Greetings and salutations to our faithful virtual sailing dudes and dudettes from the land down under, in fact, “down under us” as we
have been at sea for eight days now and are finally passing the NW coast of Western Australia (where I began writing this edition of Officially Speaking).
Let’s see, where did I leave off last time? Ahh, yes. We arrived at the Sunshine Beach Surf Lifesaving Club (SBSLC).
Semi drawn-out, semi-entertaining definition of Surf club and other basic Ozzy surf stuff:
On most beaches, there is a “section” which is marked between two flags known as the “safe swimming and surfing zone.” It is suggested by the “Surf Lifesavers” (known as lifeguards from our side of the planet) that you stay within the boundary of the flags. You see, the surf here can be VERY dangerous. It has a huge undertow at times and you have to deal with stuff like gutters, lefts, rights, sharks, jellyfish, rocks, and other nasties that could basically kill you. People die every year out here. They have helicopters all over the place patrolling the beaches, four-wheel drives on the sand, and paramedics a stones throw away. Just like Baywatch. It’s serious business and the Aussies are quite impressive with their system for handling the potential hazards of their environment.
It is very respectable and honorable to have anything to do with “lifesaving.”
If you’re a lifesaver, you must meet very stringent requirements to be considered “capable” should the situation arise. Apparently it arises every day! Each beach town on the coast has what is known as their very own “Surf Lifesaving Club.” The clubs duty, as I understand it, is to provide the town with protection in the form of a “Lifesaving Team.” They hold annual events for swimming and rowing (yes, they have cool boats and hats also) and fund the associated costs. You see each club is also a cash-cow for the government! Each club just “happens” to be situated on prime beach-front property. It has a restaurant, bar, T-shirts, towels, barbecues and pokey machines! Yes, pokey machines! You can’t go anywhere in Australia without seeing the pokies (slot machines). They take dollar coins and are quite effective at sucking the change out of your pockets and into the governments’. So, picture it, the family arrives at the Surf Club for a “family night” out and while the children are running around with everyone drinking, they can also look on and see mommy and daddy dropping cash into the pokies! Nice…
So, back to the SBSLC. We met Mick that night and had a wonderful time talking about sailing, surfing, swimming, etc., and other sports which Americans happen to excel at. Just kidding Mick. We met quite a bunch at the surf club that night and really enjoyed the Aussie hospitality. The Aussies are wonderful people. I also met Mick’s girlfriend Elma and her sister Suzie, briefly.
After spending six days waiting for the sail to be repaired, Scott and I roughed it with our new found friends in Noosa. Beautiful beaches and turquoise water. I called Alex, Chrissy, and Jeff on the boat in the Solomon Islands and said “How would you like to wait out the cyclone season in Australia?”
The trip across the Coral Sea was brutal. Thirty to thirty five knots on the nose in three to four meter swell. It took us seven days to reach Bundaberg and the beginning of our little eight month detour.
Short summary of events while land-bound in Australia:
Going forward, I’m going to refrain from the National Geographic and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom descriptions of these islands, birdlife, sandlife, treelife, plantlife and sealife, as the web page itself seems to have that under control. However, if a place is particularly awesome, I’ll toss something in.
Anyway, after the 1800nm passage to Cape York and the 600nm trip west to Darwin, we set sail across the Indian Ocean to Cocos Keeling with me, Suz, Aldo, our new crew member Mark Vernon, and ever faithful fluffball Lucy in tow. What a hike. It was 2000nm which took us just over 12 days.
I know I have a tendency to toss out these little “1000nm here, 1500nm there, 2000nm over thataway.” These are huge distances to cover in a sailboat. The boat is travelling over seas which are on average two to five meters in height and in wind conditions of 20 to 35+knots, often times in the dark while navigating reefs and other stuff we could smash into. We sustain passage under these conditions while travelling at about the speed you would expect to go in really bad rush hour traffic. Ten miles per hour is a big deal and if the boat isn’t rolling back and forth to the point where things are flying out of cabinets, we’re happy!
