Written December 2000
Merry Christmas 2000!
Our cruising plans have gone awry again – our plan to get to the Med. by the end of 2000 didn’t account for Singapore, a wonderfully multi-cultural city with close access to so many exotic places in the Far East. And then there were the small delays along the way and the wedding. Wedding you ask? Sit back with some eggnog and read on!
Completion of Round-Australia trip
The end of 1999 found us in Adelaide, on the south coast of Australia. We spent a quiet Christmas in this pleasant city, and waited for the Y2K bug watching fireworks displays start in New Zealand and work their way around the world to the USA. Back on the road – to Broken Hill a small mining town being re-invented as an artist’s town with scores of galleries and a beautiful sculpture garden on a hilltop overlooking the barren town in the outback. Fifty km to the south lies Lake Menindee, a flood-control lake with magnificent bird-life and beautiful sunsets. The Murray River provides irrigation water for much of the arable land in Victoria and we drove 200 miles along its banks. After a short cruise and a tour of Mungo National Park (site of the oldest aboriginal remains) we had had enough of the 100° heat and headed south to Melbourne. Great timing as the Australia Open tennis tournament was on and we got to see some of the best talent up-close. For a change of scenery we climbed the ‘Australian Alps’ to Thredo Village, the main skiing area of Australia and Mt Kosciusco, the highest peak. We walked the last 1000’ of this 7300’ peak after a ski-lift ride under a clear blue sky and marveled at the fields of pretty flowers. At our campsite that evening we were awakened when our RV was shaken abruptly – we never did discover the culprit, but a wombat, brumby (wild horse) or earth tremor rank high on the list. Time was getting short, so we turned north towards Brisbane and drove along the West side of the Great Dividing Range staying at campgrounds with hundreds of kangaroos, some so tame they walked within 1 or 2 meters showing no fear. Kookaburras would come within inches to get scraps of food while foxes roamed the woods. By the middle of February we were inching our way thru Brisbane traffic as we had completed our land tour of Australia.
Overall, we found the trip a wonderful experience – the people are great, the scenery is so diverse it boggles the mind, and the wildlife is prolific and fun to watch. A year is not enough to do justice to this wonderful land – no wonder Australians spend years traveling their own land – 3 or 4 months at a time!
Back in Scarborough we rented a waterside home with lots of room, and unloaded everything from Long Passages – she was so happy she rose 6" in the water. After spreading our belongings around 6 bedrooms we performed triage on our belongings: We sold books and boat spares, discarded or donated clothes and other items, and shipped 5 boxes of books, clothes, and souvenirs to Judi’s understanding sister in Oregon. She had to overcome unbelievable bureaucracy to rescue them from US Customs and an incompetent shipping agent. Finally, with Long Passages’ bottom freshly painted she was back in the water ready to be re-loaded, this time with a little spare room and floating a little higher in the water. We sold the RV quickly to a family from Tasmania and vacated our house just as Bob’s son Denis came to visit for his first overseas trip. We moved to Brisbane for easy access to the city and Denis was able to roam the city at will. We went to Heron Island, an atoll on the Great Barrier Reef to introduce him to snorkeling and the wonderful world of tropical reefs. Unfortunately it blew 25-30 knots during our entire stay and all we saw was choppy water and thousands of Black Noddies roosting in trees on the resort. Denis then went on to more adventure on a 4WD tour through the Kakadu and met Bob in the Red Centre for a climb on Ayer’s Rock and King’s Canyon. Back in Brisbane we drove him to some of the local sights, but too soon his time in Oz drew to a close, and Denis went off to a finale of late-night partying in Sydney before the long flight back to Tallahassee. Our last few days in the Brisbane area were consumed with readying the boat, watching the Sydney Olympic torch relay as it went through, and spending a delightful week-end abseiling, hiking, and bird-watching at Lamington National Park.
