Friday, 6 October 2017

Crocodiles

Miles here, At Gary's anchorage on Fraser Island we saw a sign that said Beware of Crocodiles.  Really?  Crocs at Frasers, that is sobering. Crocs are 200 million years old and unchanged in that time; they outlasted the dinosaurs which left 65 million years ago.  Of the 23 species none have been driven to extinction - I guess if you can survive a global dinosaur extinction you can deal with just about anything the humans might cause.


The ready supply of .303 rifles post World War II and the soaring price of crocodile skins created an opportunity for a classic breed of maverick adventurer croc hunters.  By the 1960's reports were that it was hard to find a crocodile just about anywhere.  The Territory and Western Australia imposed bans in the 1960s, and Sir Joh held out in Queensland until 1974 when both species of crocodile (saltwater and freshwater) were declared protected.

The Kimberley mob are very familiar with salties; the locals report increasing numbers of interactions, and it now seems almost common for crocs to be bumping and biting tinnies.  They're pushing higher into Katherine Gorge, and are happy to live in fresh water all year around.

I find it amusing (and scary) that our conservation efforts which are often motivated by an ideal of making nature more beautiful and more abundant, could lead to nature also becoming significantly more dangerous.  Similarly I wonder if the increase of shark attacks is caused by the protection of great white sharks and the ban of whaling - an abundance of both predator and prey.  

Of course there are also significantly more humans, (14 million in 1974 and 24million now) pushing more into remote parts and it could just be that there are more interactions.

I suspect that there will be a line of tolerance for crocodiles; they're at Fraser, which is not far from Double Island Point, which is not far from Noosa.  Global warming could assist that southwards migration.   No Crocs in Noosa might see the reinstatement of crocodile safari hunting.

At Yeppoon, Reminy pushed Budi into the marina (apparently he was asking for it).  I had thought about paddle boarding around the berths, to the wonderful looking fish market on the other side of our berth.  The photographs of a crocodile in the marina in 2014 stopped all that and made Budi turn white thinking about his recent dip.

We decided that some family education was required.  School would be science and science would be a trip to the local croc farm.   The tour was impressive, the employees were very experienced and their knowledge and love of crocs was more than enough of an education for us all.    However, I suspect a trip to the hatchery and abattoir sections of the farm (out of bounds) would have changed the experience greatly.  The crocs are farmed for skins, and are sold to Louis Vetton for $7000 a skin.  It is a market into which they cannot supply enough skins.  We didn't find out how many they kill a year, but they hatch several thousand every season, so I assume it is a lot.   The ethics are murky, and the kids found it as conflicting as we did.  However, there was no denying (excuse my frothy cliche) the awesome power of these animals.    Enjoy Budi's film.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Five bad things about confining your kids to a sailboat, by Liss


1. If they've grown up on land, they’ll miss their friends. Facetime, phonecalls and skype just won’t cut it. On our boat there’s a direct correlation: the older the child, the more they miss their mates. Nothing like the sight of a grieving child for ramming a big dose of parentguilt down your throat.
2. Their fights will seem very loud and there won’t be anywhere for you to run away to. The furthest I can get from my kids on Pandion is 12.8m.
3. They’ll always fight loudest when you’ve just arrived in a new anchorage, usually one jammed full of boats and with high surrounding hills for maximum amplification. They’ll scream something bad enough to warrant an inspection by family services, like, “Untie me, Mummy! Please untie me!!” and leave you smiling weakly at the childless couple on the cat 50 metres off your stern and trying to mime that your child has deliberately tied himself up and now needs a hand to unpick those three hundred half-hitches, hehehe, funny little tyke...
4. They’ll never want to go back to school, ever again. We anticipate trouble ahead.
5. They’ll see their parents, warts and all. Ours have front row seats to all our arguments, they see us (me) cry, they see our (my) fear, they see all the unlovely sides of our personalities that are easier to hide in a house with, you know, doors. Of course this means they also see our best sides: our courage, cheerfulness, capability, and a bunch of other c words, but there are times I’d like to be a complete c word without feeling three sets of eyes on me.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Disciplinary issues solved! - walk the plank

One thing I like about our boat is the distinctly pirate shape.  Now I have a plank.  Just the cannon to go.  Commit them to the deeps....

