Friday, June 29, 2007

Journal Entry – June 28-29, 2007 Pam and Scott Go Down Under in a Land Down Under

Author: Scott

News Flash - another night with a sighting of the mysterious shivering blue Bigfoot creature, teetering in women’s sandals, reported in the vicinity of Lightning Ridge.

We awoke on Thursday morning to a slightly warmer caravan. The same cup of steaming coffee awaited me, and Pam was treated to a thick rich and frothy cup of hot chocolate. Sausage replaced the bacon but otherwise breakfast was a repeat of the hearty campsite feeding we experienced on Wednesday.

After breakfast we had a group meeting and decided we would break up the return drive and spend the night in a country pub, giving Pam and I another Australian experience to take away with us. Having completed Bob and David’s business yesterday, today we were free to explore the Grawin area. Bob had made arrangements with Norm the night before for Pam and I to have a tour of an actual working opal mine. After checking in with Norm we learned we would be taken away at 13:00. To fill the gap between breakfast and our tour, Bob wanted to drive over to the veteran’s memorial.

On our way out to the memorial we stopped by the overburden mining dump where massive piles of opal dirt are dumped by the various claim holders in the area. By law any new mines must eventually return all overburden dirt to the mine shafts and this central dumping repository is where overburden can be collected to fulfill this requirement. The most interesting aspect of the dump is the “Noodlers”. A Noodler is an individual who sifts through the minors overburden dirt looking for loose opals that may have been missed in the mining process. There must have been at least ten cars owned by Noodlers in the dump’s parking lot and the giant mounds of overburden were doted with the occasional Noodler busy at work noodling. Pam and I decided we would noodle a bit when we got back to the campsite and see if we could find a long forgotten opal in the rubble.

We continued on through the maze of Opal dust roads until somehow we navigated our way to the Grawin memorial. Many of the minors in Grawin are, or have been, in the Australian armed services and right in the middle of this rugged mining landscape sits a pristine and very tastefully constructed memorial for Australian veterans. Bob and David explained that the memorial was a work in progress with many of the local minors providing labor and resources to create and enhance the memorial site. The site sits on a plot of land that has been completely cleared and a small damn has been erected providing a lakeside atmosphere. Large sandstone boulders have been moved to form a low walled outdoor chapel area, with a large center stone with the inscription “Lest we forget” carved in the rock. The smaller surrounding rocks each adorn a plaque honoring the contributions and sacrifices made by Australian solders that have fought on behalf of Australia in all of the major conflicts over the past two centuries. Outside of the chapel area is seating for the various ceremonies and services held throughout the year. Each year on ANZAC Day (Australia and New Zealand Army Corp), ANZAC Day is Australia’s Memorial Day for veteran’s, over three hundred people visit the Grawin memorial for a morning service of remembrance. Adjacent to the chapel area is a small shelter with a bar that is used for disturbing rum at sunrise, which is a tradition at the memorial site on ANZAC Day. Each year the memorial area is further developed with recent additions including a mounted prop from a World War II aircraft, various artillery shells, a huge naval ship propeller and a large cargo container that is painted camouflage green, that is in the process of being converted into a military museum. Another recent enhancement is the excavation of a barbecue area that will soon provide additional facilities to support large groups of veterans, so they may gather for fellowship. Overall we were quite impressed not only with the memorial, but also with the pride and patriotism displayed by the minors of Grawin.

After our visit to the memorial we continued to explore the region stopping at the new damn that is under construction. Next we visited the Grawin “Golf Course” which consisted of a shed, a few plastic chairs and enough barren, hole ridden, rocky ground to confuse even the most astute gopher. We also pulled over to explore an old sheep station that was no longer in use. We were amazed at the combined knowledge between Bob and David who have each spent time working in sheep stations. Basically here is how it works. The sheep are herded into a small pen with a number of doors (one for each shearer). Once the sheep are contained in the pen, the shearer’s door would be opened and a farm hand would grab a sheep under the front legs and drag it to the shearer’s stool. The shearer would then buzz off all of the fleece with a rotary cutting tool that is powered by a motor driven apparatus above. The actual shearing tool looks like a big wand with the business end looking like a rotary razor for Shrek. The sheep are actually sheared in less then a minute (shearers are paid per sheared sheep). Many a sheep actually succumb to the accidental nick and cut. When the sheep has finished being sheared they are given a swat and sent through another door to rejoin the naked heard on the paddock. Standing in the sheep station with the very distant and rank smell of lanolin in the air, it was easy to envision the station operating feverishly at capacity. I don’t image the shearing experience was quite like visiting Vidal Sassoon for the little wooly bah bahs. Now if that isn’t bad enough we were shown the gruesome hand winched crane and hook for lifting the sheep that were no longer being used for wool and had moved into the final mutton stage of their existence. If I was a sheep you better bet I would keep growing as much darn wool as possible so I didn’t end up on the mutton hook like my buddy old Lamb Chop! Maybe that is the diabolical reason for keeping the crane in the middle of the paddock area, it sure would inspire some wooly motivation…

Our visit to the sheep station was a fascinating glimpse at a business that provides tremendous industry for both Australia and New Zealand, but we had places to go and people to see, we were off to find Norm and get down into the mines for our tour.

We returned to camp and we were soon introduced to Les. Les would be our tour guide and would be taking Pam and I (just Pam and I) away to show us his working claim. We waived a slightly anxious goodbye to Bob and David and piled into Les’s Land Cruiser. Seems as though Les was also well versed in the secret navigation and driving tactics of Grawin as he effortlessly zigged and zagged, knowing precisely at what tractor to turn left and which broken down car to slow for another turn… In a few short minutes we pulled into Les’s claim and we prepared for our subterranean adventure. Les went to switch on the generators for lighting and Pam and I donned hardhats. Now I would describe Les as a fairly direct kind of guy who has spent quite a bit of time in the mines. He asked us if either of us were afraid of heights or small spaces, and when Pam said she was a little, Les calmly said “Now don’t you worry if you freeze up on the ladder I got a cattle prod that will get you moving”. You can bet neither Pam nor I froze up on the 35’ decent into the one meter wide vertical mine shaft.

My first impression of the mine was how clean and dry it all seemed down there. Because opal dust is white and the tunnels are generally large enough to walk upright in, the mine felt much more bright, open and airy than I had imagined. Les was a wonderful guide, explaining how to find opal faults, and many of the other principals of opal mining. He dug out a few pieces of clear opal for us to inspect and painstaking led us through all the tunnels of his mine, it was like playing human ant farm. During the tour we were given an example of how the Grawin justice system worked. Les told us that people sometimes dug through into other miner’s mines to steal opal, and that these scavengers were called “rats”. When I asked what happened when a rat was caught, Les explained with a crooked smile that the rats would probably get a bump on the head and find themselves down a deep dark shaft never to be seen again.

We ended the tour with photos of Pam, Les and I all posing with the electric jack hammer. I even had a chance to operate the hammer a bit, definitely a high point of the tour for me. We crawled back out into the sunlight, still not freezing on the ladder for fear of a little prod, but the tour was not completely over. On our way back to the campsite Les took us by his personal campsite to introduce us to his “dogs”. When we arrived one of his dogs was standing on top of his motor home converted from a school bus. Now I thought to myself – how could a dog get on a bus? After a little encouragement and a little cajoling Les’s dog got off the bus and trotted over to us. Now I am thinking to myself – that dog looks an awful lot like a goat. When asked Les said, “yep me dogs is goats, ha ha ha”. It turns out that Les has two dog/goats named Goaty and Scanny. Scanny was named after some kind of tractor truck engine called a Scanny. Goaty was a little shy but Scanny was full of energy and greeted us with enthusiasm. Goaty soon came around and they each let us get in lots of petting.

After our dog/goat fix we returned to camp to find that Bob and David had completely cleaned up camp and packed up the vehicle. After a quick thank you and goodbye to Norm and Les we were on the move again, destination Dunedoo to find a country pub for the night.

Our drive to Dunneydoo was full of funny Bob and David stories and the time and miles seemed to quickly evaporate. One of the tidbits of information they shared was that in Australia dunny is a colloquialism for toilet, and of course we all know what the word doo can represent. So, in a manner of speaking we were streaking down the highway headed for the town of “Toilet Poop”.

Upon reaching the pub at Dunedoo we were all keen for a big hearty meal and something to wet our whistles. Bob and David headed to the pub and Pam and I soon joined them after cleaning up from our mining and goat/dog tour. The pub and rooms were very much like I imaged them to be. The facilities were basic and clean. The pub had a menu ranging with all sorts of BIG comfort food. I was in heaven. Pam and I settled on the steak dinner that came with a slice of cow that was over half the size of our ample plates, with the other half loaded down with chips and veg, and of course there was sauce to smother the whole lot. Just to finish off the job I ordered an appetizer of fried spring rolls. David and Bob both got the mixed grill that came with even more food including sausages, chops, beef, and maybe a possum or two. We had quite the feast for a very reasonable price. The remainder of the evening was spent sitting around telling stories while a few characters down the bar gawked at Pam and I who were obviously “not from there”. Everyone was friendly and our night at the pub added one more wonderful and genuine Aussie experience.