So 2000nm later (oooohhh, ahhhhhh) we ended up at Cocos Keeling anchored off of Direction Island. Very beautiful turquoise water like we haven’t seen since Bora Bora in the South Pacific. Basically it’s a society made up of two islands, West Island and Home Island. West Island has about 150 Aussies on it and Home Island maintains a population of 500 Malays left over from some coconut plantation a hundred years ago. Everyone, for the most part, seems to be living off of the Australian Government and there is little or nothing to do on the island. All of the houses are “cookie cutter” cement buildings with tin roofs numbered from 1 to whatever. They all look identical and have absolutely ZERO personality.
They had a small post office which was open two days per week for two hours each day. Also, there is only one plane per week arriving at the island, so if you don’t get mail the first day after it arrives, you basically have to wait a week. Anyway, we did happen to get some mail. I received a check for my motorcycle which was sold in Australia and a couple of letters and things. Yahoo! I returned from the post office to find out that Mark had decided to leave the boat one month early having been seasick for the entire twelve day passage to Cocos. Sailing wasn’t for him, so I suggested a Winnebago with a gimbling driver seat.
When we arrived, I was almost out of cash, having succeeded in getting rid of my Aussie dollars before leaving Darwin. Quarantine charged us $300.00 to clear in and said it was easier if we paid cash instead of using a credit card. I figured I’d just go to the bank and get more! So “poof” I had almost no money. Unfortunately, neither did Alex, Suzy or Mark! It seems that there is also no way to obtain cash on the island unless you have a personal account with Commonwealth Bank. I went to the bank to get some cash from a visa or ATM card and I was told they didn’t accept credit cards! All of this would normally have been fine except for the fact that we needed fuel and provisions that needed to be paid for in cash! So I asked the lady at the bank “Can I get cash from a credit card?” NO! “Can I get cash from an ATM card?” NO! Can I..........wire money to you from a US account?” .....NO!! So I turned around to leave with smoke pouring out of my ears, turned around and went for it. “Can I...............cash a check written to me from a motorcycle dealer in Queensland from National Bank which isn’t certified??????!!!!!” Her eyes lit up and she nodded her head and said “yes, I think we can do that.” Like any good salesman, I zipped my mouth and shut UP. She took the check, stamped it as cashed and turned it over. Her eyes lit up once again, only this time considerably larger as she realized she had just approved a transaction for $9000.00! They didn’t even have that much money on the island! She proceeded to pay me $2000 in cash and write me 12 checks for $600.00 because that was the maximum she was allowed per check! I proceeded to cash as many checks as I could every day on each island until they were gone. Then we left the island and sailed another 1600nm to Chagos (ooooohh, ahhhhhh) in just over 8 days. Very windy conditions with OOB averaging 200nm per day.
Chagos was absolutely gorgeous. A classic tropical island atoll in the middle of nowhere. Crystal clear water and white sandy beaches completely untouched. We dropped our anchor and simply relaxed for about ten days until we were just about Out of Everything. Out of Bounds was Out of Diesel, Out of Gasoline, Out of Vegetables, Out of Butter, Out of Bread, Out of Beer, Out of Fruit, Out of Soda, Out of Maple Syrup, which basically meant we were Out of Time. So we sailed another 1000nm (ooohhh, ahhhhhh) to the Seychelles in 5 ½ days having basically almost finished crossing the Indian Ocean.
The Seychelles is supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. It possesses pure white beaches with large marble rocks and boulders with 100’ palm trees found no where else on the planet. I’ll include some shots for you in my next update. It’s nice to be in civilization again!
Aldo is leaving us tonight to fly back to the states and attend our best friend’s wedding. Jamie and Tonya are to be married this Saturday and Aldo is our official representative. To my deep regret, I need to remain with the boat. Mick and Sally, our friends from Australia, will be joining us all in a few days and we’re looking forward to seeing them.
Best wishes for a long and happy life together, Jamie and Tonya, and all the best to all of our faithful cyber sailors! Signing off, from Port Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles.