Thursday, June 14, 2012

Go North -- Then Turn Left

We are now actually back to being cruisers and heading north up the coast of Australia towards Cape York. We are now anchored in the river upstream from Port Douglas which is just north of Cairns. Can't imagine we will have internet much longer as north of here there are very few people and lots of wide open spaces. We will be back in contact with the world when we get to Darwin but that is still more than a thousand miles away. Lots of things to cover so ... In the last post about Oz, I said we were going to get a diver to clean the bottom and we did Thought we would take advantage of the opportunity to change our centerboard cable (a just in case kind of thing and we have a spare). Anyway, after he scraped vigorously for about $200 worth we started on the cable and it was a horros show. We got him to come at high tide so there would be room to lower the board and get the cable slack. When we took the cable off the winch it sorted of exploded in tangles (I guess being around the winch for many years does that). When we go the cable back under control we could not move the board up or down. My feeling was that the loose cable had come off one of the two pulleys (hidden inside a fiberglass sleeve) that lead from the winch to the board. Tide was starting to drop and there was 7 vertical feet of board sticking out with end resting just into the mud. I got the diver to but a rope around the board end that I took to winches on either side of the cockpit and waited for the tide to come back - with high tide to come at 0115. Every hour or so I went out and cranked the winches as tight as I could - just a few inches each time until about 0030 when it came out of the mud and I was able to get the board up almost the whole way. The result was that we had to get hauled, which meant we could antifoul the bottom as well as figuring out what the hoisting problem was. It turned out that it was not the cable off the pulley (after we hired a fiberglass guy to cut open the glass around one of the pulleys. The cable was on the pulleys and it turned out the problem was a barnacle of something (probably loosened but not removed by the diver who was working by feel in the cloudy water). Anyway we got the bottom done very completely. The yard crew were great and hoisted the boat up so high in the travelift for the night that we were able to have the board almost all the way down. We used a 20 foot extension ladder to get on and off the boat - tried not to have to go in the middle of the night but without success. Probably the only time in the boat's history that such a thorough job could be done on the board. I also took the opportunity to measure the board. When it is down our draft is 12 feet. This work, together with working on the mast slowed us down quite a bit so we left Brisbane a couple of weeks after we hoped. A final word on getting work done by pros. The quality varies enormously as does the workmanship. At one extreme there was Ian who is a cruiser and lives on his boat in the marina. He owns a precision engineering shop and did incredibly good work for very fair prices. He did not charge for one job (making bushes for the gooseneck fitting which had gotten quite sloppy) because June translated the parts list for a piece of Chinese machinery that he had to fix for someone. At the other extreme is Stan who is a marine electrician and refrigeration guy. His prices were very high and his work not reliable. We have had an intermittent problem with starting the engine from the cockpit (we have a secondary start switch inside the boat that works just fine). It took me a very long time to convince him that the problem was not the starter or its solenoid - he wanted me to take this out to get it serviced. Then he decided that it was actual starter switch so he ordered one that I installed (it was quite different configuation from the old one but the only one available with four terminals. This seemed to work for a time (the problem has always been intermittent). He charged $200 for 'consulation' which mainly involved me checking things he told me to check. I don't think I used anywhere near an hour of his time in total and the problem is not the switch. I think it is the glow plus solenoid but we can live with it. Anyway, end of rant. After our late start from Brisbane we had to make up some time so we have done one overnight trip and one two night trip and we fine ourselves actually ahead of some boats going in the rally. The coast of Eastern Oz is very pretty but the weather has been cool and the winds not very reliable - nor are the weather guessers. The standard forecast has been SE 10 to 15 and we have had good winds as forecast but about 10 am the wind quits until dinner time. Now we are at around 16°S the trades are pretty predictable but south of 20 or so, the weather further south (say Tasmania) could alter the winds where we were and we could get variations on west and north for a time and also strong winds at times. In the last 48 hours there has been a gale warning for the Brisbane and southerly area (34 to 40 knots) and we had little wind at all. As we move towards 10°S we should see a lot of 20 to 30 knot trades which will be a nice change. The sailing conditions are actually quite nice as the Great Barrier Reef to the east blocks any ocean swells so you are only dealing with local wind waves and they are rarely more than a foot or so. The Reef gets closer and closer to land the further north you go. Tomorrow, if it goes according to plans, we will be anchoring behind a reef but only something like 7 miles from shore. I did not realize it until I looked at the chart but the Torres Straits that separates Oz from Papua-new Guinea is actually filled by the Reef which extends to New Guinea. Water depths at most are something like 10 m and the Strait is full of shoal areas. It is also only 76 miles wide. Every so often something reminds me that I am a long way from home and being less than 75 miles from New Guinea is one of them. If anyone is looking for a nice place to live there are some beautiful towns and cities in this area. Cairns is great with a a wonderful waterfront area. Mackay and Bundaberg are 'real', working towns without all the tourists. Mackay is the hub for coal mining and is a very rich, booming spot. If you had the right skills (heavy equipment operator, mechanic, etc), you could go into town and hit one of the many employment agencies everywhere and have a job at high pay by lunch time. 'Bundy' is a big sugar cane growing service center and has the stores and services you would expect. Not a fancy place, but honest. BTW, when we were in Bundaberg a singlehander from NZ ended up on the rocks right beside the harbour entrance. Apparently he fell asleep and his vane steering and navigation were almost dead on. It was way up on the rocks and have needed to be retrieved by a crane on land. The place where we are now is the last fancy spot we shall see - it has many lovely restaurants and stores, but we were also told that the spot where we are anchored is home to a 4.5 m croc that we are going to try to see with the spotlight in a few minutes. It is a reminder that we are at the border between the parts of Oz dominated by people and parts dominated by nature. Not many people live between here and Darwin. There are cattle stations, a few mines (the largest bauxite mine in the world for example), and many aboriginal reserves, but none of these have many people. The few big towns have populations of a few hundred at most. Looking forward to it. Pics to come in Darwin.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A brief look at New Zealand