Brisbane to Darwin
As the cyclone season drew near we found ourselves leaving late in the season – again; so on 17 June we untied our lines from Scarborough and day-hopped up the coast to Mooloolaba. As we prepared to leave Mooloolaba unsettling news from Indonesia and the Middle East, as well as the realization that we had been out cruising for 8 years and it would take another 4 years to get to the US made us pause and consider other options. Possibilities were to stop cruising completely, ship the boat to the Med. or US, or continue. As we mulled over the alternatives, we embarked on a bigger adventure: on 9 July a marriage proposal was accepted and cruise planning took a backseat to wedding planning. We decided to get married in Auckland, New Zealand in September, and set about to make this a reality. The Internet proved to be a boon and we located a venue with catering (The Lodge), marriage celebrant, and other necessary info by use of this wonderful medium. Judi used the time to advantage and scoured the Brisbane bridal shops for the perfect gown – finally located at a trendy shop in downtown Brisbane while Bob ordered a kilt and the trimmings. Phone and fax and copious help from friends in Auckland let us finalize details and within 2 weeks it was all planned, 23 September was locked in, invitations were on their way and we prepared to leave Mooloolaba for Darwin – from there we could fly to Auckland.
On 20 July, with a forecast on light SW winds we pulled out of Mooloolaba during the late evening with 6 other boats bound for the Great Sandy Strait. Wind turned NW, so it was right on our nose – again! The entrance to the strait is a shallow bar with a terrible reputation in rough weather, but with a gentle breeze we had a smooth crossing. The Great Sandy Strait is a delightful place with Fraser Island, supposedly the world’s largest sand island, protecting many channels and creeks from the ocean swell. In ‘Garry’s Anchorage’ we saw many birds and a dingo on the shoreline looking at us with interest, probably hoping for a handout. Over the next week we day-hopped up the coast, stopping a couple of times as we gradually came into the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. At Hamilton Island, a luxury resort, we enjoyed good restaurants, swimming pools, and fresh water for a couple of days before pushing on through the legendary Whitsunday Islands. This collection of 50 or so islands have some of the best snorkeling and diving in Australia and attracts visitors from around the world. Unfortunately, we were in a hurry to get to Darwin and saw very little as we passed through. Over the next week we traveled in the protection of the Great Barrier Reef with a diversion to the Hinchinbrook channel, a scenic strait sheltered by the island of the same name. Traveling was nerve-wracking at night with our fate dependant on accurate charts and GPS – with back-up knowledge from our radar. In the middle of the night we arrived in Cairns, a busy tourist town on the NE coast of Australia that deserves all of the good press it gets. It has great diving on the Barrier Reef, trains and cable cars into the mountains, nightlife and markets that stay open until the wee hours and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Centre with dancing, multi-media shows and souvenirs. We had a fascinating discussion with one of the centre’s managers concerning the aboriginal plight in Australia. On a diving trip to the outer reef we got close-ups of several whales and snorkeled on coral that was some of the best we have seen in the Pacific. A cruise on the Daintree River was very interesting with many birds and a reminder we were returning to crocodile country. From Cairns it took another week, mostly motoring, to reach the northernmost point of Australia, Cape York and the famed Torres Straits. We anchored several times along the way, often with shrimp trawlers or their mother ships. On 22 August we rounded Cape York, and anchored at Thursday Island, the administrative center of the Australian islands in the Torres Strait which extend from Cape York to Papua New Guinea. Much of the world’s shipping pass through these straits, and Thursday Island houses the pilots used to guide the ships through these treacherous waters. The Torres Islanders, a mixture of Aboriginal and Melanesian background, are the natives of these islands. The Straits are famed for high winds much of the year, but we were lucky to have light winds for our stay. After refueling and a day of wandering through a couple of boring tourist shops we set out across the Bay of Carpenteria for 3 days of motoring on flat seas to Gove. The Gove Peninsula is a marvel of modern engineering: For 30 years bauxite (aluminum ore) has been extracted from a thin layer of soil, transported on a 20 mile conveyor belt to a processing plant on the tip of the peninsula, and loaded onto ships for export. This 30-mile long ‘factory’ basically turns a mountain into small pellets bound for foreign shores while earning lots of foreign trade for Australia. The aborigines displaced by the plant receive some of the profits and live in nearby villages. After a couple of dinners at the Gove Yacht Club and refueling we set out for the final push to Darwin. Our first challenge was Gulgari Rip, or ‘Hole in the Wall’. Guluwuru Islands have a 1-mile passage, about 75’ wide, where the tidal currents reach 9 knots (much faster than we can motor), so timing is crucial. In Gove, after a few brews ‘Monkey’ Bill had briefed us on the best time to get to the pass: his advice turned out to be spot on. We went thru at slack tide, took lots of pictures, and felt quite satisfied with ourselves. In Darwin we traded experiences with another boat, they had tried it without noting the tides and had to turn back mid-pass. The rest of the trip Over The Top was fairly uneventful, glassy seas meant we had to motor most of the way to Darwin where we arrived on 3 September, exactly the day we booked 6 weeks earlier when we left Mooloolaba. Overall we had sailed only 3 days of the 2000 miles from Scarborough to Darwin.