The next morning we were up with the chickens or chooks (as they are called in Oz). We had coffee and breakfast in town and hit the road again. The remainder of the ride home was a bit more sedate, with each of us a little talked out and content to admire the scenery and reflect on the past few days together. David dropped us off at Bob’s and we said goodbye to our new friend. Shan fed us lunch that was a much healthier caliber than our last few meals. Bob then drove us into the city and dropped our very tired carcasses off for some much needed rest.

Our journey to Lightning Ridge can be summed up as one of those “real life” experiences that can only happen through the hospitality and enthusiasm of people living in the visited country. Bob and David’s willingness to share Australia through their eyes and stories gave us insight that we never could have experienced on our own. Thanks guys!!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Journal Entry – June 27, 2007 Out And About in Lightning Ridge

Author: Scott

Today did not start as I awoke with the sun streaming into our caravan and the smell of coffee wafting in the air. No sir, today started at 02:30 with the inside of the caravan resembling an igloo with an air conditioner running full bore, and yes indeedy – I had to tinkle something fierce! I know you must be thinking, that is way too much information, but it is important we share our harsh and rigorous challenges with you our faithful readers, and early this morning, getting up to drain the lizard was as tough as it gets. I went for the quick and suffering method to take care of business. I didn’t bother suiting up, I just went out to face the cold in a pair of shorts, teetering in Pam’s flip flops (I couldn’t be bothered with my laces). So, if you ever hear of a shivering blue, semi-naked, Bigfoot sighting at Lightning Ridge, you can rest easy because it was only little old me.

Fast forward to 07:00 when we were awakened by our Lightning Ridge alarm clock, the camp generator. Pam and I braved the chill (again) and suited up for the day. It is strange wearing long underwear, wool socks, wind pants, and two to three layers of upper body clothing. The gear we received from our new sponsors at Icebreakers came in handy. This is one of the first times we have abandoned our shorts and t-shirts in months.

Bob and David were already moving about, bright eyed and bushy tailed. My fantasy of a steaming cup of Joe actually came true as Bob gave me a hefty helping of “gun fire coffee” (strong coffee with a dollop of Jamaica’s finest). Woo wee, now that’s one way to get the heart pumping! The fire was blazing, the bacon was sizzling and the campsite had many squawking visitors including magpies, and the ever present ravens (or crows as they are known in Australia) that sound like babies crying – waaaaaaa waaaaaaa! Pam was a little twitchy with all of our feathery friends roaming around but as long as they stayed outside of our overhang she was fine.

We feasted on a big camp breakfast as Bob and David outlined the day. The first order of business was to drive into the town of Lightning Ridge so Bob and David could present themselves to the mining warden, an annual requirement for miners and our ultimate reason for making this journey. Afterwards we would be free to explore.

Off we went, back through the twists and turns that Bob somehow navigated to eventually find the main road to Lightning Ridge. I image a similar setup that Batman must have used to keep the bat cave hidden from the outside world. The drive out to Lightning Ridge took just about an hour and in no time we were at the Department of Mining Services, just over the road from the old burnt down pub. While Bob and David took care of their business, Pam and I wandered around taking photos of the booming metropolis. I don’t think I would have batted an eye if Clint Eastwood came swaggering down the street in his dusty chaps with six guns swinging on his hips.

The boys were done in no time, having filled their annual requirement as miners. Next stop was the opal shop. We arrived and took over, looking at just about everything in every case. The sales woman was very helpful, allowing us to touch everything. She even left a striking red $50,000 opal just sitting on the counter as she retrieved more items from the back. I found an opal ring for myself in a jiffy, and after thoroughly inventorying everything Pam also made her purchase. We actually took so long shopping that Bob and David had time to visit the second hand shop in town and purchased some new steel bar stools for around the camp table. Apparently the white ants (termites) were well on their way to devouring the current wooden stools. Bob figures it will take some time before they figure out how to eat steel, but he reckons that eventually they will find a way.

Next stop was the grocery store where we topped up the provisions, and then it was back on the road to have a lunch at the campsite. However, while en route to the camp it was decided that we should stop in at the world famous Glengarry Hilton. Now if I was picturing Clint with guns a little earlier, I could easily envision myself lying dead from a gunfight in front of the Glengarry Hilton with a mangy three legged dog licking the sweat from my forehead. The Glengarry Hilton is mostly a watering hole for the miners, though they do serve food from the “tucker truck” a few times a week. There may also be a few beds for sleeping off the effects of a long night’s libations, or day’s, or morning’s… Originally the Hilton was renowned for its liberal trading hours being “always open”, but in recent years this has been reduced to “open from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm or later”. They are also known for the coldest beer in the opal fields. Somehow I don’t think old Paris would approve of the atmosphere, but perhaps considering her recent residence maybe she would find the Hilton homey. There are dirt floors, orange table cloths, a pool table, potbellied stove and a few random stools and tables strewn about. One could easily picture the place teeming with miners pushing the lizards out of the way to make room at the bar.

It was now going on 15:00 and it was time for some lunch and a few camp chores. Bob had been longingly eyeing a fallen tree and the time had come to rev up the thirty-three year old chainasaurus to give that tree a learning. The tree did not stand a chance against big bad Bob who reduced it to firewood in no time. I served as the log boy and collected and stacked the growing pile. We then all moved the pile to the campsite and Bob grumbled that he needed to change the chain on the saw, but never fear he had five replacements at the camp.

We started preparations for the evening meal. Dinner was to be a camp oven cooked roast and vegetables. The food is cooked in a cast iron pot sitting atop and covered with red hot coals from the fire. We peeled and chopped for David until he had all the magical ingredients necessary. Then with practiced precision the food was loaded into the pots. The coals were carefully selected and spread out on the ground with a shovel. Once the pots were arranged on the coals they were then covered with more coals and the whole enchilada would need to sit and cook for approximately two hours. Perfect, this would give us time to visit the other pub in Grawin, the less famous but equally rustic Sheepyard Pub.

We took the shortcut to the Sheepyard by crossing a campsite off road, turning left at a specified tree, traveling past the “old Duck’s place” and finally pulling up to the pub. We could not have been driving for more than five minutes but there is no way that Pam or I could ever have duplicated the trip. We were told that often vehicles are abandoned after a night at the pub due to their owners becoming disoriented, preferring to try their luck on foot. We were given far too many examples to include in this journal entry.

The Sheepyard Pub turned out to be a little more upscale than the Hilton. There was a cement floor, four walls, a fireplace and a solid roof. The interior was warm, and there was even a small lighted display case with sparkling opals for sale. The proprietor “Roundy”, a short stocky troll of a man had a heavy miners beard and looked like he could take out all seven dwarves with one hand tied behind his back. But it was not Roundy who would serve us tonight as Roundy had his eight year old grandson working the bar. When Pam took her usual time to consider her options, she was interrupted by the boy barman with an impatient “ma’am what are you having?”. This made us all chuckle and got Pam all flustered. We explored the pub and chatted with a few of the miners who proudly showed off their recent opal finds. David showed us large pieces of poster board with every serviceman’s name and rank proudly displayed. We couldn’t stay at the pub too long as our camp oven was calling us home for dinner.
When we returned to the camp you could smell the food simmering. Pam and I circled around like starving puppies and tried to patiently wait for our meal. Meanwhile we were visited by our neighbor Norm. Norm is a jolly man who has been mining for years. We also heard many a yarn about his days in the military. As we were chatting away David referenced his precise mental calculations and determined the food was ready to serve. Norm did not join us for dinner but stayed while we feasted on our camp oven dinner. After dinner the storytelling intensified until it was finally time for Norm to hit the hay. We all soon followed ending our incredibly interesting and action packed second day at Lightning Ridge.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Journal Entry – June 26, 2007 – Kangaroos on Mars

Author: Scott

When we awoke on Tuesday morning the rain was still falling as it had all night long. It was one of those “snug as a bug” mornings with a chill in the room, although we were safe in our warm protective cocoon of comfy covers to guard us and hold us pinned to the mattress unwilling to face the bitter morning. But the alarm was insistently demanding our participation in the day and with great regret we peeled away our toasty layers and rejoined humanity at 05:00. We quickly prepared for the day and soon found ourselves downstairs where a cup of delectable steaming coffee was immediately inserted into my hand, to bring me the rest of the way back to the land of the living and conscious.

This was to be a no fuss kind of departure. We had our coffee, David said farewell to Vicky and then we immediately piled into David’s flashy red Land Cruiser and sped off. We swept in and collected Bob and a few more provisions, then we were officially off for Lightning Ridge, about 800 kilometers to the northwest.

