Sunday, June 28, 2009

Land of the knock-offs & Zachary gets a new cast

Friday we picked up a rental car to run various errands. Planned to drive up to Arlie Beach because we have heard it mentioned so often, but after learning that it was more than 2 hours in each direction we decided to skip it. The locals pronounce it "early" beach. Supposedly there really isn't a beach there but some fun shops and restaurants. Tried to interest Zachary in driving to the mountains west of here but he wasn't up for any long car drives. He was more interested in a restaurant lunch and going back to our boat. But first we went to Western Union and wired the fee to Indonautical at Bali Marina for our CAIT for Indonesia.

The CAIT is the mandatory cruising permit for Indonesian waters and you must have it before arrival in Indonesia. The agent said it is currently taking about 12 weeks to obtain a CAIT from the Indonesian government. We hope to arrive in Bali in late September so we needed to get this process started. We had already submitted all the required forms and scanned documentation via email. All that was left to do was wire the money. That is a pain and costs more than it should. The agent does not accept credit cards or direct bank wire transfers; he only accepts Western Union. We had tried to use Western Union online but that would not work for sending money to Indonesia. Indonesia has imposed an import fee on all boats entering Indonesian waters; this import fee is 25% of the value of your boat. No way we would pay that!!!! But an agent can post a bond for your boat in lieu of paying the import fee. The fee for this bond is $600. No way we were paying that much either!!!

But there is a loophole for those of us who do not wish to spend months cruising Indonesia. The government will allow a boat to stay in Indonesia for up to 20 days without posting the bond or paying the import fee. So we will be staying in Indonesia 20 days or less. Previously they allowed only 14 days but just increased the time limit to 20 days. Our schedule would not allow us to stay longer than that anyway. All it will cost us is the CAIT, which turned out to be roughly $240 USD with all the Western Union fees and conversion fees. Happy to pay that to have an agent obtain the CAIT rather than attempting to deal directly with the Indonesian government by long distance. We will clear in at Benoa, Bali; stay less than 20 days; and clear out at same place. Then sail to Singapore, possibly stopping overnight a few times in secluded areas if we feel it is safe to do so. We are very much looking forward to Bali. Time for a totally new culture. Done with the South Pacific things and looking forward to SE Asian cultures.

We went out for pizza the other day and Zachary thought it was the worst pizza he had ever tasted. We both agreed that we won't be trying any more pizza in Australia. We went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch one day and that was strange too. Not bad; just strange. Wish his parents could have seen Zachary's face when we explained that they don't give you refills on drinks here and that the tiny 250-ml Diet Coke was all he was going to be served. He also couldn't believe that we had to pay for the tortilla chips and the salsa. We are accustomed to those things being free in unlimited quantities at all Mexican restaurants back home.

He watched a manta ray off the dock ramp one morning; first time he had seen a large ray. This morning a replica of a 2-masted square rigger arrived in the marina. It is a training ship.

The men were all standing on the yardarms and singing loudly as they arrived through the breakwater. Took them a very long time to climb down the ratlines because they did it one at a time and clipped on every third step. If we can ever break Zachary away from his DS games we will walk over there and check it out.

Since our last posting to this website we have made a few trips to the shopping mall. This provided Zachary with his first bus ride and first taxi ride. He now knows there are very plush new buses and also old clunker buses as we have had the opportunity to ride both. The taxi ride was only because the return bus was not identified as per the printed bus schedule so we missed it on our first foray to the mall. According to the sign posts and the printed schedule we should have caught the #12 Marina bus. Turns out it is really called the #60 Slade Point bus. The locals all know that Slade Point is near the marina, but we visitors had no way of knowing that. I think they need to change their signs and print new schedules. Anyway, we took a taxi back home on the first trip to the mall. Now we know which bus takes us back home.

Australia is the land of knock-offs as far as retail establishments are concerned. There are Targets with the same logo used in the USA. There are K-Marts with the same logo used in the USA. Neither remotely resembles their American counterparts. A local person told us that both Target and K-Mart are owned by Coles (a large supermarket chain) here in Australia. There is also a large store called Big W. Big W looks exactly like a Walmart; even the fonts and colors on the "Everyday Low Price" signs throughout the store look exactly like Walmart in the USA. But supposedly this is not a Walmart store. I'm not convinced about that because I would think Walmart would have put a stop to infringement on their logo. So I think it really is owned by Walmart but operating under a different name here for whatever reason.

Also, at the Shell gas (a/k/a petrol locally) stations each have a large sign with the Burger King logo. In New Zealand the Shell stations had these same Burger Kings. We never went inside one to see if it really had regular Burger King foods. Except here in Australia the Burger King logo has the words "Hungry Jack" in the middle of the logo and does not mention Burger King. So I guess the local companies are infringing on 2 corporations: both Burger King and Jack-in-the-Box. There are other American trademarks we have seen knocked-off here in Australia but those 4 or 5 are the most prevalent.

Zachary returned to the hospital yesterday for a follow-up x-ray and new cast. The x-ray showed that one of the bones was healing perfectly but that the other bone had shifted and was no longer perfectly aligned. The ER doctor thought that Zachary should have surgery yesterday to install a surgical steel plate and pins to hold the bones correctly in place. But the orthopedic surgeon said that the current off-set of the bones was only 15 degrees and that was acceptable for a child this age. He said that the bones would eventually remodel as Zachary grows. But the 15 degrees is borderline acceptability. The orthopedic surgeon said we need to return in one week to do another x-ray. If the bones are still off-set 15 degrees then we can leave and begin our passages north to Cairns. But if the bones shift further and the off-set increases to 20 degrees then Zachary will have to have surgery next weekend.

So we are stuck in Mackay Marina for another week. Zachary goes back to the hospital at 8 a.m. Sunday July 5 for another x-ray. If it shows everything okay then we will leave Mackay that day. If the x-ray shows further misalignment then Zachary will have surgery either Sunday or Monday. The doctors said Zachary could leave the area 2 days after surgery.

Zachary chose red and black for his new cast. These are the colors for the Houston Astros baseball team, of which he is a fan. And also for the Houston Texans football team. The Texans colors are supposedly red and steel blue, but it looks like black. Note he is wearing his Astros cap in this photo. Matches his new cast nicely. He is playing one of the neverending DS games in this photo.

For all those in the USA who don't want universal health care, I must point out that thus far the entire medical bill for everything has been on $185.50 AUD or roughly $148 USD. That includes ER; numerous x-rays the night of the accident; setting the arm by 3 doctors, 2 nurses and 1 x-ray technician; all medications administered in the ER plus take-home pain meds; follow-up x-ray and doctor visit the second day; follow-up x-ray and doctor visit yesterday; removal of the plaster cast and building of the fiberglass cast; 2 slings; and the x-ray and follow-up doctor visits scheduled for next Sunday, including consultations with the orthopedic surgeon. If we were Australian citizens then all this care would have been free. In New Zealand all this care would also have been free because any tourist who suffers any form of accident while traveling in New Zealand automatically receives free medical care. I understand Italy does the same. The USA absolutely must do something about its antiquated health care system. America no longer has the best medical care in the world. We have the most expensive health care by far in the entire world, and we are dropping annually in the ratings of quality of care.

If there is a hint of any wind tomorrow morning we are leaving the marina to sail for the day. Maybe go out to Scawfell Island about 25 miles away for a day or two; just to get out of the marina. We have paid for the marina slip through next Sunday but that doesn't mean we have to stay here the entire time. Definitely time to visit an island.

Here in the land of Oz there are some foods new to us. Such as "Bugs." There look like some kind of lobster that is all tail and has a totally flat head and no claws. Strange looking creatures and at $42 per kilo I don't think we will be trying any. We have been searching for sliced dill pickles for sandwiches. Ask a local and they will likely respond: "What are pickles? Do you mean pickled onions?"

So we were happy to finally find some pickles in one supermarket. Here is a photo. As you can see, these are canned pickles. Who would have thought you would ever find canned pickles!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Sabina Sugar Shed

Last week when we had the rental car we took a trip to the town of Sabina and visited The Sugar Shed, which is a miniature sugar cane processing plant. We could have visited the real cane processing plant but that would have involved a lot of climbing stairs and walking in a dusty environment for several hours. We were afraid that Zachary might get tired with that heavy cast on his arm, or that his arm might start hurting with all the stair climbing and jarring his body; so we instead opted for The Sugar Shed.

We had originally started out to visit an animal sanctuary about 45 kilometers west of Mackay. There were supposed to be kangaroos and koalas and feeding of crocodiles -- and even a barking owl. Luckily, we stopped at a visitors center on our way out of Mackay to see if there were any more touristy things in that general area. At the visitors center we learned that the animal sanctuary was closed. Oooh, sorry to hear that; it had sounded like a fun outing. Glad we didn't drive all the way out there. Sabina was less than an hour drive south of Mackay and sounded much less physically demanding than the real-life cane processing plant tour, so we opted to go to Sabina.

It was an informative little tour. About the only fact that I remember is that back in 1950 it required 26 tons of cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. Today, due to improved irrigation and fertilizers, it requires only 8 tons of cane to produce 1 ton of sugar. There was a short video that showed how cane was harvested by hand in the old days. It also showed examples of the harvesting machines as they have improved over the years. Mackay is right in the heart of Australian cane country. They produce sugar for all parts of the world, including the USA. I don't know why we don't produce our own sugar cane because we certainly have the land space to do so. Cane is still grown in Louisiana but they don't follow the newest techniques and the Louisiana production level per acre is way below that of Australia.

