nasty south-westerly in Bittangabee Bay for a few days now. It’s devastatingly beautiful – a narrow white beach laced with giant honey myrtle melaleuca. It’s also devastatingly cold and devastatingly out of mobile and internet range. This has led to lots of reading, eating and tea-drinking. And stupid jokes about our penchant for greens at mealtimes (still coming down from the vote). Deep glossy zucchinis and broccoli florets went into a linguine with toasted pine nuts, tomato oil, thyme and pecorino. They also turned up on our tomato, ricotta and oregano pizzas and again last night with a garlicky roast lamb.

After much cocooning, it was time to explore. I counted 10km after setting out late one rainy afternoon; the next day FM and I walked north towards Hegarty’s Bay and then backtracked south to Green Cape Lighthouse (a beautiful omen?), clocking about 18km. Wildlife sightings in Bittangabee: a whale, dolphins, a pair of lyrebirds, throngs of wallabies, an eastern grey 'roo, king parrots, one brown snake (which tried to share our fruit cake) and loads of stingrays.

bloody exciting
I’m taking a jag to south east Asia in late January. Actually it’s more like a stint, leaving late January and returning mid-April. Or earlier if the heat and wet get too much. At $500 return to KL, I felt a sort of responsibility to tight-arse travellers everywhere to snag it.

16 November 2007

i love the nightlife, baby

Two nights ago…

Both genoas out, surfing at 16 knots on a following sea. In the galley, we hear water whooshing down the hull and dolphins chirruping. We go to the bow and there’s at least 10 of them, maybe more, zooming through the surf, streaming phosphorescence. Giggling as the water displaced by our bow tickles their backs. One jumps high out of a wave, the big show-off. You can almost touch their gleaming backs. All five of us are up on the bow, laughing, howling, riding the waves, egging them on. This is as cool as it gets.

The night before…

Midnight. Everyone’s in slumber-licious rock-a-bye. The swell rocks me in my seat at the helm. The sea gently swooshes against the hulls. Skip snores next to me in the wheelhouse bunk. No other boats around. Nothing on radar. I pray for beacons and ships with lights I can’t work out, something to focus on. Try not to think about chocolate. Creep to galley and make cup of tea. Return to wheelhouse. Finish tea, still hungry so return to galley for nuts. Back to wheelhouse. Still not thinking about chocolate. Get out planisphere which arrived with current issue of Australian Geographic. Strain neck looking at stars. Shine head torch on planisphere and succumb to temporary blindness and total loss of night vision. Abandon attempt at scientific appreciation of stars. Amuse self by spelling out different words using radiotelephony alphabet:

Lima, India, November, delta, tango.

Go to fridge and get chocolate out. Feel more awake now but still nothing happening. There's a game I've got going, it's pretty much the maritime equivalent of I-spy - the last resort when all possible forms of night watch entertainment (stars, chocolate, tea) have been exhausted. You play it by listing nautical terms which have transitioned to common useage. Here’s where I’m up to:

ship shape
all hands on deck
telltale sign
down the hatch / batten the hatches
keep watch
cut of your jib

set sail
three sheets to the wind
learn the ropes
at the helm
plot a course
dead reckoning
even keel
toe the line
give leeway
give a wide berth

I'm sure there are more. And plenty of uneventful night watches...

10 November 2007

The Birthday Week

Left Brissie yesterday after a great week in town. We were berthed at Dockside, under the Story Bridge – where K had his boat (note relief at use of past tense). Our arrival was happily heralded with a butterfly escort up the river. They and crew braved my strains of ‘Viva Bris-vegas’ and excited commentary: “look, that’s the road to the airport” and “ooh, the old wool stores, they’ve been converted into fancy-pants apartments”. Clearly, I’ve been away from city life too long.

The week we were in Brissie was also The Birthday Week. Which included a small gathering for birthday jazz and wine and tapas and comedy. Followed by more birthday wine, followed by birthday chocolate (why does Brisbane’s only dessert bar close so early on a Sunday night?). Which was inevitably followed next morning by a brain fuzz. Followed by self-talk in the vein of “oh dear, I’m either terribly out of practice or really getting old”. Followed by the realisation that this must also mean I’m not a real sailor, because everyone knows sailors are all old lushes. The birthday carousing was followed by a post-birthday cook-up of home-made baked beans. Followed by… (I think this is where I should stop).

Also used the week to stock up on wine and books (my cabin is now the boat’s unofficial wine bar with library). And had a haircut and went to the markets and ate out lots. Also went into my former work and talked lots about life after desk to people stuck behind desks. (It’s hard not to feel guilty, sometimes.) Then my old boss asked me back and laughed, knowing my answer which was left unsaid. (More awkward guilt.) Also found out I've accrued more leave while I've been on leave, so got paid some more. There are some good things about government.

Also diagnosed the severity of my disconnection from cultural life. I looked up what movies were on. And realised I had not heard of any of them. Repeat: any of them. I went online to see what Margaret and David had to say. Then made a really ordinary choice and saw that Jesse James movie which, though beautifully shot, is really long and s-l-o-o-o-w. And sort of sleep-inducing after two months of nil moving images and lots of night watches. Naturally, this led to more self-talk about being old.

Caught up with friends. Most of the conversations started with “I didn’t recognise you, you’re so brown”. (A great antidote to previous self-talk.) Jewellery designer friend Ren and I hatched a plan for a collaborative exhibition next year. Which will involve further purposeful wandering – to collect found objects. I’m being cagey on purpose, in case we don't do it. Still in the craft realm, I’ve squirrelled my fabric stash aboard for use over xmas.