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

The night is dark and full of terrors: a reality check on the joys of cruising, by Miles



Like the 23 boats that left before us we ran from Lady Musgrave ahead of a 30 knot southerly change.  Only one boat was willing to brave the weather, an experienced couple with over a decade of cruising under their belt, 120 meters of chain and a 20 tonne steel boat.  They called us as we left them, and while confident, I did note the "it’s very lonely here" tone in his voice.  Mother Nature is both beautiful and terrifying, and that is always in the back of our minds, even in calm weather.  The first reality check of the cruising life is that ¼ our time is being somewhere between concerned and downright worried.  I get it now: fair winds, a safe anchorage and good holding = the joyful sleep of sailors.
So we left Lady Musgrave. It was low tide and the narrow passage out the reef was transformed into a white water rapid as a few square kilometres of water emptied through a 20 metre wide channel.  I was up the mizzen looking for bommies, Liss had a confident hand on the helm.  I found myself yelling, “looks good, just run guts!” incongruous words, usually applied to the white water, where running the most obvious line is straight down the centre through the biggest waves (through the guts).  The boat heaved and hobby-horsed and dipped her bow in the standing waves until we cleared the outflow.  Away from the reef, the team settled into the mechanics of sailing all day to Cape Capricorn.  Another sailing truism: sailing means wind, and wind (generally speaking) means waves, and waves mean rocking, either side to side or front to back.  I like it; I like the feel of the wind loading the boat up with power through the keel and her surging forward. The downside is that it’s a workout, gut muscles tensed a hundred times just to sit still, getting from cockpit to galley a delicate dance of balance and just missed head knocks, hands dry and calloused from the spay and working the lines.  The ever-present potential for seasickness.  I am impressed with all the old silver backs and doughty women out sailing – it’s a rigorous life and they’re all fit and hardy.  That is the second reality check of cruising: it is ¼ being exhausted.  8.00am is a pretty regular bedtime.
The cruising guides stated that Cape Capricorn has good S and SE protection but the wind was tending more SW when we arrived.  We dropped anchor at 3.00pm in the tiny anchorage and looked and felt and wondered about how it would be if the wind stayed SW instead of going SE.  Liss had stayed at the lighthouse keeper’s house as a child and really wanted to stay and explore, but those rocks afforded no sea room, so we sadly decided to move. Yellowpatch is spitting distance away, but it’s flanked by shallow sand banks, and the only info we had recommended a shallow water reccy or local knowledge.  Sorely lacking in local knowledge, we informed the tired crew that we’d head for Hummocky Island, 7 miles north.  It was a rough ride, but I think we congratulated ourselves on being increasingly comfortable in 20 knot winds. 
Hummocky is a beautiful island, a curving bay with rocky slopes plunging in the water surrounding a little sandy beach.  We dropped anchor 30 minutes before sunset and received a welcome call on the radio from John Barleycorn, the only other yacht in the bay.  A quick trip to shore ended in rowing over to John Barleycorn when the outboard flooded and we enjoyed some popcorn, nuts and olives, and gave ourselves an early (and unwarranted) pat on the back for finding a good anchorage and good company.  Cruising is also this ¼ freedom and discovery and the wonder of what might be just around the next corner.  Kids safely to bed, we tidied up, secured the deck, tied up the tender.  That is another thing about cruising, it’s prudent to lash everything down in the evening.  It’s old fashioned work with an air of military routine – but it does mean most days end with some hard chores and heavy lifting, often in the dark.  By 10pm bed was calling but the boat was lying strangely and there were new noises. We know EVERY noise on the boat.  Liss went up on deck for a while to suss it out. The weather had been for developing strong south-easterly so we expected to lie safely away from the shore all night, except that now the stern was pointing at the shore and those pretty, “falling away into the water” cliffs were now looking dangerously close (although it’s hard to estimate distance from the water with no point of reference.)  Then we started to spin.  