The cane must be crushed within 16 hours from the time it is cut in order to obtain the optimum sugar yield. There are small railways running all over this area. The rails wind through the farms and back to the plant. They have electronic monitoring on the cars and can route the various trains remotely so that all cars reach the plant at the appropriate time for optimum sugar yield. Quite high-tech. Originally cane was cut green; then it was learned that if they burned the fields prior to cutting that it destroyed insects and produced greater sugar yield by locking the liquid into the canes. It was a very dirty, sooty job to cut the burned cane by hand. Even after they started using machines to harvest, it was still a dirty job to harvest a burned cane field. Some farms still burn their fields prior to harvesting, but that technique has fallen out of favor. Today the vast majority of farms are harvested green and the superflous leaves and plant material are burned to fuel the sugar production plant.

Every bit of the sugar cane plant is utilized in some way. They make rum, sugar and molasses from the sugar cane. There is a limit to the amount of molasses needed for foodstuffs (both for humans and livestock), and the majority of the molasses is used to produce ethanol which is used as a gasoline substitute. Sugar cane produces a much higher yield of ethanol per acre than corn, so I do not understand why the USA uses corn for this product. Seems to me like we should be planting sugar cane in all of southern Louisiana and all the no-longer-used rice fields of SE Texas. If anyone knows why we aren't doing this in the USA to produce gasoline substitutes, please let us know.

The Sugar Shed gave Zachary a sample of Fairy Floss -- which turned out to be what we know as Cotton Candy. Bill and I sampled their locally produced rum but found it to be far too sweet for our tastes. They did have half-dozen varieties of great fudge and we bought tiny pieces of several flavors. We drove to see the beach but only got a glimpse of it because we could not find a place to access the beach without walking through someone's yard and we didn't feel comfortable about doing that. It was a nice day.

Here are a few more photos of our new grandson. The crying one was taken when he was one minute old.

Obviously one is with mom right after delivery.

And the final one is granddaughter BeBe (a/k/a Elisabeth) holding her new baby brother Damian.
Elisabeth is excited to have a baby brother but says she doesn't change baby diapers -- that is the parents' responsibility.

Friday, June 19, 2009

New Grandson debuts

Damien William Rouse was born at 10:12 a.m. on June 18, 2009, in Houston, Texas, to our youngest son Aaron and his wife Lynn. BeBe (a/k/a Elisabeth) now has a baby brother!

Both mom and baby are very healthy and doing well. That means their family trip to Australia in August is a definite go. They will be visiting us and sailing near Cairns for almost 3 weeks in August, during which time BeBe will celebrate her 8th birthday and we will become acquainted with young Damian. Zachary, our first grandson from our eldest son Trey, will still be on the boat with us for most of their visit. So we will have all 3 grandchildren at the same time for a couple of weeks. We are excited and look forward to having a boat full of family.

Since he is named after his grandfather Bill (a/k/a Charles William Rouse), his Papa is taking the liberty of assigning the child's first nickname. The new grandson will be known to us as Damn Bill. Not sure how his parents will feel about that, so maybe this nickname will only be used outside the presence of the child.

Congratulations to Lynn and Aaron. And, BeBe, you are still our princess and will remain the only granddaughter so that status can never be threatened.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Just chillin'

We turned in the rental car Friday evening, so have been just chilling at the marina all week. Zachary enjoys playing Mexican Train Dominoes and usually wins. Bill is teaching Zachary all those necessary life skills required for all men -- fishing and poker. Zachary has been fishing off the boat here in the marina slip. Hasn't caught anything yet but other kids on the dock say they have caught fish here in the marina, so this is now a daily activity.

Bill and Zach are playing 5-card-draw for potato chips as I type this. Listening to them is really funny. Every hand that Bill loses Zachary tells him to "drink up buddy." Think he is trying to get his Papa drunk on beer so it will be easier for Zach to win? Zachary wanted to play for real money but his grandfather nixed that idea and they are sticking to the potato chips.

So the chips are on the table -- for real.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Um......Mom and Dad.....I...uh....had a little accident

Zachary arrived right on time Tuesday morning and flew with his Papa Bill from Brisbane to Mackay. Also brought us a duffel bag of those never-ending boat parts. His first day was lots of fun for all of us. This was the first day we had a rental car and got out of the marina to see the area. We had a great poached salmon dinner on the boat and then made a trip to the trash bins to dispose of the smelly fish bag and papers. And that is when the accident happened.