Article in map magazine came out yesterday so am celebrating being published travel writer. Raced around town on first mate’s bike (after returning my car to its minder) to hunt down copies of the mag. Happily, the editors snipped very little, making just style changes to text but using only one (the least favoured) of the six photos I submitted. Which I guess is okay since the pay-per-word doesn’t even get close to AJA recommended, let alone cover images. Ah well, must start somewhere.

Other news is I got paperwork to start logging time towards my coxswain’s. Not that I could fathom skippering a commercial vessel but it’s a great way to learn skills for my own boat… one day.

Have also spent wads of time with skip's 15-month-old… which has lead to finding myself of late morning still unshowered, making paper planes out of The Australian and talking in a funny voice (badly). Bound to continue until Sydney, where bub and mum get off.

Also had camera diagnosed… the good news is it’s a manufacturing fault with the lens and not a result of anything I've inflicted on it during two months at sea. The bad news is it will cost a current week’s wages to get fixed. Which can only be done in Melbourne. And it will take as long to send it down as to sail it down. Managing to force a smile through all this with the new compact digital, acquired in Cairns. Have just posted the first pics – including me with the toona and me (above) in perfect balance (camera in one hand, G&T in the other). A theme emerging? Well, it was Birthday Week.

Tonight we’re anchored in the Gold Coast seaway, waiting for the wind to ease before heading south. We've had the guy who painted the boat and his partner sail with us from Brisbane. He told loads of stories about his life as a private investigator. She reckoned the galley was an awful colour. Funnily, they live in Cheltenham. It's a small world.

30 October 2007

things that bite, part two

I have blood on my hands. Me and Estelle, large chunks of the weekend with handlines out. Nothing. Yesterday I thought I'd give it a miss. As we pass a group of rocky outcrops (somewhat incongruously named The Clara Group), the water becomes turbulent.

Skip: "Why don't you throw a line out?"

Estelle wisely sits this one out. Me, I can already taste spanish mack.

Out goes skip's best lure. At seven knots through a choppy sea, there's one helluva drag. I reel in, just to be sure. Nothing. After not very long there's a small but definite tug. Reel in. Again, nothing. Third time lucky. A strike. Got him. He's a biggie. I sink to my haunches and clutch the reel to my belly while yelling for help. Hope I haven't snagged a shark!

Skip comes first and has a hold. "He's a biggie." Passes the reel back to me and darts to the wheelhouse to steer us off course to slow us down. First mate arrives and helps me haul in the line. "Wow, he's big."

A big slab of silver ploughs along the suface.

Skip arrives with the gaff. (Animal lovers are advised to look away now.)

Fishy is big indeed and spewing blood on the deck from a big gaff wound. He's also swallowed the three-hooked lure whole. Poor fishy, sorry fishy. I start apologising.

Skip makes good with the ID: "Mackerel tuna, not very good eating. I'd throw him back, but he's as good as dead."

Fishy streams blood and flicks around for a bit. First mate calls for the knife. Fishy twitches with a throatful of lure.

The Australian Fish Guide advises my catch is a "highly prized lightweight game species... (and) can reach one metre in length and 12 kg... (and) has dark sinewy meat which is best steamed and served with sauces or used as berley or cut bait". Oh. Dammit. It started with such promise.

Skip adds to his review: "It's really strong, oily meat. I guess I'd eat it if I was really hungry."

I spend the rest of the afternoon filleting. We have him for dinner, lightly steamed and drenched in lemon juice with salt and pepper. The baked potatoes are so crunchy-good that no-one complains about fishy. In fact, after such a bad wrap, we agree that he tastes quite okay. Bordering on good, even. I feel marginally better about hooking him. Just marginally.

19 October 2007

things that bite

No doubt Australia’s collective irrit-o-meter is registering a dirty big hit right now. Poor populous, with lounge rooms and TVs, witnessing night after night of hair-pulling in the electioneering ring. That must bite. ‘Specially now Johnny’s come over all ‘green’. In my little cultural vacuum (otherwise known as the boat), I’m contributing in my own meagre way, channelling irritation via an incursion of bites and welts. Big festy ones, with bits of arm and leg visible in between.

It all started with another Monday Morning Moment. Walking along the seaward shore of Hinchinbrook Island, setting off from George’s Point to walk the 32 kilometre, World Heritage-billed Thorsborne Trail. Sand-skirted forest. Jagged escarpments. Thumping surf. Sea eagles cruising. Bruised sky. Cool breeze at our backs after maddeningly muggy days. Like many a sorry tale, it began on a whim, with much giddy excitement.

First mate, deckie and I book our walk – four days, three nights – the day before setting out, provisioning as much as is possible on a Sunday in a small town. A billy is improvised from an International Roast tin (which, naturally, only saw Vittoria from thence on). A ride is hastily arranged – with Nino from Ingham, who’d been on the overnight sail with us to Goold Island – south to Lucinda, where Nino introduces us to the publican who lets us camp in her backyard. We have beach towels for sleeping mats and a flustery dome tent, which we nickname the Taj for its seeming opulence when erected next to first mate’s mozzie net, sans ground sheet. Curlews wail all night. Up early to thumb a ride (really) in the back of a ute (truly) down the road to the ferry.

To self: Why do I feel like I’m 19 again?

Night one on the island. Camp at Mulligan’s Falls and lovely swims in small waterhole with inquisitive jungle perch. We swim to escape the swarms of march flies, sandflies, mozzies – really, anything that flies and bites. Why did we choose to walk on an island with 31 species of mangrove? The Bushman’s puts up token resistance. By morning I’m having chickenpox flashbacks.

Our second day’s walk gets us out of rainforest and into coastal shrubland... grasstrees, she-oaks, banksias and big views over the Palm islands, Magnetic Island and the southern hemisphere’s longest jetty, at 5 kilometres – which delivers sugar to ships from the Lucinda wharf. I’m dog-happy as the bites get a good scratch on the overgrown track.