Once on the road the commentary began and remained throughout the trip. Bob and David were determined to make sure we saw everything despite our vision impairment. We wound our way through the hill country and into the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s premiere wine production areas. We made a quick stop at the “Golden Arches” for the morning meal, apparently this is a tradition for the boys heading up to Lightning Ridge. Soon we were off again!

Bob and David have been friends for many years and they share that bond that sometimes forms between good mates. It might only take a word or two and the other immediately knows what the other is thinking, so when a story was started by one of the two, the other was immediately tuned in and ready to assist in telling the tale with enthusiasm. They loved to share their stories and never seemed to tire of hearing about each other’s adventures. The ride was not only full of information about Australia but as we rode along with the miles melting away, we came to really know each other.

As the day continued the landscape opened before us until we had reached some of the flattest terrain I have ever seen. Bob and David were amazed at the effects of the recent deluge of rain and told us that the landscape had not been this green since the 70s. As we drove on into increasingly desolate country and signs of civilization ebbed, there were always trees. There were trees everywhere eucalyptus trees (also known as gum trees), cypress pines, and many more varieties. I had always pictured the Australian desert as more barren but we learned that Australia was covered in trees, even in the remote outback. Of course we were seeing an exceptionally lush version of the interior of Australia, but one could see that this land was beautiful even if the green had retreated leaving a dustier, more rugged wilderness. And Australia is BIG, real BIG, GIGANTIC! Only twenty-one million people share a space nearly equal to the size of the United States. Even the regression of the roads was fascinating. As we traveled expressways gave way to two lane highways, that then became country roads paved with red asphalt that looked black one way and red the other under a sunny sky. These red roads were finally replaced by dirt roads grated into gentle humps with table drains to allow for rain runoff. Finally the dirt roads gave way to the hard pack roads made with white opal dirt, giving the area an unearthly moon-like landscape.

We sped on through the day, from town to town, until finally we stopped in a small town called Walgett. Walgett would be our last town before reaching the camp and we stopped in at the market to pick up a few final supplies. Just up the road from Walgett we entered the opal fields and drove into the labyrinth of opal dust roads known as Grawin. Grawin is made up of smaller groups of mining claims with names like Glengarry and Sheepyard. To properly visualize Grawin you need to image a mixture of the Martian landscape, a flattened out version of the Appalachians, and the earth portrayed in the Mad Max/Road Warrior trilogy. White dust roads randomly spider web through mountains of opal mullock (overburden dirt created from mining). Hulks of antique excavation equipment, trucks, trailers, and self built hybrid motorized monstrosities dot the surroundings with the occasional car door painted as a makeshift street sign. Grawin is the kind of place that a sleepy little Mexican town with dirt roads and chickens in the street, would consider a remote place.

Somehow Bob and David wound us through this other world of twists and turns and even managed to keep up with the flow of information. We were shown the famous Glengarry Hilton (see the scrapbook), the Sheepyard Pub, old Ned’s place, and finally our campsite.

Bob and David describe their campsite as roughing it with all the comforts and this is precisely accurate. The campsite is made up of a large flat roofed structure, stoutly built of steel posts with a corrugated metal roof. Under which is a trailer (or caravan in Australia), a shower enclosure, and a magnificent fire place built of metal sitting atop a base of cinder blocks. There are two large water tanks that catch the rain from the roof on the structure. There is also a separate shed for the generators, a smaller caravan, and the “Blue Loo with a View” a specially modified construction site outhouse with a “long drop”. Then there are the various vehicles and mining equipment that randomly adorn the site. Each structure has a unique story that can only be properly shared around a roaring campfire with ample time and a bit of grog. Of course there is also a mine shaft dug, although the mine is not operational as the boys are waiting to more fully evolve into mining in their retirement. For now the campsite is a place to escape the city and civilization, a special place for spinning yarns, a place for tinkering with engines and swinging an axe, a place to get away from anything and everything, a very special and yet humble retreat.

As soon as the car doors were open we sprang into action. Provisions were stowed, cobwebs cleaned, dishes washed, sleeping bags unrolled, and in no time we were stoking the raging fire with wood and settled in just in time for our kangaroo visit. It was like the roos were special ordered to appear for Scott and Pam as we struck camp. We were told that we might see some roos and here they were, a pair of gray kangaroos with the stereotypical baby Joey hanging in the mother’s pouch. They quietly stared at us with there deer-like tranquil eyes, posed for pictures, then silently hopped away. Wow - we really are in Australia!!!

Our first dinner was spaghetti bolognaise that David “just threw together” before leaving. We gabbed away into the night around the fire until it was finally time to head back to our little caravan to catch some sleep. What a wonderful first day at Lightning Ridge!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Journal Entry – June 25, 2007 – The Lightning Ridge Adventure Begins!

Author: Scott

Most Australians have heard of Lightning Ridge though most have never been there. It is one of the few true frontiers left in the world, making a home for would be miners, dreamers, loners, drifters, outcasts, and purported criminals. Many of the people who inhabit Lightning Ridge don’t have a bank account, address, or outside contact with others. It is only just recently that cell phone technology has reached this area, which was once serviced with only a rudimentary radio telephone network. Over the past week we have heard many stories about Lightning Ridge ranging from claims that everyone lives underground to warnings that the area is run by the Russian Mafia. However, absolutely everyone agrees that we were heading to the bush, the Outback, the real deal Australian adventure. Today we would leave our little maritime life behind, tie up our hiking boots, and step off into a land of mining for the precious black opal.

Today was the second day of engine installation. With all the rain over the past week we have been unable to move forward with the engine replacement, keeping our boat in a state of perpetual demolition zone mode. Our cockpit has been inhabited with snakelike greasy hoses, various fittings and gadgetry that would make any Transformer jealous. The end result was keeping Starship from feeling like home and after this next bout of installation we should be able to reclaim the boat and return her to a normal inhabited condition.

We were extremely busy all day, or as my current favorite Aussie saying would appropriately term it, “we were flat out as a lizard drinking”. Today we would be departing with Bob to spend the night before leaving first thing in the morning for Lightning Ridge. Long before the Bob and Rob electromechanical team showed themselves we had already made the coffee run, gone to the bank, had a bit of “brekki” (breakfast), and carried all of our laundry over to the local dry cleaner. Although Donna Marshall had kindly offered her laundry machine we did not have time to fit it in before departing to Lightning Ridge, so we found we could have our laundry done for $11.00 per load (only $3 more than the coin operated Laundromat’s cost of $8). By the time we returned from our errands Bob and Rob were busily heaving, bolting, and working away on the new beast. Bob’s plan was to work straight through until around 14:30 and then we would all head out to get organized for the next day’s travels. Pam and I filled the remainder of the day packing, retrieving the laundry, and making a second coffee run for the boys. When the appointed time came we locked up the boat, stowed our gear in the Land Cruiser and set out for our Lightning Ridge experience.

As we headed northwest to drop off Rob, Bob informed us we would be staying at his mine partner David’s house for the night as Bob’s dad is now living with Bob and his wife and he suffers from insomnia. Now we don’t know David from a bar of soap, but we were in adventure mode and we were just going with the flow. Part of our drive took us through Galston Gorge in the rain. Galston George is a deep gorge dropping from 1600 meters to sea level with numerous hairpin turns, waterfalls that can cross the road and crazy drivers riding right on your bumper to push the speed limit. Bob drove like a master through the terrain, managing to keep up a running commentary with interesting tidbits of information.

Once we dropped off Rob, we made a quick trip over to Bob’s. We met Bob’s charming wife Shan, ninety-three year old father Jim, and cat Jemma (who is a little antisocial). We had a cup of coffee, learned a little about maritime history from Jim and within minutes David arrived to scoop us up for the night. Our luggage was transferred from Bob’s more utilitarian Land Cruiser to David’s shiny red Land Cruiser and it was quite the vehicle, “flash as a rat with a gold tooth”, Bob told us.

Our first few minutes with David encapsulates the kind of comfortable nature of many of the Aussies we have met, one minute we were shaking hands and greeting each other and the next we were accepted mates “wagging the chin” on our way home for some “tucker”.

David lives in a charming home with a mountain cabin feel to it. There was a warm fire burning in the stove and an instantaneous comfy feeling of home. David’s wife Vicky, who is a psycho therapist, buzzed in for a quick hello and then was off to her home office to meet a client. We settled in by the fire with a drink and got to know our host a little better while he started to work some culinary magic in the kitchen. Shortly after our arrival we were joined by Vicky’s daughter (from a previous marriage) Ronnie and her partner Scot who were joining us for dinner, and after warm greetings conversations exploded covering travel, politics, and just about everything imaginable. What wonderful people we are fortunate to meet! Dinner was superb consisting of something David “just threw together”. Well, David’s creation was lamb neck stewed with capsicum, perfectly roasted potatoes, mushrooms sautéed in sour cream, and some kind of wonderful tart for dessert. We topped off our meal with coffees from David’s flash coffee maker and a nip of a delicious liqueur from Israel. The dinner conversations were lively, including Vicky’s account of her recent gas oven explosion, leaving her eyelashless, and thank goodness, mostly unharmed. It was as if Pam and I had lived our lives in Australia and were just part of the family over for a “feed”. After dinner we settled into a warm land bed, and fell asleep listening to the rain fall on the tin roof.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Journal Entry – June 24, 2007 Flying Foxes and the Arts of Islam

Author: Pam

Early in the week our friends Tim and Georgia sent an email inviting us to get together to do something fun over the weekend. We made a plan to get together on Sunday and Georgia was in charge of planning the activities. They picked us up at 10:30 as the sky began to cloud over. I decided to brave it and wear sandals, I have a major lack of closed toed shoes. My feet were actually warm enough, but at one point Tim did ask me if I was at all aware of how many people were staring at my feet. Sydney is now in the dead of winter and they have all pulled out their furry boots. Coming from Maine I find it a bit amusing to see so many people wearing boots where there is not a chance it will snow. At any rate I guess I was providing an equal amount of amusement.

Our outing began with a stroll through the Botanical Gardens which hosts not only a huge array of plant life, but also millions of birds and the renowned flying fox or also commonly referred to as the fruit bat. From almost every branch there are brown sacks hanging upside down napping while they wait for just before dark when they will take off in search of the fig trees. We have heard the gardens are teeming with bats, but I had no idea what that really meant. Outside the visitors center a volunteer was sitting at a table with a display of an adult and baby flying fox hanging from a branch (they had died on an electrical wire). It is the only way I want to get up close and friendly with them, although it was an opportunity to see they do have kind of cute faces. I am sure I would have a near heart attack if I was there when they all take flight. We also saw Ibis birds, which are black and white and as big as a small puppy. The cactus garden was definitely more up my alley. As it started to sprinkle, because rain is now almost a daily occurrence we headed into the Art Gallery of New South Wales to visit the Arts of Islam exhibit, treasures from the Nasser D Khalili collection. The Arts of Islam presents the extraordinary wealth, imagination and artistic heritage of the Islamic art over more than 1000 years. The pieces in the exhibit were exquisite ranging from pottery, glassware, rugs, many copies and pages from ancient Qur’ans, jewelry, gemmed daggers (Tim & Scott’s favorite pieces), ancient games, drinking vessels, two dimensional art and weavings often telling a story. It was a fascinating collection and we were all left in awe that this is only a fraction of the artifacts Khalili owns. After we had our minds thoroughly opened we walked over to Wooloomooloo (you can’t even begin to imagine the pronunciation) for a lunch of Tapas. The sky cleared while we sat at an outside table and the sun came out making it a very pleasant afternoon.

After Tim and Georgia dropped us back at the boat we gathered up our computers and made our way across town to the Internet café, it had been two weeks since we had checked email. We do not have convenient internet access near the boat where we can use our laptops and with the weather and all it has not made it to the top of the list. After a couple hour session we headed back to the boat putting an end to a very nice weekend with a nice balance that did not include any boat work.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Journal Entry - June 22 & 23, 2007 Arabian Nights and Sailing Days

Author: Scott

Woo hoo – the sun came out and the new beast has arrived! We were greeted by a fabulously sunny morning with a gentle breeze blowing. The conditions were almost ideal for the installation of the newly rebuilt Perkins 4135, 67 horsepower, 2.2 liter blue/green machine! The Bob and Rob team showed up around 10:00 with the little monster strapped down in their ute.

While the guys went to work on preparing the engine mounts we hovered over the new engine as others from RANSA and the dock congregated to get a look at our new little addition. Bob eventually came over to give us an overview of all the parts and gizmos that would be necessary in the care and feeding of Starship’s new iron sail.

Very quickly the time came to haul the boat across to the dock near the crane and we easily repeated the process we devised on the day of Big Red’s extraction. Sometime the simplest solutions turn out to be the best, and the process of pulling Starship by hand along a long line worked again like a charm. Once Starship was tied down by the crane the insertion of the engine went flawlessly smooth. I always envisioned an engine replacement to be an agonizing and torturous experience, but with Bob’s experience he made the whole process easy. In no time the engine was sitting nicely on its mounts and the boat was pulled back to her pen. We had a little more wind on the return trip but nothing that created any problems.

As Bob and Rob worked on attaching the engines life support systems, Pam and I worked on boat projects outside including cleaning the dinghy, cleaning the sail cover, running the second outboard, and finishing up the cleanup on the stern.

Around 15:30 we did have a big of a setback. As Bob and Rob attempted to align the engine it became clear that the hard mounting boards that support the flexible mounting pads were too thick. This required Bob and Rob to remove the mounting boards to be cut again, bringing the engine installation to a dead stop. At least the new engine was in the boat! Bob assured us with a hearty “no worries mates” and promised to return on Monday with freshly cut mounting boards.

We quickly cleaned up the boat as best we could and then scurried over to RANSA for a shower. Once a month in the wintertime RANSA holds a special event for their members and tonight was Arabian Night, complete with belly dancing, and we were invited.

We did our best to dress up in appropriate attire and headed out for the festivities. The party was great! We all gathered at the RANSA bar for a happy hour and then moved into the Rushcutters Room for dinner. We dined on Moroccan lamb, Greek salad, and baklava and Turkish Delight for dessert. After dinner we moved out into the main boatshed for the belly dancing. Apparently the dancer was so good in the past that a group of women from RANSA had taken lessons from the dancer and they regaled us with stories of dancing the camel… The dancing was quite good and the main dancer did an excellent job of generating group energy culminating in the whole group getting up on the dance floor. All this dancing got Ms. Pamela in the groove and she suggested we bring over a computer with music to keep the dance going. I obediently complied and the tunes were a hit! We kept the group grooving for another hour and a half, until we finally had to shut down due to courtesy to the neighborhood, but we surely had a rockin Arabian Night!

First thing Saturday morning we learned we were responsible for a few over indulgers staying later than planned and therefore facing a rough Saturday morning. In Sydney for a few weeks and now we have a reputation! Well, we didn’t have time to worry about our new rep because we were off to CYC for a day of sailing. On the prior Thursday we had dinner with our new friend Michael Kelly and he informed us he was sailing up to Pittwater on Saturday in preparation for his cruise to the Witt Sunday Islands. When he learned that we would also be sailing to Pittwater he immediately offered for us to join him to gain some local knowledge. He even went as far as to say that he would have 10 to 15 knot southwesterlies under a warm sunny sky. Wouldn’t you know it, Michael got exactly the weather he ordered.

We met Michael and three other crew (Martin, Mark and David) at CYC and headed out to Pantomime, Michael’s 35’ Moody sloop. Supplies and gear were stowed and we struck out towards the Sydney Heads under a gloriously sunny sky.

The sail to Pittwater was splendid. We all got to know each other and sailed with perfect conditions. We even had a chance to fly the sky blue spinnaker for probably ten miles of the trip. Pam and I had a great opportunity to learn about our future arrival to Pittwater giving us a welcome confidence to the start of our next voyage. Upon reaching Pittwater we efficiently docked the boat and shared a cab back to Rushcutters Bay. The entire sailing day was textbook perfect and very relaxed.

Pam and I finished off the day at our favorite little neighborhood Italian restaurant and basked in the feeling that only comes from a warm sunny day sailing with just a hint of wind burn.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Journal Entry – June 20 & 21, 2007 Friends in Sydney, New & Old

Author: Pam

It’s just another day in paradise, well that is if you like the rain forest. Ok, we know we are now starting to sound a bit whiney. It has now been raining for almost a week and we are still waiting for the clouds to part so we can drop the engine into its new home. It has been confirmed by reliable sources Australia is having the worst June weather they have had in 40 years. We have not had a conversation with anyone that has not included that fact and their complete and utter surprise at how cold it has been, how hard the wind has blown and how much rain has fallen, thankfully it is finally going into the catchments and it is now up to 50 percent. We have been assured over and over this is not normal, well I guess not if it only happens every 40 years. I seem to have a habit of showing up places for record breaking weather. I am fine with it as long as it continues to happen while we are on land.

We spent the day finally getting some boat projects done. Scott installed our spare water pump for the fresh water system. On the way to Sydney the old one bit the dust because it ran dry while the boat was heeled too far to port to keep water in the Starboard tank (when the water level was getting low). We will chalk that one up to learning about what we needed to know about the cross feeding water tanks on Starship. He also put in a two way valve for the wash down pump so we can select fresh or salt water. We originally had the pump installed with that option, but unfortunately the technician that worked on the water maker didn’t realize the purpose of the valve and he took it out. Scott was a good “drippy” (plumber) for the day and water is now flowing in and pumping in all of the right directions and with great pressure.

Yippee!!! You guessed it the sun is finally out, but the wind is still blowing. Bob called to say it looked like tomorrow would finally be a good day. We were a little disappointed at first after waiting for more than a week, but it became clear an engine on a crane with that much wind was a recipe for a disaster. We decided to tackle an outdoor project and put our dinghy in the water so we could run both of our outboard engines. After a little sucking on the fuel line (who needs mouth wash?) Scott got our 4 horse power engine started. On his test drive he went around to the stern of the boat to discover it looked like a light blue leopard. Unbeknownst to us in the engine’s dying moments it coughed up and sputtered black oil and soot all over the stern, which was not a pretty sight. How embarrassing, we had no idea poor Starship looked so unsightly. I gathered up everything I could think of that could possibly take the stubborn gooey stuff off. I scrubbed and scrubbed while Scott held the dinghy near the transom. In 25 minutes I made a dent, but it was going to take another go.

We had to put the cleaning and outboard project on hold for the day. I had made a Dr. appointment to check in on a couple of small concerns before we head out to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands where the option of medical care will be practically non-existent. After my Dr. visit we met up with our friend Amber from San Francisco and spent the afternoon catching up on our respective adventures. Amber has been traveling around New Zealand and Australia since February and had visited us on Starship in NZ when she first arrived. She is now our only friend that we have seen in two countries, so some of you have some catching up to do.

Our luck meeting really nice people has continued. The other morning while we were having a muffin and coffee at CYC Michael Kelley approached us and said he was at our presentation to the Cruising Division on Tuesday and how much he enjoyed it. We chatted for a few minutes and then he went on his way. About an hour later while we were meeting with Ron and Sam he came by again and invited us to dinner on Thursday evening. So, on Thursday evening we met him and his friend Victoria (she is from Switzerland) at the CYC and then jumped in a cab to one of his favorite bistro restaurants in Potts Point. We had a lovely dinner, I ate the biggest chicken breast I have ever seen. Victoria was heading out the next day for a three week trip home to Zurich. She had talked to her mother in Moscow earlier in the day and told her she was having dinner with us, her mother said “you have to meet them I saw them on TV”. We have now heard our arrival in Sydney was seen in Russia, the US, UK and New Zealand. As our primary goal is to spread a message of independence we are absolutely thrilled with the wide spread coverage that our voyage is producing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Journal Entry – June 18 & 19, 2007 Drip – Drip – Drip…

Author: Scott

Okay, now this is just ridiculous. The entire time we were in New Zealand we heard that there was a ten year drought in Australia, and when we come to town it looks like it is getting sorted out in one big whack! Now I want the drought to end as much as the Aussies but soon the kangaroos are going to have to take swimming lessons. The last two days have continued to be rainy.

Monday morning we were fooled into believing that the rain had stopped, but the clouds were only taking a brief rest before continuing the torrent. Pam and I headed over to CYC for a quick breakfast before meeting with Ron and Sam from Humanware. Our morning’s mission was training on a talking GPS product called Trekker. Trekker is a handheld sized talking GPS unit that will provide us with a second speech synthesized solution for navigation. Just as we finished up breakfast Ron and Sam arrived and I was treated to a second cup of coffee (always a good way to start the day). The training went smoothly and ended around lunchtime.

Later in the day we worked on interview questions from a reporter working on a story for my father’s local newspaper, the Colfax Record.

For dinner we were whisked away from our stormy swamp boat by our friend Michael who we met on our prior visit to Sydney. Our reunion was spent at a homey little bistro oozing with European mountain charm. We had a delightful and leisurely meal together and had a chance to catch up on all of our adventures since we all saw each other last.

Tuesday was more rain as we continued to move boat projects along. Jason a local boat engineer who had offered to help us out showed up to discuss our various projects. He turned out to be instrumental in referring us to people who could help us with our projects. We are now a few steps closer to getting the boat in order for our departure.

In the evening we gave a presentation to our friends at Sailability. Sailability played a key role in our arrival publicity, provided us with a berth at Rushcutters Bay and has been continuously helpful since our arrival. Tonight was our opportunity to share our experience with the members of the New South Wales clubs. Phil and Sam from Humanware picked us up at 16:30 and gave us a ride over to the Burwood RSL Club (Return Service League). Phil and Sam were representing Humanware at our presentation. It turns out the RSL is like a Veterans of Foreign Wars Club in the States. The RSL raises money by offering legal gambling through slot machines and other electronic gaming and then proceeds are funneled back into services for Australian veterans. Each night at 18:00 everything stops and all in attendance participate in the “Ode for Fallen Soldiers”, which is basically a moment of silence to honor killed and wounded soldiers. The RSLs also serve as a community meeting place for other charities and this is why Sailability holds their meetings in this location.

We gave our presentation and it went smoothly. We also had a chance to learn a little more about Sailability. Sailability is a series of sailing clubs whose motto is “Sailing for Everyone Regardless of Ability”. There are 24 clubs in New South Wales and 46 clubs throughout Australia. After the presentation we were driven home by Phil, bringing an end to another wet day in Oz.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Journal Entry – June 15 - 17, 2007 Just Another Rainy Sydney Weekend!

Author: Scott

Good thing we already have a boat because this is the kind of weather that got Noah working on the ark. We basically spent the entire weekend trying to stay dry, getting a few little projects completed, and thankfully spending some time with new Sydney friends.

Friday was an escape to the Westfield’s mall at Bondi Junction. I was finally feeling a little better after my suspected dodgy chicken food poisoning. It is amazing how much one can appreciate proper digestive activity after only a few days of unpredictable stomach behavior. Enough said on that topic.

Our shopping center safari involved a haircut for me, a lunch of steam table Chinese food, with the high point of the day being a visit to the cinema to see Shrek 3.

On Saturday it was RAINING AGAIN! We trudged through the rain to a local diner called Ash’s where we found a reasonably good weekend breakfast. The rest of the day was spent ordering parts for projects and hiding from the rain. We finally got cabin fever and ventured out to CYC for our closest food option.

On Sunday (I bet you guessed it) it rained again!!!! The only thing that kept us from heading out to gather animals by pairs was an invitation to have breakfast with Kate and Bernie at the Sunday morning CYC fund raising breakfast. Each Sunday morning volunteers serve a BIG breakfast to raise money for youth sailing programs. The breakfast consists of two pieces of toast, two sausages, baked beans, hash browns, two eggs, and you can have the entire lot smothered in “train smash” (a conglomeration of squished up tomatoes, onions, and other mysterious ingredients). This is the kind of meal that sticks to your ribs, you know the all day kind of meal.

After breakfast I announced that I was planning to hide from the rain at the movie theatre to watch Spider Man 3. Pam was not interested and was planning a quiet day on the boat (I bet you guessed) organizing. I was feeling very disorganized and was looking forward to hanging out with that web swinging super hero. Bernie and Kate offered to give me a ride up to Bondi Junction and further offered to show us a few sights, so we piled into their car. We were shown some views of Bondi Beach with the storm powered waves crashing the shoreline. We then walked along the South Heads overlooking Sydney Harbor (there was a short rain reprieve). We even had a chance to visit Doyle’s, a famous lookout pub and restaurant overlooking Watson’s Bay. After our sightseeing sojourn I was dropped at Bondi Junction and Pam was returned to Starship. As it turns out, Spiderman was only playing at 20:00, so I happily settled for Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Upon my return to the boat we were picked up by David and Donna Marshal and we all headed over to Kate and Bernie’s for dinner. Due to the dreary weather, Kate had decided to make a big soup and invite friends over for a warm hearty dinner to help stave off the rainy day blues. During our visit we had a glimpse at Kate and Bernie’s artistic side. Kate is a watercolor artist and Bernie is a talented wood craftsman. Dinner was delicious and the time spent with everyone did indeed keep all of our spirits lifted.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Journal Entry – June 13 - 14, 2007 Winter in Australia Comes In With A Vengeance

Author: Pam

Whether it was the chicken or the flu the funk seem to move in. Scott was still feeling funky when he woke up, but didn’t want to call a “sicky”. I also was starting to feel a bit off, but more like I was getting a cold. We decided he would go to Vision Australia and I would stay home and work on finishing the engine room beautification project. Both tasks felt daunting under the circumstances, especially since Scott’s trip involved a fifteen minute walk up the hill, two trains and a taxi to get there. He set out to be there by 10:00. I dawned my grubbiest engine room attire and ventured into the hole under the cockpit where I spent most of the day standing in the engine bay, half bent over while running my hands over every surface and hose looking for dirt and grime. After I was at it for an hour of so, the guys from Sailability stopped by to invite us to go out for the Wednesday race. I didn’t think Scott would be too pleased if he arrived back and I had ditched my cleaning rag for an opportunity to go racing. It was very nice of them to tempt us, but honestly I was barely feeling up to being in the engine room, so going out on the cold water wasn’t really appealing.