It was low tide, which is quite substantial here in this area of Australia, and the ramp to the floating concrete docks was very steep. As we were walking back to the boat Zach, like all boys, just had to start running down the steep ramp. Luckily there were 3 men walking abreast of one another about 15 feet from the bottom of the ramp, so Zach had to slow to a stop so he wouldn't run into them. As soon as they reached the bottom of the ramp and turned off onto the first finger pier then Zach started to run again. So he had only run a very short distance to the connection to the floating concrete dock. Next thing we knew he was fallen in lump onto the concrete dock and wasn't moving at all. We got to him and he said the only thing that really hurt was his arm. At least he had been slowed down by the men walking in front of him; otherwise, his velocity at the time of the fall would have been greater and he likely would have sustained more injuries.

I felt along the bones in the forearm and it was very, very obvious that at least one bone was broken -- completely separated, not just a crack. I stayed with Zach and stabilized his arm while Bill went back to our boat to get a splint out of the medical kit. Bill soon returned with the father of one of the other kids on the dock, but no splint. So I went to the boat and got a SAM splint and roll of wide painter's masking tape. This worked perfectly for taping the splint to the bottom of Zach's arm to keep it immobilized. The ER workers liked this tape because they could pull it off and examine the arm without removing the splint and then replace the tape. Worked much better than normal medical tape which would have required replacing each time someone examined the arm.

We would never have found the hospital with the father of the other kid. The plan was for Bill to take the man back to the marina while I stayed with Zach at the ER, but it turned out that this break was so bad that Bill wanted to stay with Zach and me. So the man's wife ended up coming to the hospital to pick him up. Thanks very, very much to Jim & Michelle for their assistance during our emergency. Jim & Michelle are Australians living on a boat with their 4 children directly across the dock from us. They are preparing their boat for cruising but it will be a long time yet before they are ready to depart.

Both bones in Zach's right arm were broken about 3-inches above his wrist. The large bone was separated by more than an inch. The smaller bone was separated by just a tiny bit. This was a fairly serious break and the ER doctor (Dr. Mark) said that if this had occurred during the daytime then Zach would have been sent up to surgery and have pins installed. The normal night-time procedure would be for the patient to be sedated until morning until this surgery could be scheduled. But Dr. Mark is of the opinion, which we totally share, that putting a kid this age through general anesthetic and installing various bits of metal into his bones was to be avoided if another method of remedy could be found.

Dr. Mark called in the chief of anesthesiology and the chief of orthopedics for consultation. All 3 doctors agreed that the condition of the broken bones and considering Zachary's age that he was a perfect candidate for a different type of procedure and that surgery very likely could be avoided. This procedure is not always successful and they would not attempt it on a very active younger child and would not attempt it on a teenager, but Zachary was the perfect age and had the perfect temperament to work with this procedure. Zachary had charmed all the nurses and doctors with how well he was handling the pain and still remaining very polite and civil with everyone. He also impressed them with how intelligent he is and by the questions he asked. Those people who know Zach will know what a charmer he is.

An IV had already been inserted on Zach's left hand, and a nice dose of morphine was much appreciated. After the morphine kicked in then they also inserted an IV into his right hand -- the injured arm. We were all moved to a "Procedure Room" where Zach had 3 doctors, 2 nurses and the x-ray technician all working on him at the same time. They put a pressure cuff on Zach's upper arm. Then they made Bill and I stand outside the room but we could watch. They injected a drug called Prilocaine into the IV in the hand of the injured arm and held the arm straight up for 3 minutes. The pressurized cuff kept the drug from entering the body trunk and kept it in the arm. After a few minutes the arm began to swell and turned mottled red and purple. The arm below the pressurized cuff was completely numbed.

Now the orthopedist started working the bones back into place while the low-dose continual x-ray displayed exactly where the bones were moving. This was interesting as long you could remain unattached. It was horrible when it is your family member on the table an that arm started moving in non-natural alignment positions. Really weird to see a hand and part of the arm turned at angles to the rest of the forearm. Gosh that looked horribly painful!! It only took a few minutes and the bones were back into place and they started making a cast to hold everything in proper alignment. Within 15 minutes from the time they started this procedure they released the pressurized cuff and the cast was completed. Supposedly the Prilocaine has only 20-minutes of 100% effective strength and then diminishes rapidly after that, so by now it was acceptable to allow the drug to circulate into Zach's body.

And Zachary was awake during the entire process. At one point the orthopedist told the x-ray technician to "cut that finger off" on one of the x-ray images -- meaning to crop the image without showing the doctor's finger on the arm. That got Zach's attention! He lifted his head, whipped his head toward that doctor, and asked just what finger they were cutting off. When reassured that they were not talking about cutting off his finger, Zach relaxed and drifted off to sleep with the assistance of the second dose of morphine.