Swim and late lunch at an ‘infinity’ rockpool atop Zoe Falls, with The Most Amazing View Ever, followed by us pitching the Taj at The Most Stupid Place Ever for a Campsite: the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service established site, next to a mangrove-lined estuary and an ‘Achtung – camp well away from water’ sign. A temporary wire fence has been erected “due to recent croc sightings”. First mate requests permission to kip in the Taj tonight.

Here we meet Tom from London who is travelling solo. First mate urges me, as the token single female in our party, to get chatty and impose upon Tom's gas stove to cook our dinner. (Something we couldn’t acquire or improvise at short notice. We made a fire last night, in the absence of other campers, but there are two other parties at tonight’s camp.) Tom happily exchanges fuel for coffee, chocolate and a chat. We make a fire anyway, since we’re desperate to repel things that bite.

Day three on the island. We knock off almost half the trail in one go: 14.5 kilometres, Zoe Bay to Nina Bay. Rainforest, heathland, salt flats. Paperbarks and quandongs. Wompoo fruit doves. Orange-pink rocks and a lone sea turtle.

At a creek crossing, first mate applies mud to legs in a bid to soothe and repel. We watch his instant relief and follow suit. Tramping off, we come across three guys from Sydney, who think our muddy stockings are hilarious and want to take photos. We start hair-braining a marketing plan for Bandjin (Hinchinbrook's traditional owners) organic moisturising mud mask.

We swim and lunch at Banksia Bay (fondly renamed Salami Bay in honour of dwindling rations) and rock-hop a few headlands. As we hit the sand at Little Ramsay Bay, we spot a walloping big croc 10 metres offshore. Just cruising around looking hungry. Glad now to have finished the salami.

Arrive at Nina Bay before dusk and make a fire on the beach under a big she-oak. Pitch the Taj and sip a couple of coconuts through a pink bendy straw. I try not to ponder where the straw came from. Meet fellow campers, Adam and Andrew, who come in on kayaks. Turns out they also fly planes, scuba dive and climb big mountains. Before the year is out, one will climb in Nepal and dive in Papua New Guinea. The other’s off to China. Our Thorsborne attempt suddenly feels a bit lightweight.

(An aside in the realm of things I’m not but wish I was: we were mistaken twice in as many days as marine biologists following our explanation of Pelican’s work.

First mate goes into corrective mode: “Nah, we’re just deckhands.”)

We have a good night yakking round the fire with our new friends but worry about Tom, who was also going to overnight at Nina. We hope he didn’t stop to swim at Little Ramsay. Thankfully, he strides into camp next morning in time to join us for coffee. We farewell the kayakers. It’s a short walk to the end of the trail and a long wait with the sandflies for our ferry, which takes us to the Wilderness Lodge for showers, beers, lunch and a spot of aimless lounging.

Have uploaded a swag of photos from the Hopevale Rodeo, the Cardwell sails, Hinchinbrook (of course) and other miscellany.

The 7.30 Report feature will air next week... if you're tv-less like me, check out the vodcast.

10 October 2007

a blur of turtles, sea and bulls

Doof, doof, thud, giggle. Repeat for 20 minutes with increasing volume. That’s the sound of four-year-old Abby using my cabin roof as a gym mat. I’ve had five hours sleep, tops. After two consecutive nights and part-days sailing, and barely a loose minute in over a week, I’m swallowing expletives. Give in, get up, make coffee. Find a spot to watch the world go by. You should see the view. Regrettably, you can’t, since the camera has succumbed to intermittent sea trauma. I kinda know how it feels. Anyway, we’ve got a yellow ribbon, Mission Beach, unfurling on our right, Dunk Island on our left (where I once face-planted the water in a feeble attempt at waterskiing.) The wind is blowing raspberries, mocking us with not even two knots on the nose. It’s a total glass-off. And bloody steamy. But what a view. I pull out the notepad to start some serious catch-up.

Skip, from the wheelhouse: “Sam, can you do a watch?”

Days and bit days “off” have mysteriously been sapped by such calls. This morning though, I surreptitiously scribble with one eye on the horizon. Still loving the deckie duties... Last night on watch I advanced to unsupervised plotting of waypoints. Feels rather good to make the boat swing to a new course. In the dark. While everyone sleeps.

The past 10 days have been a blur of hyperactivity. I will do my best to update significant goings on during the rather large gap between posts.

We had two days of turtle-tagging at Cape Flattery with Dr Ian Bell and Sam Dibella from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. They brought two very large green turtles up onto Pelican’s beach for a scientific once-over. At which point, naturally, the camera had its first hissy fit.

We did loads of day sails at Flattery, where the Hopevale mob had set up camp. On our first day turtle tagging we orchestrated an unscheduled lunch for 33 people (thank you Mr Heinz). We also did a girls-only sail which included the women Elders.

The ABC guys spent quite a bit of time aboard and were loads of fun. Cam the cameraman (of course) and Paul the sound guy are really dry. Jeremy – who also runs the Laura festival and various other Indigenous arts festivals – is a hoot. On their second trip to the boat, the guys brought lollies (currency, I suspect, for our coffee). They are without cooked food at camp and surviving on bully beef and muesli bars, so were fortunately capable of appreciating our sausages-and-beans lunch. They also send us chocolate when they split camp. I love the ABC. The 7.30 Report will probably broadcast our piece next week. Listen to skip’s radio interview
and see my photo (the lead one) incorrectly attributed. (My love lessens somewhat.)

We also celebrated second mate’s very important milestone birthday with bacon and eggs and banana smoothies. We were invited ashore for a meal catered by a bush chef: campfire pot-roasted lamb and vegies. This was followed by pancakes with fruit salad, line dancing with the women Elders, a talk by our turtle friends and a doco about a 23 year old native American chief’s quest to preserve Arctic land from drilling (courtesy our digital storytelling guru). A superb finale, with campfire smoke wafting in the projector's beam and the lazy clack of the genny simulating a movie reel. We sit on milk crates. Me, with a snoring six year old in my lap.