Originally the engine was supposed to be installed today, but Bob our mechanic called to say he was still waiting for the flexible mounts to come from Queensland and he should be all set for Friday. With this in mind I was determined to finish the cleaning today. When Scott came home at 1330 I was just crawling out of the engine room (I use room loosely) with a faint sense of satisfaction. Though my edges were not really tested, my need for perfection was. However, there are times when even I know the limits and a 35 year old engine room is now one of them. Scott went immediately to bed and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. Though he was feeling absolutely crappy, he was on a high. The event was Vision Australia’s annual awards ceremony to recognize outstanding contributions of individuals and organizations in the community. There was over a 150 staff and 30 people from the community in attendance. The event was planned to take place outside, but they decided it was too cold so they held it in a large hallway. Scott was the finale and his ten minute synopsis of our adventure was a hit. They served morning tea, which he could not manage to eat. He mingled and had the opportunity to meet a lot of the staff, including the Director who made sure to let him know they were very pleased with the international exposure they received in conjunction with our arrival in Sydney.

Before he left to come home he visited their store where they sell adaptive aids for people who are visually impaired. We had also visited on our previous trip to Sydney and found the layout of the store to provide easy access to the products on display. There is also an adjoining training/demonstration kitchen where you can have a hands-on experience with the items on display. Scott’s mission was to buy a new talking alarm clock, ours died on the Tasman from an unknown illness. He picked out a clock and then asked about water proof watches for the visually impaired. They did not have the one he was looking for made by Seiko, but they did have a watch made by Tissot that Scott had admired in the US last year. It is a watch that is designed for business people and people who are blind. It is a very unique design that allows you tell the time by touch. This is not unusual for blind people, but this technology uses a unique combination of a pulse and vibration when you run your finger around the watch face to indicate the hour and the minute hands that then correspond with the tactile indications around the edge. Scott decided he would treat himself to this fancy watch (also waterproof) and when he went to pay he was informed his money was no good. The Director had given the sales clerks instructions to not let Scott pay for anything he decided to buy. Scott insisted, since he was pretty certain the Director had not had this expensive watch in mind. The sales clerk jokingly said she would get sacked if she took his money, so he succumbed and left with a beautiful state of the art watch as a gift.

When the Sailability team returned they invited us to come up to the club to hear the race results of the day. Scott was not ready to leave his cocoon, but I decided a change of scenery would be fun. As I was getting ready to leave and check on Scott he graced us with his presence. After not eating for two days he was finally feeling hungry and he thought a pizza would do the trick. We bundled up because it had gotten very cold as the day progressed and walked ten minutes to our new favorite Italian restaurant La Bussola for a yummy dinner.

The two day break in the weather came to a crashing halt on Thursday as the rain began to bucket down again. I mean literally, I put two buckets in the cockpit under the open dodger window and began the process of dumping bucketfuls of water over the side of the boat. Ok, I was supportive last week, but the upcoming forecasted week of rain may be pushing the envelope. It also will delay the installation of the engine. Bob called this morning with the dismal news that we would have to wait for the next sunny day and it didn’t look like the rain would stop or the sun would shine until next week sometime. Eeeee gads! Scott still wasn’t feeling a hundred percent so we took it easy for the day. At 1830 we met up with Kate, Bernie and Pat at CYC’s member’s lounge for badge night. They have a drawing every Thursday night and if your member number is drawn you win the cash prize which starts at $600.00 and increases by $200.00 each week if no one wins. Much to Kate’s dismay she has never won, they have drawn the number on both sides of her number and tonight they drew a number that belonged to someone with the same last name. She is convinced she is not in the computer, hopefully her luck will change. After the disappointing drawing, we went with Pat, Kate and Bernie to their favorite Thai restaurant for dinner. We shared a nice meal and lots of sea stories while the time passed quickly. Kate and Bernie gave us a ride back to our soggy home as the rain continued to fall relentlessly, but at least so far there isn’t as much wind as last week’s storm and Starship isn’t giving her dock lines such a strenuous workout.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Journal Entry - June 9 - 12, 2007 What Drought?

Author: Pam

The rain and strong wind that started on Friday continued for five days. The weather was so bad it caught three coal cargo ships in New Castle off guard as they struggled to stay off of the foreshore. Unfortunately one was unsuccessful and ended up on the beach with a full tank of fuel. They had dumped their water ballast and were not heavy enough to fight against the strong winds and seas. There was concern the hull would be damaged and there would be a fuel spill on the pristine beach. The high winds brought down trees, caused land slides and power outages. We had to put a third spring line on Starship to keep her bow off of the dock. She was rocking and rolling more than she does at times at sea.

The rain is very welcome by the locals, they have been in a drought for the past ten years in many parts of Australia. We welcomed our comfy accommodations. We stayed inside snug as bug on Saturday and half of Sunday catching up on computer projects, while the rain poured down by the bucketfuls and the wind howled up to 50 knots. It was one thing to be thankful to be staying on land it was another to be immensely thankful we were not coming, going or at sea during this horrendous weather. We did brave the elements each day to visit our new friend the ATM, as we are in the process of amassing all of the $50.00 bills in Australia (they are yellow and are often called pineapples) to eventually pay for our new engine. We will have to visit the ATM a total of twelve times before we have enough pineapples. We get a good uphill walk everyday to the Edgecliff Center and Scott doesn’t mind because we have to go right past Gloria Jeans’s coffee shop.

On Sunday cabin fever was creeping in so we decided to hop on the train and go one stop out to Bondi Junction to have a look around. We had heard there was a mall, so that seemed like a good place to pass the rainy day blues. There is a huge Westfield mall that we wandered around in for an hour or so. There are hundreds of stores, ranging from there big department store David Jones to a very messy Target. There is also a movie theater that we will surely be visiting in the near future, it has been several months since we have seen a movie. While we were roaming around Phil called about going out for Mexican food, we had discovered when we first met that we were all “hanging” for Mexican. Phil and Jan picked us up at 1730 and we headed to a local pub and then a little Mexican restaurant in their neighborhood in the western part of Sydney. We have been craving Mexican food since we left Mexico, there was none to be had in the South Pacific and we only ate at one Mexican restaurant in New Zealand. Kiwis don’t have a taste for the spice or maybe it is the lack of lamb and Aussie’s only seem marginally more interested. The food was good and did the trick in a pinch, but it was still a far cry from all of our favorite haunts in Mexico. Our waitress is here in Australia studying and is from Guadalajara and was thrilled when we told her we had been there. She was delightful and was very happy to make Scott and Phil a “special” coffee with secret ingredients.

More rain on Monday, but too bad we had to venture out armed with our umbrella to get the boat ready for her new iron sail is supposed to arrive on Wednesday. We spent the afternoon beginning the process of cleaning the engine room. I have never really spent any time in there and it became clear fairly quickly it has been a long time since anyone else has with anything that resembles cleaning products. Between the oil that had leaked out of the engine, the salt water that had sprayed out of a hose that had come loose, the dust, grease and bits and pieces that were laying about there was no way it was going to be a one hour job. Scott mopped up the big puddles of oil, he decided if there was a prayer of me going in there he better at least get it to the point where it didn’t totally test my edges. He did a good job and I set out with the Simple Green and a bucket of soapy water and felt like I only scratched the surface after two hours. At dark we were happy to be leaving the boat to head to drier land, the boat felt very damp, she was squeaking up a storm as the fenders rubbed ferociously against the dock and the cockpit was a virtual bathtub as water poured through the window that was not zipped properly due to leaving it undone, since the engine was coming in a week and it never rains. We are very supportive of this surprise rainfall. Especially since everyone is dancing for joy, but apparently though it is raining more than it has in years they would be happier if more was going into the catchments. When we got back to Marshalls at Paddington we made a big salad and had a prepared roasted chicken for dinner while the rain they never have continued to pour down.

On Tuesday Scott woke up not feeling well, but he didn’t really think much of it. We packed up our stuff and readied the house for David and Donna’s return. It was back to the boat, our week of being land lubbers and the storm were over, what great timing. David and Donna’s gracious offer couldn’t have come at a better time. They came home just as we were heading out to the store to buy them some treats as a thank you. David offered to drive us back to the boat, so we trudged through the remaining mud puddles and fallen branches up to Edgecliff Center to take care of our secret mission and when we got back we caught up with one another on the week’s events and then headed back to the boat. The sun was out for the first time in five days and we were able to get her feeling more ship shape and less like a submarine with a hole in it.