By midnight we were back at the boat and Zach was soon asleep. A script of pain pills helped him through the night. The next morning we went back to the hospital for a follow-up x-ray and examination. They wanted to be absolutely certain that no soft tissue was caught between the ends of bone and that the bones had remained in perfect alignment overnight. Everything was perfect. We go back to the hospital on June 27 for another follow-up x-ray and they will remove this very heavy plaster full-arm cast at that time and replace it with a lighter-weight regular full-arm cast. Then several weeks after that they will do another x-ray and then put on a short cast.

Early the morning after the accident Bill went back to "the scene of the crime" to try to ascertain what might have caused Zachary to fall. Right in the path where Zachary fell was a loose screw in a metal plate in the concrete floating dock, right at the bottom of the ramp. Bill brought this loose (raised) screw to the attention of marina management and was told that they will provide us with a rate adjustment because of this accident. We will see how that plays out.

The ER doctors said that we can to the later follow-up visits at other hospitals as we sail northward toward Cairns; we just need to do the first follow-up and cast change at the hospital here in Mackay. That is very good news as this accident has obviously changed our departure plans from Mackay. We had planned to leave this Saturday but are now delayed until Sunday, June 28. That will leave us about a month to sail approximately 450 NM to Cairns. Our youngest son and his wife, our granddaughter BeBe and the new baby will be meeting us in Cairns around August 1st, so we do have a date deadline for arriving in Cairns.

Zachary is handling having a broken arm with his usual aplomb and easy good nature. The other kids on the dock come over and play in his room. The really bad thing is that Zachary is right-handed and it is the right arm that is broken. He keeps saying that having a broken arm isn't so bad but that he wishes he had broken the left arm instead. But he is adjusting quite well. Heck, he even learned to play his DS left-handed today.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Zachary arrives tomorrow! and another Vanuatu experience

Our 8-year-old grandson Zachary arrives in Australia tomorrow! His flight arrives very early tomorrow morning and Bill is flying to Brisbane tonight to be on hand to meet him. We are very proud of Zachary for being brave enough to fly alone half-way around the world. His mom is flying with him from Houston to Los Angeles. Once he is on the plane for the flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane, then she will fly back to Houston. Bill will meet Zachary in Brisbane and they will fly together to Mackay where the boat is docked. Zachary will be sailing with us until mid-August as we make our way up to Cairns. Quite an adventure for an 8-year-old boy.

We haven't done anything since arriving in Australia other than a few boat chores. Bill replaced the accumulator tank on the pressurized water system. The original tank failed when we were in Panama and the only accumulator tank available for purchase in Panama was a cheap one not intended for marine use; it was from a patio and garden store. That cheap tank was rusting and Bill didn't think it would last much longer. So while we are in an area where he could find one, he replaced it. Still could not find a true marine accumulator tank but this one is much sturdier and hopefully will last longer than only one year like the last one did.

I forgot to mention earlier something that happened back in Vanuatu. The last afternoon that we were anchored in Port Resolution a young man paddled his outrigger out near our boat while I was reading in the cockpit. He just wanted to visit and practice speaking English with a stranger. It was very obvious that English was not his primary language and he struggled to say the words. I spoke very slowly and clearly, trying to make it earier for him to understand me. He asked me a series of questions; the standard things like: what is your name; where are you from; and how long have you been on your boat. He seemed to understand my answers. He even seemed to be familiar with Texas and knew there were cowboys there. Then he asked a question that natives don't normally ask: what did you do before you lived on this boat? And what did your husband do before you lived on this boat?

How could I answer that? To tell this man who lives in a dirt-floor grass hut in a jungle that I worked with computers would be meaningless to him. Telling him that I did accounting would also be meaningless. I decided to say computers; and, sure enough, he did not know what a computer was. How do I explain that??? He had no concept of either computers or accounting. To tell him that Bill was the CFO of a company would be absolutely meaningless to him and trying to explain all that with limited language would be impossible. So I said that Bill had worked in the furniture business. Well, what did that mean to this native man? He had no concept of furniture either. There is no furniture in any building in his village and he had never traveled outside his village.

