Passage to Oz

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Scarborough Marina

Near Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

2004 Route Map

Dear Friends and Family --

Many Aussies, we have discovered, call their country "Oz." I have not delved into why this is, but I presume it is a sense of wonderment and joy about their homeland.

Australian black and white pelican
We arrived here last night at dusk, and are beginning to learn about Australia. Here, we can find a classical music station on the air (currently listening to a Mendelssohn trio on a Karl Haas program...) Last night we had dinner at the local seafood restaurant, and ate "Moreton Bay Bugs" (also known as slipper lobster) and the local prawns. (Both delicious).  Wildlife seems to abound -- we saw several groups of bottlenose dolphin on the way in, and bird life is everywhere in the marina. Big black and white pelicans swim in the entrance.  
Cormorants love the quarantine dock (where we were required to go for customs and immigration). They all took off upon our approach, but had left behind copious quantities of their souvenirs.  
We discovered to our dismay, when docking the boat, that it was impossible to avoid the souvenirs, which formed a thick patina on the dock.  Craig then probably violated several local laws by hosing off the boat, hosing off his shoes, and finally hosing off the dock. It was a successful effort, as the customs, immigration and quarantine guys didn't bring in any souvenirs on their shoes.

For the passage from New Caledonia, we decided to hire Commander's Weather to make recommendations. They are a weather and routing service (based in Maine) that we had used to help us decide when to leave Oregon, back a year and a half ago. The last few passages we've met some unexpected bad weather, so this time for a passage of 5-6 days, we decided to play it safe. As a result of the Commanders' recommendation, we left Noumea on Monday the 12th, a few days sooner than we had planned. Commanders told us we needed to get into Brisbane by Saturday afternoon, as a stiff (30-35 knot) southwest wind would start up then. When you are traveling in a southwest direction, you really don't want a southwest wind (right in your face).

So we hustled as best we could, stocking up on those French patisseries and fresh vegetables and fruits. Craig did the checkout with customs and immigration, obtaining that all-important paper which would allow us to fill our tanks with diesel, duty-free.

Our photo of Sabian

Sabian's photo of us

 We left the dock at nearly the same time as Sabian, a New Zealand boat which had been alongside us nearly our entire time in Noumea. We set up a schedule to check in with each by radio as we made our way toward Australia. They were heading toward Bundaberg, further north, so we would quickly diverge after we left the pass out of the New Caledonia lagoon.

After leaving our slip, we met up with Sabian again at the fuel dock, and again sailing out the pass into the open ocean. We got some nice photos of Sabian under sail, and we radioed them, asking them to take some pictures of us. 

The result, the photo below left, is our first picture EVER of Sequoia under sail!   Thank you Alan & Bev of Sabian!

The first day out was, as predicted somewhat rough. We practiced most of the principles of the famous Sailors Weight Loss Plan, and didn't really get our appetites back until the third day, when the seas were considerably calmer, and the wind backed off to a gentle 15 knots from the stern quarter. Even so, every night we encountered squalls, sometimes with considerable gusts of wind, and buckets of rain. Sometimes, just past dawn, the squalls would still be there, and we saw some gorgeous rainbows.

We've done the last several passages with just Craig and me -- three hours on and three hours off for each of us, 24 hours per day. Getting enough sleep is difficult. Accordingly, it was delightful to have a crew member for this passage -- Slate Wilson, who was ready to tackle anything, at any hour.

Our last week in New Caledonia had been spent at the dock, waiting for the replacement stay to arrive from New Zealand. Although it shipped on an overnight basis, it was held up in customs for four days. We knew we had to be there to sign for it when it arrived, so we were somewhat confined to the immediate vicinity.  
Weaving a sleeping mat

Centre Culturel Tjibaou -- Photos above and below by Slate Wilson

Rehearsal at Centre Tjibaou

We did manage to get away for a visit to the Centre Culturel Tjibaou -- an ultra modern museum devoted to Kanak culture. It turned out to be more of an art museum than an anthropology or historical museum, and the architecture was ultra modern. We happened upon a rehearsal for a Kanak drumming and dancing presentation. The drums echoed throughout the huge grounds, but they turned out to be amplified. There were also full size native houses with interior carved posts, and sleeping mats on the floor, woven from palm fronds. A friendly museum staffer was weaving new mats and posing for the tourists.

Our other outing was quite different: the city was plastered with posters advertising a concert by a percussion-piano duo, to take place at the school of music. We had no idea what sort of music this might be, but sounded interesting. We were amazed to discover that the music school had a beautiful performance facility, a Bösendorfer concert grand piano, and a nearly sold out house for this concert. We got some of the last tickets, front and center, and enjoyed a delightful and different concert by pianist Michele Innocenti (Italian) and percussionist Alain Huteau (French), performing all twentieth century music on vibraphone, xylophone, marimba and timpani, all with piano. Slate Wilson was transfixed by this outpost of classical music culture in the South Pacific, and he went back to the music school the next day to find a piano to practice his new composition. He tried to make a donation to the school in gratitude, but the French system is so different that they have "no way to accept donations." (!!!!) They are entirely supported by the government. I can think of a few arts organizations at home that would like to have that problem!

We became daily patrons of the public market, and my comprehension of rattled off prices got progressively better. I was very proud of myself when I was able to recognize "590" CFP -- cinq-cents quatre-vingt-dix, which sounds more or less like "saa sah cat vaa dees" (spoken at a rapid clip).

The new stay arrived late on Friday afternoon, and Craig quickly installed it. We made a weekend outing to a neighboring bay, and then got the news from Commanders that we should plan to leave on Monday.

Shrimp vendor at the seafood market

As it turns out, Commanders was exactly right with their forecast. Although there was no wind as we entered Scarborough Marina yesterday afternoon, within 10 minutes (just as we were docking) it was pouring rain, and within a few hours the wind was blowing thirty knots from the wrong direction.

We thought we'd be just in time for the loading onto the Dockwise freighter which will take Sequoia back to Vancouver. But they are running behind schedule, and loading will not happen until August 6. So we have more time than we expected, to do a bit of Australian exploration in the boat.  We are looking forward to it, spiced with the knowledge that our we have no more long passages in our near term plans.

Best regards to all our friends and family,

Craig and Barbara Johnston

S/V Sequoia

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