I got up and sat on anchor watch with Liss, which really means sitting around feeling nervous and trying to tell if the boat is getting closer to rocks in an environment where it is really hard to gauge distance.  Liss went to bed about 2am and I stayed on.  For myself, the situation is indicative of our whole cruising adventure: learn on the job and learn fast.  I learnt a lot that long night. I ran three chart plotters and trusted none of them, I took GPS points every 10 minutes and learnt what I knew already, we were moving a lot but couldn’t tell if we were dragging closer to the rocks.  Liss and I had discussed upping anchor and resetting it, but the thought of re-anchoring in the dark, and swell and wind seemed more dangerous than staying put.  Maybe that was a good call, not sure.  I found myself googling “how can you tell if you anchor is dragging?” and then laughed at how preposterous that was, like googling how to fix a jet engine as the plane goes down.  I gave up and went back to more proactive ideas.  Somehow I hadn’t had time to change out of my pyjamas (undies), so spent a lot of time in undies and ugg boats spotlighting the shore, holding the chain and listening for vibration, looking longingly at John Barleycorn who, inexplicably, wasn’t moving at all.  Later I put pants on as a pro-active action - you can’t face a crisis in your undies.  Another proactive action was downloading an anchor watch app, which is a program that measures your location from the phone’s GPS and then lets you know if you drag more than a certain distance.  I laughed hard (maybe hysterically at 4.00am) and picked the one called “drag queen.”   Its alarm is a loud siren, like a count down to nuclear launch.  It went off every 10 minutes and was therefore useless, other than to let me know what I already knew – we were still spinning. Another part of that ¼ fear is that night time is really disorientating, distances warp and merge, it’s easy to get turned around 180 degrees.  I have been lost in the featureless pindan scrub on the Kimberley and terror rises surprisingly quickly, triggering something primal that must be urgently fought down, lest you succumb to panic and start running around in the heat, taking off your clothes and drinking your own urine.  Ultimately, the spotlight proved the best tool, and the rocks didn’t appear to be moving closer, unless it was an incremental creep.  I made a mental note to get more back up batteries.  Another side of cruising: for an exercise immersed in nature it is utterly dependent on “stuff” – chart plotter GPS, batteries, epirbs, alarms, apps – not to mention 2 inches of fossil fuel transformed into fibreglass between our family and the deeps.  For a survivalist at heart I find it a little challenging.  If I cruised long term, I would filter them out, simplify simplify simplify.  But for newbies they are wonderful and they make up where experience falls off.  Or perhaps they just allow us to get ourselves in over our heads.  I didn’t sleep that whole night; I planned how to get the kids out of bed if we ran aground, I watched every twist and turn of the boat transform into a wavey black line on the chart plotter, a fractal of current, wind, keel and tide.  Eventually a finger nail moon rose over the cliffs, and east brightened slowly.  Liss came up in the predawn and we drank tea, and the light chased away demons, like it so often does, and after all that, the cliffs were no closer. 
As we drank the tea, we started to figure out what had happened.  Liss pointed out the north end of the bay where a giant eddy circled, the strong current causing the bay to be noticeably lower at that end than where we were.  For the second time in 24 hours I recognised the patterns of a white water river, bringing back memories of the high volume rivers in Canada where the eddy fence can be a foot high and whirl pools can stand rafts on their end.  We were anchored right in the nexus of all that water, being pushed one way by 20 knots of wind and the other by current.  We will recognise now the small and gently bubbling wavelets that are thrown up by wind against tide, and know them as an innocuous warning that significant forces are at play beneath the surface.
In the morning the kids wanted to climb the hill, Liss went with them on 2 hours sleep (the power of mums!)  I was left pondering cruising, inspired to provide the other side of blue water blog posts displaying joyous kids.  I would sum it up this way:  ¼ fun, ¼ exhaustion, ¼ sleep and ¼ something on the spectrum between caution and fear.  But 6 weeks in, I would rate it worthwhile. Being compelled to live (by choice or not) in such a range of human emotions feels like living fully.  
The long night ends

Hot tea + dawn = relief

Top of the hill the next day

Looks innocent,doesn't it?