That encounter really brought home to me how isolated and primitive the people living on this island are -- even in today's high-technology world.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The dreaded clearance was easy and pleasant

Australia suffers a terrible reputation regarding Customs and Quarantine clearances for visiting yachts. In fact, we know of several cruisers this year who are going to great distances and lots of discomfort in order to avoid coming to Australia for just that reason. They feel that it is not worth the trouble and the cost to visit Australia. There have been several instances of yachts being searched and interiors demolished by Customs and extremely rude/rough treatment by officials (especially in Brisbane). There also has been at least one incidence of an American yacht being seized for failure to provide 96-hour advance arrival notice -- they only provided 48-hour advance arrival notice because the Australian Consulate in Noumea incorrectly told them that the requirement was only 48 hours. That seizure was fought through the Australian equivalent of the Supreme Court and the owners did regain their yacht but the heavy fine was upheld. Ended up costing them about 75k USD and a year of legal hassles. But Australia got the message across loud and clear to all visiting yachts that they are serious about enforcing the 96-hour advance arrival requirement. So, needless to say, we were a bit apprehensive about clearing into this country.

Well, those fears were totally unjustified. Our clearance into Australia in Mackay could not have been more pleasant. It was so simple and easy and the officials were efficient and courteous. We had emailed the 96-hour advance arrival notice before we departed Noumea and had again confirmed our progress and anticipated date of arrival several days ago. I had downloaded the advance arrival form and had it completed before the officials arrived. We also had notified AQIS of our anticipated date of arrival several days ago. Both agencies had confirmed receipt of our advance arrival notification so we thought we had done everything required. We later learned that we were also supposed to notify Mackay VTS (Volunteer Traffic System) via VHF radio when we were within the pilotage area of this port. All vessels greater than 10 meters are required to report to Mackay VTS when entering the pilotage area (on the charts) or before departing a berth. Guess they figured out which one was us moving around out there because no one contacted us about this. The Hay Point pilotage area has the same type restrictions but we don't yet know where that is. Mackay is a main cargo point for Queensland territory of Australia and is the sugar capital of the country. We passed more than a dozen ships moored just outside the port on the night of our arrival.

We delayed our entrance to the harbor for an hour while a rainstorm passed, and Customs had no problem with that. We arrived at the designated place and tied up to the vacant dock without assistance. Within a few minutes the AQIS official arrived (Quarantine). He was friendly and courteous in the performance of his job. Quarantine was one of those big worries that all the cruisers talk about: what are they going to take?

We all get online and try to determine what will be allowed and what is forbidden so that we don't waste money stocking up on items that will be removed upon arrival in each new country. But it always seems that the laws are never enforced exactly to the letter of the law. Not one country that we have visited so far has removed every single thing that the official website for that country says they will remove. My theory is that it pretty much depends on how the Quarantine officer feels that particular day when he clears you in. If he is having a bad day then you likely are going to also have a bad day. Cardinal rule is to always be polite and friendly. It is pretty much a given that all fresh produce and eggs are forbidden; but many countries also prohibit fresh or frozen meat, cheese. yogurt, milk and nuts. Mayonnaise and popcorn are also a big no-no in a lot of countries. Some countries also prohibit any canned meat; some allow canned beef or pork but not chicken or turkey. The list has almost endless variations and some items are always open to interpretation or question. Australia is extremely strict about food items allowed to be brought into their country; as they should be because they need to protect their agriculture and livestock. You would find the USA equally strict if you were arriving in our country on a yacht.

Because we had a few days of rough weather just prior to our arrival we had not eaten all the prepared meals onboard. Funny how you do not get hungry when sailing conditions get really rough. So I had tossed those overboard prior to arrival in port. Hated to throw away that good barbequed pork but knew it had to go. Ditto for the Italian sausages. Bill and I ate the last of the bacon and the last tomato on sandwiches just before arrival. There were a few slices of meatloaf in the freezer but those were sealed in plastic and I didn't see the point in cutting these open just to toss the meat into the sea; figured Quarantine could incinerate it -- plastic and all.

The AQIS officer who handled our clearance and inspected our boat was great. He filled out all the forms and all we had to do was sign them. He inspected the fridge and freezer and a few of our food lockers; mainly he was interested in pastas and spices as those items often contain bugs. He found no bugs in anything on our boat. He was impressed with how efficiently I had everything separated and vacuum-sealed and I said that is exactly why there are no bugs on this boat. Every taco seasoning or fajita or gravy or spice mix packet is vacuum-sealed separately. Made it really easy for him to check for any bugs because they would have been visible inside the sealed plastic. This is what he removed from our boat:

3 packages of frozen homemade meatloaf slices
1 package of deli ham slices from New Zealand
1 package of deli brie cheese from Noumea