On Saturday we hired a four wheel drive to visit the Hopevale Rodeo. Lots of red dust and angry cattle. Despite misgivings, it provided some great photo ops. (Camera now settled into temperamental stop-start modus operandi.)

Back in Cooktown, we did a couple of day sails with Wujal Wujal mob and people with disabilities. Core crew celebrated the end of project at Cook’s Landing – the kiosk outside the barge we tie up to – with ginger beers all round. (We remain dry until Cairns.) Skip affirmed his satisfaction with crew and I'm officially welcomed to 'the family'. We enjoy a celebratory dinner courtesy the ANZ and motor south to Cairns, where the Pelican brood has our last supper together.

After less than 24 hours in Cairns, we set off before midnight, leaving first mate behind for some well-earned G&Ts by the pool. We have Estelle B and Abby aboard, along with Kelly, a percussionist who will get the kids drumming. Arrived Cardwell yesterday afternoon for the Caring for Country Indigenous Land and Sea Management Conference. Am not going to be responsible for telling the crew that Malcolm Turnbull is in town. It would count as aiding and abetting.
We will hopefully get to check out the Girringun Cultural Festival, which follows the serious talkie part. We’ll be doing day sails with Indigenous kids and conference delegates throughout the week.

Cardwell is bizarre. It’s a retro beach town with a couple of fish and chip joints and a pub. The marina is just south of town and is v plush, with resort buggies and McHoliday Mansions. We have round-the-clock use of a palm-fringed pool and clean hot showers, and Pelican has a whole pontoon to herself (unlike our pit-stop in Cairns where her bow hung two metres off the finger). We’re all happy.

Marina fees are also substantially lower and skip is considering keeping the boat here for our scheduled “week off”. Meanwhile I’m doing some quick sussing of the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island and reprioritising a looming article deadline.

In other news, I’ve signed on for the delivery to Melbourne (four weeks of island hopping proved too much to refuse) and for Two Bays in Melbourne in December.

30 September 2007

nuther day at the office...

Rocky Isles. Die of jealousy here. Nuff said.

29 September 2007

cape country and crays

Our last day at Cape Melville we motored up the coast a few miles to investigate a freshwater spring ashore. A walk through beautiful country, paperbarks and bloodwoods and long crunchy ochre grasses. The vegetation changed and we were upon a rainforest gully and spring. We stopped so Hector Michael and Des Bowen could tell the boys about their own experiences in this country. We pass a couple of dirt bike riders and a German couple in a four-wheel drive and make our way to the swimming hole. Flat granite slabs and boulders provide a platform for firetruck red wattles abuzz with bumblebees. The water is cool and mineral fresh and everyone gets wet. Little streams escape from nooks and tumble down rock-sides. Dragonflies like red biplanes swoop the waterflows. The older boys go climbing and see a rock wallaby. Ranger Mal tells me this is one of the few places on the Cape where fox palms – the iconic tropical palm tree – are endemic. It’s warming to see the Elders get excited seeing their country and sharing their knowledge. On this morning’s little voyage, softly-spoken Hector Michael pointed out a couple of islands nearby which according to local folklore are a mother dugong and her calf. Des pointed out the delineation between Starke and its northern neighbouring lands whose name I forget. He told the story about the government’s attempted sale of large parcels of land at Starke in America - which became the impetus for The Wilderness Society's lobbying for protection of Cape York. This is the same land he drove cattle through in his younger days. I wonder how much of this knowledge will be retained by the boys. I was impressed by one of the older boys telling E and I about the medicinal use of the milky liquid found in the green ant nest, which can be boiled down and used as a pain reliever. Generally I suspect that much of the traditional knowledge will be lost. I hope I’m wrong.

After the swim we went back to our anchorage so the boys could pack up their camp. They had a final boys fire circle on the beach and returned to the boat. We made dinner early in anticipation of a rough overnight sail into the wind, heading south to Cape Flattery. We were right: it was pretty lumpy (the seas, not dinner!). I managed to cook copious amounts of rice and serve 24 curries from the very hot galley in the chop. I emerged a little green and desperate for air but having done the job. I think being at anchor for three days and going below deck immediately in rough seas did it, but I settled in an hour or so and was fine. Up at 5am for another dawn watch (with full moon) and tea-lady duties as we approached Cape Flattery. We anchored and unloaded the boys, Elders and Hopevale teacher (a dedicated young bloke who chose to spend his holidays with us). Pushed through extreme tiredness to clean the galley and then dropped into bed for a powernap and then up again for a few odd jobs and dinner prep, which required a trip ashore to pick up some fresh crays we were given.

Last night I fed The 7.30 Report / Message Stick crew – rationalisation at the ABC means the same crew produce both programs. The crays were on the small side so I cooked them up into a pasta salad and served this along with a green salad and toasted Turkish bread with pesto. My trepidation at dining with news guys – having not read a paper in a week – was unfounded. Dinner conversation was all jokes and who knows who in the small world of Indigenous communities on the Cape. Jeremy Gaia (very amiable Message Stick reporter) made the mistake of asking where I did my chef’s training. More jokes, this time everyone’s suddenly not hungry. Yes, very funny indeed. I didn’t tell them about the little black bugs I sieved from the pasta (which had been onboard for an indeterminate time). Just made sure I served it with lots of cracked pepper… hehe!