As the day progressed Scott was feeling worse and by the time it was time to go to the Cruising Yacht Club to give our presentation to the Cruising Division he was feeling “crooked”. At this point he had become very suspicious of the chicken from the night before. It had been discounted $3.00 because it was the end of the day, but in passing I said I hope it isn’t yesterday’s chicken. You know the power of suggestion can be very strong, he decided for sure it had to have been a bad chicken. I felt fine but I didn’t eat the stuffing, so who knows. We had been invited to give a half hour presentation about our trip so far. When we arrived we were met by Pat who had originally invited us, she helped organize the set-up of our computer and Scott only had to make one trip back to the boat for a missing cord. It was really cold out and besides being there at all it was the last thing he wanted to do. I would have gone, but I never would have found it in the snake pit of cords we have on board. We were one of two speakers that evening. The first presentation was about a rally in Turkey which had just happened and with enthusiastic testimonials they were recruiting for the next one. By the time it was our turn, Scott was practically turning green, but determined to keep our commitment. The presentation went well, thank goodness it was only a half hour. He said later it was pure will, focus and probably the thrill we both get from sharing our experiences that got him through. I was very impressed with his ability to rise to the occasion, but when it came to accepting their invitation to dinner he had to call it a night. He crawled in bed immediately with our little electric heater on high hoping he would feel right the next morning for the commitment we had to give a 10 minute spiel at Vision Australia’s awards ceremony.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Journal Entry June 8, 2007 Tony Purkiss, Software on Board and Talking Pilot

Author: Pam

Technology is by far our biggest tool on board and we are always open to anything that will enhance our access to information. We had the pleasure of meeting and spending the day with Tony Purkiss and Simon Blundell. Tony is blind and a sailor who has participated in 9 Sydney Hobart races as well a long list of other sailing adventures. How he lost his vision is a remarkable story, he was a victim of the bombing in Bali in 2005. Even more remarkable than how he lost his vision is his amazing adjustment to his vision loss in less than two years. He is someone who considers himself extremely lucky (he has had at least two near death experiences in less than ten years) and he doesn't believe in letting the little or the big things in life get in your way and this he exudes with openness and boundless enthusiasm. Scott and I have had the opportunity to meet many blind and visually impaired people in our life and Tony stands out as someone with amazing adjustment skills and a positive attitude, he is someone we were honored to meet. Tony's website is if you want to find out more about what he is up to.

Simon is the developer of Software on Board (SOB), a computerized navigational program utilizing C-MAP cartography and in the last year after being contacted by Tony he has begun to develop Talking Pilot a component of SOB. Tony sent Simon an email and posed the question of making some of the navigational information audible in the SOB program, which Simon thought was a very reasonable consideration and with some computer programming magic most likely possible. They have been communicating for the past year and fine tuning the program. They were very anxious to demonstrate what they have so far to us and were also very hopeful that we would consider using the software aboard Starship. Let's see, more information in an audible format, you really don't have to ask us twice. Simon donated the SOB program and is now one of our newest sponsors. For more information about Software on Board check out

So, what does this mean and how will life at sea change for us? Currently SOB and Talking Pilot can give us position, course, speed and depth information through speech synthesis. The next area of development is to make AIS (Automatic Identification Systems) information available through speech as well. This is very exciting because it will give all blind sailors greater access to information about the shipping traffic in their vicinity. All large ships are now required to have AIS on board, which transmits their ship name, course, speed, position and direction. With this information now available on the computer through speech synthesis sailors can travel around their yacht with a blue tooth earpiece providing them with wireless and hands free access to this data. In order to access SOB and the AIS information we now need to install an AIS receiver and a special cable between our instruments and the computer, which will require the skills of an electronics technician. Throughout the remainder of our voyage we will work with Simon and Tony to make suggestions for further development of the Talking Pilot. We are proud to be participants in the evolution and beta testing of this exciting new technology. Tony mentioned that one day he hopes to attempt a solo non-stop blind circumnavigation. The Talking Pilot will be an instrumental tool towards achieving his goal. Tony, good on ya mate, we will be there cheering you on when your dream becomes a reality!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Journal Entry - June 6 & 7, 2007 Engineectomy

Author: Scott

"Big Red" is gone, gone to where all engines go when they spectacularly fail. I don't think there will be a rebuilding reincarnation for the old dog, yes I think Red is headed to that big scrap pile in the sky. Bye Red, may you be turned into dog food cans before you rust away into oblivion.

Yesterday the Bob and Rob team showed up at ten to give Starship an engineectomy. That's right, they came, they cut wires and pulled hoses, and with impressive efficiency they ripped the sucker right out of Starship. Actually, we were quite fortunate to have access to two cranes on the RANSA dock that are normally used to lift race boats in and out of the water. The whole operation was really quite interesting. First, Bob and Rob removed a solar panel, partially removed our dodger, and then disconnected Red from its lifelines. We then pulled the boat across the fairway using a very long rope. Starship was positioned under the crane and with minimal effort she was rendered engineless. I think I suffered more on my last trip to the dentist! Bob and Rob proved to be quite innovative. Whenever faced with a challenge they would scratch their heads, mull a little, pull out some obscure and large tool, and in a flash the problem would be sorted out. When Red was free of the boat we held the beast three feet off the parking lot for all of our inspection. It was interesting how small and helpless the ferocious monster seemed when it was just hanging there in space. We then pulled Starship back to her berth and the surgery was complete. The efficiency of the whole experience gives us great confidence for the successful insertion of the new mechanical creature.

After Bob and Rob departed we turned our attention to a completely different task, we packed up our belongings to head over to the Marshalls of Paddington Bed and Breakfast. We are still in awe that such recently made friends have offered for us to stay at their Bed and Breakfast while they are away for the week. Once settled into our lovely new surroundings we headed out to "Five Ways" an intersection of five streets in the Marshall's neighborhood that hosts a number of local restaurants, stores and businesses. The culinary world was our oyster and we finally settled on scrumptious Thai food for dinner.

Today was a lazy day spent at the B&B. We were even more fortunate to stay at our new home away from the boat because a big storm from the south settled over Sydney, dumping buckets of rain. We were able to turn our attention to updating our journal, website and other BlindSailing administrative tasks. While poor Starship sat wallowing in the hostile weather, we were warm and dry on land in Paddington. Although we are now Sydneysider castaways waiting for our engine replacement, I can think of no better way to be riding through the literal and figurative storm than at the Marshall's B&B. Thanks Donna and David!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Journal Entry - June 4 & 5, 2007 Penrith Lakes Sailability

Author: Pam

Monday was an uneventful day, except for the tour of our soon home away from home. At 5:00 David Marshall came by to pick us up and we headed to their home, which is also Marshalls of Paddington, a very quaint B&B in the heart of Paddington. To our complete surprise they had offered for us to stay at their home while they are away this week at a Jazz Festival. Once again, we are just absolutely blown away with the generosity and kindness of the people we are meeting here in Sydney. We got the scoop on the layout of their home and the neighborhood from David as he walked back with us to the main road that heads back to the Marina. We will start our stay on land on Wednesday and we are very much looking forward to the usual; three sided bed (with a little more room), showers that don't take coins or are on the boat with the shower curtain attacking you and the extra bonus of a washing machine! On our way back to the boat we went to La Bussola for a yummy pizza.

Tuesday morning we headed out early for a full and eventful day. The day started with a trip to the Telstra store to set up the cell phone we have been given by our friend Tim. We resisted the idea of falling back into being attached to a phone, but with the need to coordinate with the mechanic and the other commitments that keep popping up, it quickly became clear we would have to give in and be part of modern society.

Once that chore was completed we met our new friend Ben and hopped on the train to head out to Penrith Lakes. We were invited by the Penrith Lakes Sailability club to visit their Tuesday sailing program for kids with disabilities and it had also been arranged we would be interviewed by two local papers, The Penrith Weekender and The Press. When we arrived several kids were out on the lake already in their dinghy sailboats with not much wind, but having a ball. The kids were all multi disabled and several were lifted in and out of the boats using a swing type lift. We were there approximately three seconds and one of the volunteers asked if we would like to go out in one of the boats, I don't think he actually finished asking before Scott was in a life jacket and hopping into a boat. Scott in particular has a warm spot in his heart for dinghy sailing, since that was his first sailing experience at the age of thirteen. I on the other hand, had never had the opportunity and I didn't get to go first. About the time he got a little speed up in the light wind the media arrived and he had to come back in for the interview. We just finished meeting with The Press and The Weekender photographer was asking if we would be willing to go out in the dinghy with The Weekender logo on its sail, they are one of Penrith Lakes Sailability's sponsors. So, we hopped in the boat with Jack, the Wonder dog (a Jack Russell) and posed for the camera. I am sure Jack made the pictures, especially since he was wearing his personalized yellow life jacket. The interviews went well and we were also able to help Sailability promote their Sail to Freedom program for kids. We will get to see the papers on June 19th when we give a presentation to Sailability members and the general community.

After our visit we took a taxi with Ben over to Darren's house, another new blind friend who just so happens to be a massage therapist. Ok, this time I got to go first. Actually we ran out of time, because we had to get back to the city for a dinner commitment, so Scott had to take a rain check. The massage was lovely and though I am supposedly leading the life of leisure there are still some knots and kinks that have found their way into my body and it looks like it will take more than one massage to coax them to leave.