That's it. I could not believe it was so simple. The AQIS website states that coffee, tea, nuts, mayonaise and a bunch of other things are also not allowed. But the officer did not take any of those things. We had no open jar of mayonaise but did have unopened jars in a locker; he looked at it but did not take it. Maybe the brand makes a difference. This was Edmond's Whole Egg Mayonaise that we purchased in New Zealand. Since I have 8 jars of the stuff I am really glad he did not take it. He looked at opened container of nuts and did not take it. He did not care at all about coffee or tea, but he did look carefully at each bag of pasta and flours. All the cheese in the fridge was still sealed; nothing had been opened. I had read that commercially prepared and packaged cheese is allowed as long as it is still sealed. The brie was obviously commercially prepared and still sealed but maybe soft cheeses like that are not allowed; I did not ask why he took it. But that was the one thing I wish we had felt like eating underway. Hated to see the good French brie get tossed. I knew dried beans would not be allowed so had cooked them in Noumea (with no meat) and stuck them in the freezer. He let us keep those packages of cooked beans. He also let us keep the remaining frozen breakfast fruit-filled pastries that I had baked in Noumea. The one thing that really surprised me was that he let us keep a frozen sausage roll from New Zealand. Now that should definitely have been removed because it is meat filled pastry. He looked at and read the label but tossed it back into the freezer. Don't know why.

All yogurts, butter and the UHT milk and canned milks were okay. Heck, he even let us keep the little jar of bacon grease in the fridge! That surprised me. I fully intended to throw that out and wash the jar before our arrival but forgot about it. I know someone who cleared into Darwin last year and they did take her jar of bacon grease, container and all, as well as about 40 other items. But our little jar of rendered bacon fat was left untouched. Go figure.

Every time someone clears into a country their experience will vary from the next person's. Each clearance is unique. You just never know how it will go. We had it very, very easy and had a nice guy in the bargain. He inquired about our anti-foul bottom paint and asked to see the receipts from our last haul-out proving what kind of paint was used. He has the option of using an underwater camera to inspect the bottom of our boat but since it had only been 2 months since our haul-out we were saved that expense. He also has the authority to take a paint chip from the bottom of our boat to have it tested if we did not have receipts proving what kind of paint it is. Australia is trying to protect their waters and reefs from paints that are poisonous and damaging to the environment. That would have been an additional cost to us if it had been required. AQIS also has the authority to order a boat to be immediately hauled from the water if they feel that the growth on the bottom or if toxic paint has been applied. They are trying to get the message across to all visiting boats that you should do a haul-out just before arriving in Australia or they will make you haul-out when you arrive. And it is almost always cheaper to do that haul-out before you arrive in Australia.

That finished his inspection and he was on his way. We paid the $240 AUD fee for the minimum one-hour Quarantine inspection by charging our Visa card since we obviously had no Australian dollars yet. Since we had now been on the dock for almost 2 hours the AQIS guy said he would stop by the Customs office and remind them that we were waiting.

Good thing he did that because they either had forgotten us or had not been notified by the marina office of our arrival. A few minutes later 2 Customs officials came sauntering down the ramp. The man sat at our saloon table with Bill and filled out forms and the woman checked our passports for the visas and stamped us into the country. Then she proceeded to search the interior of our boat. She did a fairly thorough job and that was that. We were cleared in. Later in the day she tracked us down and gave us a sealed envelope containing the paper work necessary for the Australian port which will clear us out. That envelope is to remain sealed until another Customs official asks us for it -- which probably will be in Darwin. After our clearance was finished we talked with the 2 officials about the new Queensland salvage insurance requirements. Neither official was even aware of this requirement and wondered which agency is charged with enforcing this new law. They said that as far as they knew, Customs is not charged with enforcing it.

FWIW, our costs to visit Australia thus far total $715 USD - which makes this the most expensive place for required fees to date that we have visited, surpassing even the Galapagos Islands. Our visas cost $100 AUD each; the Quarantine inspection cost $240 AUD; and the required salvage insurance cost $350 USD. Hopefully there aren't more fees to come.

Bill walked up the the marina office; paid for a week in advance; and we moved to our slip. Bill immediately removed the autopilot linear drive and we set out in search of a place to ship it to the Raymarine service center in Briscoe, New South Wales. Took a taxi to a mall and found everything we needed: shipped off the drive for repair; exchanged the last of the New Zealand dollars for Australian dollars; bought a SIM card so we now have a cell phone for this country; and did a grocery run to replenish our freezer and fresh produce. There were 2 supermarkets at this mall as well as 2 butcher shops inside the mall. That is the first time that we have seen butcher shops in a large shopping mall. Seemed really weird but there was no noticable meat smell. By the time we loaded everything into taxi we realized that we were beat. The exhaustion was setting in quickly. Should have bought more stuff at the supermarket since taxi are not cheap, but were just too tired to care.