The cooking is lots of fun when it's just the crew. We're all real foodies and skip is committed to ensuring we eat well – organic, free-range and fresh where possible – so I just cook the things I like to eat, which is pretty easy as we’re still stocked with fresh stuff. (They also know their coffee. First mate is head coffee fiend onboard and took personal responsibility for having all the espresso pots reconditioned before we left Cairns!) The holus bolus industrial pot stuff is a different experience. I enjoyed supervising the boys to cook for the entire mob... though we use their provisions so we’re all a bit over moo food and bully beef sandwiches!

Anyway, back to the ABC guys, who are here to document Pelican’s work with the Hopevale community. The film crew came aboard this morning to interview skip (and had their first real coffees since leaving southern capitals). They’ll hang around for a few days and also film us on the day sails. The Message Stick program will probably screen in early 2008. Not sure when or whether the material will find its way to The 7.30 Report.

Free day today. Chose not to go ashore in preference to chilling out on the boat - should be plenty of time yet to go and check out the community camp and hopefully some of the famed silica dunes. After a long-awaited shower, several espresso injections and the media bizzo, I edited skip’s log and contributed photos. Also picked up the el-cheapo nylon-string guitar, which skip acquired in Cairns, for a bit. Lovely nylon.

We saw dolphins from the boat this morning – either Indo-Pacific Humpbacked or Irrawaddy, but they didn’t surface for long enough to be properly identified. Also, skip and second mate sighted a croc round the cape yesterday when they went to get a manifold welded (or something like that). Luckily they were on land at the time and not in the duck. Speaking of ducks, there's a pair of cute little birds hanging round the rigging, which skip just chased out of the sailbag. Am yet to get in a decent turtle sighting but will probably spend lots of time on deck in coming days...

26 September 2007

update from cape melville...

At dusk on our first day of sailing from Cairns, skip caught a mackerel which, an hour later, became sashimi entrĂ©e, followed by succulent steaks on the barbecue... mmm. Arrived in Cooktown at about 4am on Saturday. Did two more trips to the stupidmarket (the provisioning thing made my head spin) and a sunset walk up to Cook’s lookout.

Sunday - first day on the project. We welcomed aboard 11 boys aged between 11 and 16, three elders and an Indigenous park ranger – all from Hopevale. We also have a teacher from Hopevale and the ANZ rep from Cooktown on board. All up, 24 ‘ POB’ (people on board). Left Cooktown early Sunday and sailed to Lizard Island, arriving at sundown. Anchored at Watson’s Bay (the main anchorage at Lizard) with quite a few cruising yachts.

The first policy on the boat is to get the boys involved in all parts of Pelican’s operation. From the moment we untied at Cooktown, they’ve been hands on with both the sailing and cooking. My directorial debut was a barbecue lunch, followed by a barbecue dinner with baked spuds and salad. Both for 24 people (more head spinning, and in both directions this time).

A note about the food. The mob brought their own supplies for five days, which I estimate as roughly six cows and truckloads of bread, potatoes, rice, tinned meat, weet-bix and sugar. The second policy onboard Pelican is that when we’re all together at lunch or dinner, we eat their grub. After two days, skip is the first to bitch (albeit to crew) about the quantities of flesh being consumed.

Some funny anecdotes re the food:

One: Little Elijah is a real foodie and always hanging around the galley. Seeking something other than iceberg lettuce for the salad, I thought of the very ripe avocados in the top fridge. “Let’s put a couple of avos in the salad!” “Abos?” he asked with all the disgust a ten-year-old can muster.

Two: Supervising my first lunch, I darted between the barbecue (on deck) and the galley, where the onion chopping operation was in full swing. Looking up at me from the galley were three scruffy boys crying their eyes out over onion fumes. Even second mate, who was sitting near the hatch, had to move to escape rising vapours. (Second mate is the person formerly known as first mate. We have a new FM on the project.)

Have also learnt a few tricks about engaging wayward boys to do the washing up. “I need three strong boys in the galley!” “Me Miss Sam, I’ll go in the galley!” I throw the dishcloth at them before they realise what’s going on.

Back to Lizard Island. Had another “Oh my god it’s Monday morning” moment, walking along the beach that famous and obscenely well-to-do folk fork out $2,000 a day to stay and play on. Tropical blues and hot sun. We took the boys on a 4km walk through the forested inland to the marine research station (one of four on the Great Barrier Reef), where the head scientist spoke about the station’s work. Lunched on the beach (the boys made us tinned meat sandwiches - eew!) and walked to the outrageously priced resort via a succession of secluded coves, where the boys’ chatter about sloppy farts, etc, shattered the idyll of several honeymooners. Arriving at the resort, we were delayed in the hot sun by management, who would not let us continue walking on the beach in front of their restaurant. I suppose if you’re charging people two grand a day, a bunch of little blackfellas traipsing across your lunchtime panorama shatters any illusion of isolation and exclusivity. The upside to their snobbery was a free ride in a glass-bottomed boat over coral and clams back to Watson’s Bay, which the kids loved.

Back at the boat there was time for a swim (yes, it’s still Monday and a working day) and then a walk up to Cook’s lookout (a different one) at sundown with first mate. Arrived back at boat to find dinner organised and being plated, with the boys serving the Elders and women first. (How I managed this, I’m still not quite sure, but lapping it up nonetheless.)

We left Lizard at midnight, sailing north to Cape Melville - the traditional lands of some of the boys. Up at 4am for dawn watch with new first mate. Second mate brings coffees and banana cake (not my handiwork) before knocking off. The wind swings. We furl a genoa and pull the sheet through to port, then set both genoas. Cruising at 7 knots. Sea is calm and the boys asleep on the middle deck. It gets light. The old fellas rise. I put the kettle on and make a round of teas. A light appears on our bow. A fishing boat, heading straight for us. We maintain course. So does the fishing boat. Though we have right of way on two counts, I can now see wet clothes hanging from his deck and my nerves are jangling. Over the radio comes a blast, “What the hell are you doing?” By this time, skip (who sleeps in the wheelhouse) is up and his retort is unflinching. No reply and the other boat gets out of our way. A close call…

I get the boys’ brekky on the table while they sleep. Swear they can smell the sugar (which they complained to the Elders was missing on the first day) and they’re up and into it like a flash. I chat to some of the Elders and make another round of coffees and teas and wash dishes. Crash for an hour and am woken by a man-overboard drill. Little Jepho has everyone in stitches administering CPR to the danbuoy.