Two weeks in Darwin went by in a hurry: A few boat chores, a day aboard a US Navy ship (Five ships were in town, providing work for many taxi drivers and entertainment to many single Darwin gals and guys), and many restaurants to explore. RSVPs were in for the wedding, the kilt and accessories arrived, and so on 12 September we were on a plane winging our way to Auckland.
Auckland – The Wedding
In Auckland we stayed at Russell and Laonie’s – generous friends who allowed us to use their home as HQ for the final wedding preparations. Ten days zipped by as flowers were selected, a hat was made, music was reviewed and finalized, menus were picked over, and photographer was selected. The Lodge was the perfect venue, an old estate with a water view of Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour and picturesque places for the ceremony, reception, and photography. The day’s proceedings came off like clockwork: Bob and Russell (best man) went on ahead while Judi and Laonie (matron of honor) finished getting dressed and awaited the limousine. At The Lodge, about 25 friends gathered to share the day with us and listened to tasteful music provided by a string quartet. Arrival of the limo with Judi in a sparkly champagne-colored dress and matching hat started the formalities: The celebrant directed us in a short 2-ring ceremony, champagne was consumed, and we all sat down to a wonderful lunch. Toasts interrupted the meal and it appeared that everyone had a good time. We had rented a 2-bedroom waterfront suite at a downtown hotel, and most guests joined us to continue the celebrations on into the evening. By late evening we had run out of steam as a wonderful day drew to a conclusion. The friends who joined us in our wedding celebration helped make it a very memorable day! After another day of relaxation in Auckland, we were on our way back to Darwin to finalize boat preparations for sailing to Singapore.
Darwin to Singapore
As we prepared to leave Darwin Judi decided she did not want to go on this trip through Indonesia. We found Mark, an experienced sailor who spoke Indonesian to help Bob; thus Long Passages set off for Singapore on 11 October. Winds were light so motoring was the order of the day. On Roti, a small island west of Timor, Mark had a friend who ran a surfing resort, so we stopped for a day of rest and refueled. The island is off the beaten track, but the Nembrella Surf Resort is apparently known worldwide for wide, smooth surf that comes all the way from the Indian Ocean. After a good night’s sleep we set out for Rinca (next to Komodo), home to about 700 Komodo dragons. We went ashore to see and photograph these rarities – monitor lizards about 6-8’ long with big teeth and a carnivorous diet. They rarely go after people, but we gave them plenty of room just in case. They are known to go after water buffalo (also prevalent on these islands), bite them, and then attack later when infection weakens them – Darwin’s theories at work. Next stop - fabled Bali. Endowed with a run-down marina, nevertheless it had all of the necessities – bar, laundry, telephone and Internet. Although Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world, Bali is one of its islands with 3½ million Hindus living in harmony with their masters in Jakarta. The island is very densely populated and the roads are full of motorcycles and scooters for most locals, minivans to run the tourists around, and a few cars. Drivers would be admired by any NY taxi driver for their ability to squeeze into tiny openings in the flow of traffic, and no one seems to get angry or excited, no matter how often they are cut off. A 2-day tour revealed picturesque hillsides of rice paddies (their main crop), thousands of woodworking and furniture shops, persistent hawkers peddling cheap souvenirs, and remnants of volcanoes which have been active earlier in this century. Hindu temples are everywhere: on beautiful lakesides, on mountains, and many home complexes have their own temples. In downtown Kuta (the tourist town) temples sit between shops selling Windows 2000ä and pirated copies of CDs and DVDs. Each morning many Hindus place a small woven basket outside of their home or shop with an offering of flowers and food to their gods – beautiful transient art. A visit to the artist enclave of Ubud provided the opportunity to buy carvings, paintings, and fine batik. A performance of the classic Hindu ballet Ramayana in Ubud contained elaborate gold-fringed costumes and brilliant music played on brass drums and keyboards – a fascinating insight into a culture exported from India more than 1000 years ago.