We spent 17 days in New Zealand and would go back anytime. What a great country to visit and, i suspect, to live in. We flew from Brisbane to Dunedin which near the south end of the South Island. Remarkably there was a direct flight to this city of 130,000 people and it was full. Dunedin set the tone for our visit. There was lots to see and lots to do and it turned out to be great fun, if a little expensive. Dunedin is a university town (20,000 students) and someone described it as a perfect university town - 3 breweries and a chocolate factory. It is also incredibly hilly. Its downtown road pattern was created by an urban designer in Edinborough who had never been to New Zealand and it did not know about the terrain. BTW, the South Island is more Scottish and the North Island more English in heritage. While in the Dunedin area we got a chance to visit an albatross reserve and see these great birds soaring above the cliffs. Quite wonderful to watch. We started off travelling by bus but soon found that renting a car was much cheaper. Probably if we were to do it again we would rent a campervan because they were very cheap and you could sleep in the van most nights and only go to a hotel or backpackers every third or fourth night. We decided that we might never be back to NZ so were a little freer with the money to pay for activities than we normally might be. We did not do any of the activities that involve jumping out of perfectly good airplanes or off high bridges, although they were available everywhere. Some of the activities we did do: -- Took a helicopter to the top of the Franz Josef glacier. This killed two bucket list birds with one stone since I had never been in a helicopter and had never been on a glacier (other than at the snout of one in the Rockies). Incredible scenery and a terrific experience. -- Made a knife from a hunk of steel and a bit of wood. A man on the west coast of the south island has created a very nice business for himself and his wife with this one. There were about a dozen of us there at NZ$130 a person for the day. You start with a length of ordinary steel and put it into the hearth and shape it with a hammer on an anvil. Once you are happy with the rough shape you do fine finishing including adding a hardwood handle and end up with something remarkable at the end of the day. Each person's knife is a little different. -- Went caving which meant abseling 27 m into the cave and climbing through narrow spots (you could always walk around) and floating down a river in the cave on inner tubes. A highlight was seeing glowworms that lived in the cave that produced enough light that you could actually see. -- Went sailing on an America's Cup sailboat - one of the more recent 80 footers. Quite something to see what it is like to sail such a boat. Incredible upwind performance and relatively easy to sail since it was so precise. -- Spent a night a kiwifruit farm owned by a man we met at a boatyard in Connecticut. He was nice enough to invite us to visit and see the farm. Some general comments about NZ It is fascinating to visit a place that has a robust and successful economy based on farming. NZ is not getting out of the sheep business but they now have 32 million instead of 60 million sheep. This is because the market for beef and dairy products is much healthier than for lamb and wool. The economy is doing very well which as meant that the kiwi dollar is now worth about 85 cents US instead of the 45 cents as it was a few years ago. Minimum wage is $13 so everyone seems to be doing very well. The high local dollar is hurting the tourism industry since NZ is no longer a cheap place to visit. There were still lots of backpackers there, but that is because it is easier to getg work permits to help on farms or in other jobs, but the middle class travellers are staying away. Most of the activities we did were in the $130 to $200 range per person and it adds up in a hurry. There are some incredible good hostels in NZ. Our fave was one called Global Village in Greymouth. It was beautifully setup and run. The decorations were incredible with folk art from Africa and Asia everywhere - even carvings of snakes and lizards in the rafters of the rooms. Even the dishes in the kitchen all matched. In Picton, at Tombstones (across the street from the graveyard) they upgraded us to a little apartment with a kitchen. In Christchurch the hostel was in the old jail and the rooms were very quiet with thick stone walls and heavy iron doors. The country seems entirely civilized. People go at a slower rate than in Oz or North America and just seem to enjoy life. On the main highway between Wellington (the capital) and Auckland (the largest city) there is one section which has a 25 km/h turn and many 40 km/h turns and people just accept that that is the way it is. There are many universities, wonderful museums (the marine museum in Auckland and the national museum in Wellington are incredible), public art galleries are common. They seem to have their priorities straight - work enough to pay the bills but be sure you have time for the things you love - outdoors activities, the local rugby team or the farmers' market. It is a beautiful country with incredible variety. We drove from the west coast of south island to the north end of the island and started in glacier country, then drove along the ocean for a time (think Pacfic Coast Highway except you are closer to the water and the coastline reminded me of Oregon), then into an interior plateau area with thousands of cattle of and sheep and finally through a major vineyard area. A fun drive in the el-cheapo, gutless rental car we hadd, it would have been incredible in something like a Mini. In the mountainous part I estimated that there were probably 2000 curves with the slowest being 15 km/h - my arms were tired.