Saturday, 2 September 2017

There are whales underground


Faced with a week in a marina while Milo went off to work, I went looking for Local Attractions and happily stumbled upon the Capricorn Caves. For one enthusiastic caver it was the first time underground in almost 2 decades and so totally worthwhile. As it turned out, we were able to pick Miles up from the airport in Rocky and he joined us, in body, if not in consciousness (three flights overnight, Broome-Perth-Brisbane-Rocky).

Here is Sylvie's take on the day, as written in her journal. I've included her more endearing spelling errors.

"Yesterday we went kaveing. We had to wear helmets. First we went to see the stuff in the sand [inside the entrance cave]. Mindy [our guide] picked up a handfool of sand it was random and there was heeps of tiny bones. Then we went throw some tight squeezes, but they were not tight for me. After that we saw some wobles [rock wallabies]. Then we went throw the whale. First we went up its botm and in to the large intestins then over the boob/nut crusher, it did not hurt for me, then out the blowhole. After that we went to the bats. I do not rmember but she said something like there could be esily over 50 thawsand bats and that was not a big groop. Last we went on a dark tour throw the zigzag. I was folowing the walls and I ran into a wall."
video
 Here's Budi somewhere in the vicinity of the whale's large intestine.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Five worst things about cruising, by Liss

1. Cabbage. Even when the outside resembles a slimy yellow soccerball, that persistent vegetable manages to retain a heart of relative crispness. It lasts for as long as you can keep it. You can put cabbage in sushi, curry, pasta, sandwiches, coleslaw, stew, wraps, tacos and burritos. You can put it in "salad" but it will be the only ingredient, because the only reason you're making a salad out of cabbage is because all the other vegetables were eaten weeks ago. Heck, you can cut it up really small and hide it in your kids' porridge. But only once. We have a fridge on board, but it has limited space so we can usually store about a week and half's worth of fruit and veg. This last trip we stayed out for over three weeks, hence our ultimate dependence on cabbage. "Remember cucumbers?" I overheard my 6 year old saying wistfully to her brother one night as she sat toying with her fish and cabbage and rice. We didn't know it at the time, but we were about to experience something much, much worse than cabbage.

2. NO CABBAGE!
This pitiful array is the perishable food we had to spread out over the last four days of our most recent departure from the mainland. Please note that one of the lemons is rotten, that the sweet potatoes are the size of baby carrots and that the sprouts are at the Soaking Stage, at least 72 hours from the Eating Stage. Supplement the above with tinned sauerkraut, tinned tomatoes and a feisty handful of sea rocket, and you'll see why the kids all ordered jumbo salads when we got to the Rosslyn Bay cafe. Come back Cabbage, all is forgiven!

3. Fear. Okay, I don't mind the odd burst of adrenaline, such as that provided by the presence of a very large whale sliding under the very small dinghy containing my nearest and dearest. But white knuckles for hours and hours and hours on end (thank you Hummocky Island, we won't be back to your demon-possessed, merry-go-round ride of an anchorage any time soon), no thanks. Miles summed it up the other day: cruising involves one quarter fun, one quarter boredom, one quarter sleeping and one quarter crapping your nappy.

4. Too much wind (see above) or not enough wind. I hate, hate, HATE motoring long distances.  Purists (we've only met 2 so far and they lived on the same boat) just stay put until the wind builds, but our late start up the coast means we have to hussle more than we'd like to.

5. Rolly anchorages. I don't mind up and down, side to side motion when you're sailing along at a clip; the excitement of being On The Move combined with the joy of those little ginger treats that we only seem to eat on passage makes a corkscrew ride bearable, and you know it'll stop when you anchor. Only, sometimes, it doesn't. Our worst anchorage so far (other than Hummocky, for different reasons) was at Svendson's Beach on Great Keppel Island where we serendipitously combined a brisk southerly wind with an enthusiastic easterly swell almost big enough to surf. In the end the kids and I threw a tantrum and we left with tea towels and underwear still hanging from the rails and the tender panting along in our wake.

* 5 worst things about cruising are subject to change at any time.

Saturday, 26 August 2017