But even good times must come to an end, and we were anxious to get on to Singapore to meet up with Judi who would be flying in on 4 November. We headed for Bawean, one of the few likely refueling stops on the way to Singapore. Two days brought us to another beautiful lush island, and we were able make some friends, top up our fuel tanks, and get underway before dark. In this case, the local ‘shopkeeper’ ladled fuel out of a 50-gallon drum into our jerry cans and Bob donated his treasured Shannon cap to the dock-master for his help. Back underway, we had light headwinds and a weak current against us for the next 5 days as we motored on to Singapore. Crossing back into the Northern Hemisphere required a small tribute to Neptune for his patience with Long Passage’s time south of the equator, since April 1994. The dreaded crossing of the Singapore Straits was a non-event – even with 20 ships in view at most times, it was relatively easy to maneuver through them. On 6 November, as Mark and Bob pulled into the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, Judi was there to take the lines, and Long Passages could rest again after a 2000 mile trip from Darwin. Overall Indonesia came as a pleasant surprise – magazines and newsletters conveyed an impression of people mobbing the boat, poverty, and dangers of piracy. Although we didn’t visit many out-of-the-way places, all people we met were very friendly and non-aggressive, living standards were adequate, and the experience was very positive. The country is somewhat unstable with Irian Jaya, Aceh, and Ambon making noise for independence after it was granted to East Timor, and thus bears watching in the future. Bali is a treasure to visit, although quite ‘touristy’.
Malls full of computers, electronic gear, hi tech equipment, name brands like Prada, Gucci, Rolex, Takashimaya – well dressed professionals, clean streets and subways - this is Singapore! Judi arrived a couple of days before Long Passages and wandered the streets of Little India and Chinatown, dazzled by the variety of people and goods. Malays, Chinese, Indians, Vietnamese, and native born Singaporeans crowded the streets and shopping malls – along with a minority of European ancestry. We spent about 1 month at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC) – a plush club with beautiful pool, gym, restaurants topped off with daily delivery of newspaper to our boat. We explored the many exclusive shopping malls on Orchard Street, made even more exciting by the incredible display of Christmas decorations and lights. With so many exotic destinations close to Singapore we decided to stay in this part of the world for another year to do some Far East exploration. So we moved to Raffles Marina, another plush club further from town but with a good breakwater (RSYC was very rough from wakes of nearby ferries) and bought an air-conditioner to make the stay bearable (90’s with high humidity every day). Singapore has a little of many cultures, so Christmas is the current rage with traffic at the malls as busy as they would be in the US. We expect similar hoopla when the Chinese New Year rolls around next January. The image of Singapore as a clean city is true; no litter, no graffiti, a mobile phone in every pocket or purse, buses and subways that run frequently and smoothly, a negligible crime rate – a place with a wonderful economy and infrastructure. Probably the only downside is the housing density – 3.8-M people living on an island 25 miles long, much of it re-claimed from the sea. Most housing is in 20 story high-rise apartments and there is little greenery or parkland. But the high standard of living allows people the option to travel to nearby Indonesia or Malaysia much cheaper with lots of greenery – they seem to be happy with the compromise. We have found we really like the country, and have spent too much money in our short stay to date.
On the home front, Bob’s son Denis is still in Tallahassee, but has acquired a little of the travel bug after his trip to Australia. Judi’s sister Sharon and brother-in-law Larry are still comfortably settled into Oregon, still recovering from the many boxes we sent them from Australia. Judi’s brother David and sister-in-law Valerie are busy with Daniel, a 2-month-new baby.
As for our plans, we plan to visit China, Nepal, and Borneo during the next year using either Singapore or Phuket, Thailand as our base for traveling. After that, back on the sailing circuit for our trip to the Med., delayed by a year, with arrival planned around May 2002.
We wish all a very Merry Christmas for this year and a Happy New Year 2001 and a Prosperous New Chinese Year of the Snake.