Arrive at Cape Melville where the kids and some of our crew go ashore and set up camp for the next two nights. “And then there were six,” reads the whiteboard on deck. (The cook is one of the lucky ones and gets to stay onboard.) I give the galley a clean and muse at the sound of… nothing! “We won’t know what to do with ourselves,” jests first mate to someone on deck. “Oh yes we will!” I reply from the galley. Coffee, chocolate, fresh food, sleep!

Chores blitzed, I prep frittata for lunch, with a crazy green salad and toasted sesame garlic pitta breads. Skip puts on Louis Armstrong. We rock in a stiff breeze and sunlight fills the gleaming middle deck. V civilised. Lovely to have a break from the non-stop madness of 11 boys.

Went ashore today for a walk to a burial site. Then the boys made us lunch (damper burgers!) and had a ‘men’s only circle’ so the three of us girls went beachcombing and got crafty. I made a windchime, a necklace and a Pelican sign from shells, seedpods, grasses and driftwood. E (deckie) made a woven basket. We (the third being the ANZ rep) also collaborated on a flotsam totem.

Tonight’s plans got waylaid by a pan-pan call from a boat a few miles from us, with a 12-year-old on board having an asthma attack. Skip got on the HF and picked up Adelaide Coast Patrol - which got ambos on the line - and a relatively nearby dive vessel with a doctor on board. There was talk of getting a chopper up from Cairns. After a few hours of radio to and fro, the situation settled, and we had a late feed.

Have stacks of photos but will post later… tis well after midnight and must be up in five hours for an early sail up the coast a mile or two where we’ll go ashore for a walk to a freshwater spring.


20 September 2007

three things...

Just a quick note to let you know:

1. Have just posted a couple of comments but am sorry I can't reply to all (gee I sound almost famous) as am v short for time. Am about to go do the humungous provisioning shop at the stupidmarket, before rustling up a seafood bbq dinner for seven and doing last personal laundry for three weeks (OMG I didn't bring enough underwear)...

2. We leave the zoo - I mean Cairns marina - early tomorrow morning, after an 11th hour swat team hits the farmers markets for our fresh produce. I suspect it's going to be action stations for me for the next 19 days, so if I'm a little quiet, it's because I'm cooking for a crew of between five and eight which may extend to lunches and tea-breaks for half the Hopevale community, cleaning out the bilges, helping the deckies, collapsing in a quiet corner somewhere, etc.

3. Will be back in Cairns on 8 October and with any luck, will be back in communication then.

Thanks for all your well wishes, provisioning tips and editorial support.


18 September 2007

the glamorous life

Rampant fingernail grime. Heat rash. Stinging eyelids. Scorched bum… See how glamorous the new life is? I do appreciate how lucky I am to have stumbled on this gig, really. But let me share...

Big hot day today. Sat on burning concrete trying to revive corroded zippers on wet weather gear. The steel-polishing project continues with new reason. We must make Pelican shine for Kerry O’Brien, whose very fine program said yes and will join us for three days in week two (though I don’t think the big K himself will come). I figure that by this time, untold numbers of people will have spewed all over the boat, rendering my cleaning-binge null and void. I heard last year the cook’s bed copped it. As there are no off-limits areas, I’m trying to quickly let go of my hitherto penchant for personal clean space. A totally unreasonable penchant, I now realise. Clean bed – bah!

Did I mention that the steel bizzo has been conducted under the gaze of a passing parade of pier walkers? The finger (pontoon) we’re on runs parallel to the public pier. So people stop, lean on the railing, look at the boat, exchange a few words with one another and walk on. Feel like a boat monkey.

We ‘swung the compass’ today. A whiskery old guy came out with us into Trinity Inlet to work out how much deviation our magnetic compass has – most boats have metal bits that skew the magnetic compass reading. Skip was elated to find Pelican had nil deviation… until whiskers delivered the bad news: the north-west quadrant is five degrees out. Was like failing an exam of sorts.

Other things that impressed me today:
1. Skip’s terminology on the boat. On Pelican, the Leatherman tools are referred to as ‘leather people’.
2. Description of the six-week return trip to Melbourne: two weeks sailing, a month stopping in beautiful spots. Won't sign on though til I wet my toes in Hopevale!

Pardon my lack of reply to first post comments. Have belatedly rectified this and promise to engage in two-way conversation from here on.

Two days til departure.

Hope all's well.


17 September 2007

on the up and up (and up)

Saturday dissolved in a metal blur but am pleased to report that all 24 of Pelican's staunchons (spelling?), along with her two pulpits and two pushpits, now gleam most brilliantly. I got very tasky and 'in the zone' with my iPod on. We were treated to fireworks from the boat that night, over beers and tofu burgers, rustled up by first mate. As the Cairns Festival is on, I'm pretty sure the fireworks were real and not just a figment of my jubiliation at reaching a very important milestone in the steel-polishing project.

A well-earned day off yesterday... after a visit to Rusty's markets in the early hours, first mate and I took off with FM's rainforest guru friend on a very intense bushwalk. I was warned there'd be "lots of botanising" and they weren't wrong. 'Twas like being in my own private episode of Totally Wild, tagging along with two plant nuts. I became ship's unofficial orchid photographer for the day. The 12km walk - to the summit of Kahlpahlim Rock in Davies Creek National Park - was mostly conducted at a 45 degree angle. Hard going but great. After the walk we stopped at the creek, an amazing spot with a white-and-gunmetal rock floor, white sand, waterfalls and the most stunning orange grevillea with charcoal branches. Beers at the Kuranda pub and sushi back in Cairns topped off a great day.

Things should start ramping up this week as our departure date (Friday) looms. Two more crew arrive tomorrow and skip is coming back aboard today. Have just seen the itinerary for Hopevale and am a little daunted by the scale of planned proceedings and traffic through the boat (which, along with FM, I've had the run of for the past week). We do a five day sail up to Cape Flattery, where the community will set up a beach camp. There'll be fishing, snorkelling, hunting, turtle tagging, day sailing to reefs/islands and community development/healing activities. There's also the Hopevale Rodeo and Hula Festival which we might get to see. We've got an indigenous woman joining us who has experience in digital storytelling which sounds v interesting. There is some media interest - Australian Story were keen but pulled out; Message Stick and Four Corners may do something. So keep an ear out for Pelican on the ABC.

Oh... am onboard for the Cardwell gig - an Indigenous Land and Sea Management conference after Hopevale. It's only for a few days though.

14 September 2007

all that steel

Boats are damn demanding creatures. I’ve decided this after a day and a half scrubbing rust off stainless steel bits and bobs. And let me tell you, there are lots and lots of stainless bits and bobs on this hefty mama (all 63 feet of her and nine metres - what's that in feet? - across the beam). Now, I don’t consider myself a slacker when it comes to helping maintain other people’s boats, having done the odd bit of scraping, sanding, bogging, sanding, bogging, bogging, bogging, antifouling, etc. But the rust assault just plain sucks. After an entire morning, you have two gleaming bits of metal the size of chopsticks and sunburnt knees.

So today, after my sunburn started getting sunburnt, I downed gloves and took to the streets on mah new wheels… merrily pedalling to the Botanic Gardens where I came across a little patch of Chocolate Beehive Ginger which looked like something very delicious that Winnie the Pooh might invent if he was working for Willie Wonka. (Let it be said I spent the morning hovering over a bottle of Jif – a product choice greeted with much wincing by our neighbours with the very shiny boat.) Also checked out a couple of exhibitions at a place called The Tanks and one of them was, curiously enough, by a Brissie-based artist who recently asked me to housesit and whose offer I was ‘unavailable’ for due to description of said house - ‘it keeps the rain out’ - and the pet rollcall requiring the best part of two hands to count off).

Last night first mate and I took the zodiac for a squirt around the marina and checked out his dream-boat (a Sparkman and Stephens) and went on an envy tour of all the cruisers anchored outside the marina. I haven’t elaborated much on first mate but he’s a bit of a thinking girl’s man (who beams about his temporarily absent partner, thank you). In the week and a half I’ve known him, he continues to grow in my esteem. Half-way through our apres-dinner cruise, he turned the steering over to me.

Moi: “Where should we go then?”

First mate: “Up to you, you’re in control now.”

Let me remind readers at this point that first mate is… a boy. Read that last comment again (please).

I wonder if this is how Anna Bligh feels right now…

First mate's brilliance continued this afternoon with:

“I thought I’d cook dinner tonight if you're keen."


12 September 2007

bug-eyed in Cairns

Well Cairns is hot and humid, and very, um, Cairns-like. We arrived late on Monday afternoon, greeted by a welcome party of skip's friends offering beers and bubbles (the best kind of welcome party, I say). Not that I knew a single one of them, but like the time on the ferry to Tassie, that didn’t stop me waving madly and chasing streamers (or in this case enjoying offered hospitality).

Am a bit bug-eyed this morning. Realised at 1.30am after about six hours online that I was maybe experiencing web withdrawals after a week at sea. Marinas aren’t known to be quiet places, and accordingly I was woken after not nearly enough sleep by ship horns and choppers and the new neighbours in their towering ‘see how manly I am in my very big boat' boat. The blessed thing is also unlawfully shiny and temporarily blinded me in the morning sun, when I gave in and got up.

Yesterday skip handed me the company card: “Take this and get whatever you want to eat for the week. Don’t spend any of your own money from now on.” OK, can do. The Girl Who Has Renounced Shopping felt a little overwhelmed. And a lot giddy. I might’ve looked in a horribly overpriced shop on the way to the supermarket. But only looked. Before fleeing, violently repulsed.

Today skip will bring me wheels (of the treadly kind) so I will be mobile. Gotta love that skip. Also, there’s a few boats here I’d like to check out (since have been glued to laptop til now), including the Duyfken which I missed in Brissie, and Athena, a luxury three-masted schooner (pretentious and ugly but strangely compelling, just like Paris).

Tonight am catching up with friend Fee who I worked in Yarrabah with. She grew up on a boat and now spends half her time in Wujal Wujal which is right near Hopevale, so she’s going to give me the lay of the land.

Have uploaded some pics from the trip to Flickr – see over there, on your right. Also have a spangly new header which I think has come up alright.

Anyway, best be off since I’m quickly becoming known as She Who Spends Sunny Days Below Deck.

Love to Ren and family – wish I was there. x

10 September 2007

humpbacks, bowlines and b.o

It’s Monday morning and I’ve discovered peace on earth, sailing inside the Barrier Reef at pre-dawn. No other boats around. The radio is silent, the boys asleep. The only sound is that of Pelican cutting through the water at a lazy five knots. We’ve got the leeward genoa, staysail, main and mizzen up. A sliver of moon rises in the east; above it a bright star – Venus, perhaps? – casts a glow on the water. The eastern sky lightens, first yellow, then pink and orange and finally a placid blue moving west overhead. The mainland, now in view, gains definition. I keep an eye on a container ship moving south-west across our bow about five miles off. Skip wakes, we pull in some sail. He makes us coffee. I self-administer a quiz in the Australian Boating Manual (from the nav-desk library – our boat has two libraries!), then practice my clove hitches and bowlines in anticipation of our arrival in Cairns this afternoon. Skip relieves and I go freshen up and lay on the tramp in the sun. With two wash-downs in a week, it’s fair to say that I stink; my hair has felafel crumbs in it; and the top layer of skin has flaked clean off my hands. My shins have copped a hiding from endless trips below deck (usually with an armful of stuff, so I’ve been holding on with knees!). Have to say though, I’m pretty content.