We headed back to the city and met our friend David outside of his office at 4:45 to head to Greenwich for dinner. When we visited Sydney a few months ago by plane (back when we were not going to sail here), we stayed at the Greenwich B&B where we met David and Jeannette. Upon our return they hunted us down and invited us for a home cooked meal. We had a lovely evening catching up and eating delicious spaghetti Bolognese.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Journal Entry – June 2 & 3, 2007 Sailors Radio and Open Day on Starship

Author: Pam

While we were still in shock about the engine, previous commitments jolted us back to some sense of reality on Saturday morning. On Thursday we had met Andrew Powell, the host of “Sailors Radio”, a national syndicated radio show that airs on Saturday mornings from 0800 to 0930 (however the last half hour is local). We were invited to be guests on the show and though we were warned there isn’t much they take seriously and they like to tease (they actually have another term for it) we agreed to an interview. We were picked up at 0700 by Neville, a professional sailor and regular on the show and after stopping for coffee we arrived at the studio on the 26th floor of a building somewhere downtown. After some technical difficulties in the studio the show was off and running. The time flew by and it will probably be the only time in my life I will be referred to as the “blond blind barrel girl”, hey you have to have someone draw the on air contest winner to go to the rally in Indonesia. Besides rendering me speechless for a brief moment, the show was all in good fun and Andrew, Neville and John definitely have a good time every Saturday morning. You can listen to the broadcast at, Hear the Shows, June 2, 2007 (be patient, due to technical difficulties there is a few minutes of music at the beginning).

Next on the agenda, we had been contacted by Graeme Innis earlier in the week and had made arrangements to meet him for a tour of Starship and to learn more about his position with the Australian government as the Human Rights Commissioner for Disability. He arrived at noon and we spent an hour and a half showing him every inch of Starship. As a blind sailor who races on his J24, he was keen to know the finer details. We then had lunch at the CYCA and had an opportunity to learn about his position, the DDA and transportation accessibility issues in Australia. The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) is very similar to the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) and was passed in 1992. Australia has implemented a 20 year Transportation Standards plan to make public transportation accessible. December 31, 2007 will complete the five year mark and Graeme said there is concern the goal of reaching the 25% accessible mark is not looking good. One of the goals in the first stage is for the various transportation systems to call the stops. We think Sydney has a fabulous transportation system, however it is our observation and criticism that they do not call the stops on the buses and ferries and are very inconsistent on the trains. Buses and trains are free for people who are blind and visually impaired and taxis are half fare. The taxi voucher system was set up before the government implemented the free fares, therefore at some point the taxi vouchers may go away. Of course the visually impaired population is hoping they don’t get around to remembering anytime soon. We have also learned that people who are blind or visually impaired in Australia receive a pension and they are the only segment of the disabled population that are not subject to means testing and continue to receive their pension even if they are making the Prime Minister’s salary. They also receive a “Pension Card” that entitles them to discounts on movies, haircuts and a variety of public services. The refreshing intent behind providing blind people with a pension is not one based on a welfare system, but rather a mechanism to provide blind people with additional income for adaptive technologies, so they can more equally compete in the workforce.

On our way back to the boat we were introduced to Pat, a member of the Cruising Yacht Club’s Cruising Division. She was looking for us to ask if we would speak at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, of course we said yes. While we were chatting with her our Watson’s Bay Guardian Angel Jeffrey stopped by to give us the name of his mechanic and offered for Scott to call him on his cell phone to make arrangements to meet. Jeffrey has been by several times to check in on how we were doing and when he found out about the engine was more than eager to try and help. We continue to be in awe of the kindness of the Aussie’s, we have never felt more welcome.

Saturday wasn’t over yet. At 5:00 Tim and Georgia Connell came by for a visit on Starship. Tim is the President of Quantum Technology and a long time friend of Scott’s. He was also very instrumental in our decision to sail to Sydney. We had a very nice evening giving them the tour, it was even extra fun because Tim is one of very few people who has seen both of our boats. We ambled over to the CYCA for dinner, which turned out to be nostalgic for Georgia, she had waitressed there many years ago and reminisced about the craziness of throwing breakfast at participants of the Sydney Hobart Race on the morning of the start.

Phew, another jam packed day in kangaroo land, but there is no rest for the weary or the wicked. On Sunday morning we were up and preparing the boat for the “Open Day” that had been promoted by Vision Australia from 10:00 to 2:00. Six blind and visually impaired guys came by for a tour of Starship and chat about our trip. They had varying degrees of sailing experience and interest, but everyone had stories and adventures to share. Nick and Charlie have climbed Kilimanjaro and Ben is a world champion rower. There was definitely some testosterone aboard and I was feeling a little out numbered. Phil from Humanware also came by to be available to demonstrate the Humanware technology we use on board, but it turned out everyone was already familiar or already owned the technology. At 1:30 Scott and four of our visitors headed over to the CYC for lunch, I joined them a bit after 2:00. Everyone fell into a lazy relaxed Sunday afternoon mode, which led into getting caught up in the mayhem of the after Sunday race crowd, long story short we were there for quite a while. New friends were made and I am sure we have not seen the last of this crazy bunch.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Journal Entry – June 1, 2007 Not Quite Air in the Fuel Line… The Death of “Big Red”

Author: Scott

Okay, the good news first. Pam and I are not totally mathematically challenged engine incompetent dorkazoids. Our fuel calculations were fine on our Tasman crossing and we did not let our Fuel Tank 2 run dry. In fact there is plenty of fuel in all of Starships tanks. Furthermore, we did not incorrectly bleed our engine of air, in fact if we would have run out of gas we were assured that our efforts to bleed the engine would have produced a running engine in no time. Finally, we did not run our starter battery dead, we could have had a nuclear reactor on board and our engine would still not have started.

Now for the bad news! Ivan the mechanic showed up again today and Starship had a freshly charged starter battery for him to experiment with for starting our sickly engine. After a number of attempts with the engine sounding like it was being dragged across a cheese grater by a pack of donkeys running for the barn (sort of a cl-cl-cl-cheeeet-chiiiiiit-chzzzzt sound), Ivan got busy taking off the forward pulley to reveal the crank shaft. He then produced the Arnold Schwartaneger of wrenches (or spanner in Australian/Kiwi) and manually turned the crank shaft with the mega-wrench. With each revolution of the crank shaft there was a gut-wrenching sound like King Kong running his fingers down a chalk board. After digging deeper into the patient we found the problem and it was terminal. Apparently our number one cylinder was nearly seized, and the engine was almost bone dry from lack of oil. Now before you go jumping to any over the moon conclusions, yes Scott and Pam did check the oil just a day before the death of “Big Red” and we even had a new oil pressure alarm installed before leaving New Zealand. The fact is, there was plenty of oil when we had checked and the oil pressure alarm stayed silent as a church mouse even through the agonizing end.

What we now know, three mechanics later and after the removal of “Big Red”, is that the oil cooler had corroded internally. When this happens salt water used to cool the oil through an exchanger is released into the engine. This is due to the walls of the exchanger corroding through to mix the engines oil with salt water, and within no time the engine has salt water pumping throughout it’s innards. There is apparently no warning to a mechanical catastrophe of this type and the patient always suffers an excruciating death. So, when we heard the engine change pitch and thought we were running out of fuel, in reality “Big Red” was screaming out in fatal anguish. This ends the short story and life of “Big Red”.

Now to say that we were shocked to the core is a colossal understatement. Once Ivan had left us to our mourning, we sat in silence, stunned, hardly tasting our lunch. A new rebuilt engine would cost upwards of ten thousand Australian dollars and the labor for the job was aggravatingly vague. The only thing that got us moving was our prearranged invitation to host a gathering with our new friends David, Donna, Bernie, and Kate aboard Starship. We somehow walked through the fog of disbelief to Edgecliff Center for groceries and refreshments.

I think what actually saved us from total despair was the fact that we had such wonderful guests visit us. Though we could not possibly have been great company our guests took over and helped us focus on the bright side. Yes, I know you must be saying “What freaking bright side?”, however, there is a small sliver of a glimmer in a very bleak situation. You see, in New Zealand we refit just about every system on Starship but the one variable that was not really addressed was her twenty year old Westerbeke 40 horsepower engine, affectionately known as “Big Red”. I think deep down we both had concerns of taking an engine of this era around the world, especially after learning of some of the prior owners poor maintenance habits. Then there is our own inclination for engine drama as demonstrated from Mexico to New Zealand. The tidbit of hope in our sorry situation is that we will now have a newly rebuilt engine with a known history we can trust. It turns out that we will even be able to fit a bigger, faster, stronger engine and perhaps we will breathe a little easier as we continue our voyage. Now how’s that for looking on the confounded brighter side? Thanks to our new Aussie buddies for your words of encouragement! We finished off this memorable day with lots of laughter, delicious Italian food, and new hope to face our latest challenge.