Compare this to a usual Monday morning: get up tired, discover I have nothing to wear, spend way too long getting ready (whilst fending off the always excitable, ‘I drink red cordial for breakfast’ cat), wait for the bus, sit at a keyboard writing speeches and strategies and all sorts of puff that will either be rewritten, not used, stalled in their ascent up the hierarchy and/or were pointless to start with. Throw in a meeting, a ridiculously urgent Ministerial request and a client lobbing round unscheduled for a ‘quick chat’, and that’s the morning done.

If you’re reading this at your desk, my apologies, I don’t mean to rub it in... ok, well maybe just a little! ;) And if you’re a previous manager or client, please stop reading about two paragraphs ago.

This might make a few people rather envious… this afternoon we saw a humpback and calf about 150 metres from the boat: officially the closest I’ve seen whales in the wild. Mum floated with her fluke hoisted in the air for an inordinate length of time (I thought it might’ve been doing headstands but wasn’t game to share this insight with the crew!).

Saturday was a cracker of a day, sailing through the Whitsundays under sunny blue skies and strangely marbled cloud formations - will post photos tomorrow. Can’t wait to get my own boat and go cruising! There was lots of laying around on the tramp, reading and drying out water-logged cells. (Don’t get me wrong, there’s been lots of cooking, washing up and night watches too!)

Fave sailing tunes at the mo’…

Lighthouse, The Waifs
Building ships, Lior
Starlight, Muse
Washed out to sea, Something for Kate
Six months in a leaky boat, Little Birdy version

Secret squirrel stuff… yesterday I critiqued and edited a $10 million funding submission. Can’t say too much, other than skip has a vision (sshhh) which may or may not involve establishing a (crackle, fuzz) marine research and (more crackle, crackle) education institute. Hopefully he’ll remember me when he sits at the helm of that baby too.

Also just heard that my inherited state will get its first female premier this week... about time too! Yet more reason for celebratory ales tonight...

‘Tis all for now. xx

08 September 2007

wet wet wet

Thanks all for the good vibes!

First, my apologies for the lack of comms... after leaving Southport on Tuesday AM, we had a rather uncomfortable couple of days. The weather nastiness peaked off Fraser Island, with a 3-4 metre swell, a 30-something knot south-easterly and a ripper current - all of which made for more chop than a Chinese grandmother's kitchen. The boat has been wet and even my cabin (which affords the luxury of standing room, cupboard space, reading light and porthole overlooking the tramp) sweats. (V good decision to invest in Pelican cases for laptop and camera!)

Even eating has been difficult and I've discovered that there ARE circumstances where a peanut butter sandwich constitutes an elaborate and nourishing meal. Speaking of sandwiches... my first encounter with the galley went down like, well, a sea anchor. Trying to make lunch on day one in a hairy sea-state, having not yet found my sea legs, was a dubious call. I turned green very quickly and had to come up for air. The very gallant first mate Raf took over in the galley, leaving me to ferry plates to the wheel-house. Even that job escaped me... I went a-up on the wet deck and wore the skipper's sandwiches. Yup, a somewhat inauspicious start from the ship's cook!

Since then I've sufficiently redeemed myself with an all-night watch (I got on a roll, assisted by some Old Gold Jamaica and the feeling of being in charge of a 63-foot vessel while three boys slept). Have also churned out a few meals (eg, roasted vegetable ratatouille with minted couscous) - all fare has been vegan in deference to our Sea Shepherd, Nima. Have also perfected skip's coffee... not so hard since he be a fellow coffee snob!

Thursday night we anchored at Middle Percy Island and in the morning motored into the (very narrow) lagoon to replace an anode on one of the props. What a beautiful spot all to ourselves - perfect prop-scrubbing scenery! Middle Percy is home to the fabled beach hut where visiting yachties leave relics from their boats that declare 'I was 'ere'. Spent a good hour wandering through this living library and 'immortalised' Pelican 1's presence in runny ink on coconut husk. Also signed the visitor's book in case you-know-who ever gets here and finds I beat him!!

Well, it's Saturday morning and we're approaching the Whitsundays. Unfortunately we're in a bit of a hurry to get to Cairns for more work on the boat before we leave for Cooktown... though skip has touted the prospect of a stop and a swim, so I'm off to subtly lobby some more in that vein!

May not be able to post again til we arrive in Cairns early next week... will add more pictures then too and resolve blog layout 'issues'.

Hope all's well on land! x

03 September 2007

off with the birds (or one large pelican)

Welcome to the shiny new, just unwrapped blog thing.

After many years stewing inside beauracracies, I've been granted a 12-month pardon to go whet my wanderlust. Woohoo! Life AD (after desk) officially starts at 1100 today when I leave my life in Brisbane to join Pelican - a 63-foot research catamaran in the Polynesian style - to sail to Hopevale, near Cooktown. There we’ll take a group of kids up to their traditional lands at Cape Melville. I'll get a free sail up to Cairns, where my job as cook (hehe!) actually starts. Hopefully I'll find my sealegs quick!

Anyway, gotta busta move so I can shove the last dregs of my material life into boxes before imminent departure. You can see I'm super organised by the hasty establishment of this blog site. More soon, including a bit of background about moi and how I lucked upon this job...