Wednesday I spent the day doing laundry and Bill cleaned out and reorganized our sail lockers. He moved a lot of heavy lines to one of the forward sail lockers; trying to get more weight into the bow because we feel the boat is stern heavy with all our clothes and stuff packed in the aft cabin lockers. Good thing he decided to do this because the sail lockers had about an inch of water inside and that would have caused mold and mildew. The lockers are not leaking; this was condensation accumulation from those cold nights and warmer days in New Zealand. We raised and dried the assymetrical sail and the Amel ballooner sail. The storm sail was barely wet on one end of the sailbag so it dried while laying flat on the deck.

This morning we removed the vinyl bimini and took it to a canvas shop to have a zipper re-stitched. We had the zipper replaced in Bonaire and that shop used regular thread rather than UV thread. The regular thread had rotted away. The shop is going to give us a bid for replacing the entire bimini but at least the old one will be repaired. Then we returned to the boat and dug out our big shade awning since the bimini will be off for several days. Haven't used that awning since Bonaire in August 2007 and both of us had forgotten how to put it up. But memories slowly revived. Bill then washed the boat and now we are relaxing for the rest of the day.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Final days of passage from Noumea to Australia

For all you non-sailors reading this: believe me, 25 knots of wind from behind the beam is normally not a big deal. In fact, that is oftentimes the very best sailing conditions if the high winds are just starting and haven't had time to build the seas-- the boat rides flat instead of being heeled over and we go fast and smooth. This is called broad-reaching and we like it. Sailing when 25 knot winds are ahead of the beam is called close-hauled or up-wind or beating; and beating is exactly what it is because both you and the boat take a beating in those conditions. It is not pleasant and we try to avoid that if at all possible. Sailing when 25 knot winds are directly on the beam is called beam-reaching and is okay except the boat heels over quite a bit and your muscles will start to ache from being constantly stressed trying to hold yourself in a sitting position. All of this is further complicated because wind angle is determined by the apparent wind, not the true wind direction. But that is getting a bit more complicated than non-sailors need to know. Suffice it to say that we had anticipated having 25-knot winds from behind the beam for the final 2 - 2 1/2 days of this passage. It should have been pleasant and fast sailing conditions.

It wasn't.

Saturday night during my watch we encountered a fishing vessel way in the distance to starboard. Seas were already building although the wind was just beginning to increase. At first I couldn't tell what it was -- just a slight lightening of the horizon that eventually became a white light. This concerned me because this light was in perfect alignment for Wreck Reefs. Our electronic charts were purchased 5 years ago and do not indicate a light on those reefs but it was entirely possible that Australia had put a light out there; although that seemed remote since these reefs were several hundred miles from Australia. So I was watching this light with interest when suddenly we sailed right past a rapidly blinking white light only a couple of feet above the surface of the water! This blinking light wasn't more than 300 feet from the starboard side of our boat and it scared the living daylights out of me! I had not seen it at all in the building seas until it was right next to our boat!

Of course, it was perfectly clear to me now. That light well off in the distance must be a fishing boat and that rapidly blinking light down on the water surface level must be the beacon indicating the end of his lines. Long-line fishermen can tow lines many, many miles (remember the book/movie The Perfect Storm). What was disturbing is that because of the building seas that rapidly blinking beacon light marking the end of his lines was not visible until it passed our boat. That meant our boat could just as easily have run into that beacon or passed on the wrong side of the beacon and fouled the fishing lines with our keel or prop or rudder. That would have been a very bad situation. So we had simply lucked out and passed just 300 feet on the right side of the darn thing. Why does the drama always happen on my shift? Bill never encounters fishing boats during his night watches.

As the winds increased, so did the seas. We had not taken into account that SE winds would be blowing across the current which flows from north to south down the eastern coast of Australia. This wind blowing across and at angle against the current caused the seas to build rapidly. Soon we were in 15 to 18-ft waves that were stacked one upon another and coming from every direction. Large waves were literally swirling all around us and tossing our 27-ton boat around like it was a plastic bathtub toy. This continued from Saturday midnight until Monday mid-afternoon, making our lives most uncomfortable. Intermittent rain helped to make our lives not just uncomfortable but down-right unpleasant. The only good change was that it was not quite so cool at night as we neared the coast of Australia.

About 80 miles before entering the Capricorn Channel we crossed the designated shipping channel that runs outside the Great Barrier Reef south from the Torres Staits. This was one of those times when we were reminded how much we appreciate having AIS. Cargo ships were coming from both sides and it was great to be able to see the forward vectors indicating where there ships would be moving. I love being able to click on a ship and see its name and size. The AIS also has a neat feature that will show us exactly where the closest point will be between a target ship and our boat. This is very useful. A total of 12 ships crossed near us during the time we were around the designated shipping channel. We only had to contact one ship to advise him of our location. I altered course and we passed behind him. When Bill talked to this boat they were not even aware that we were right off their port near their stern. I don't know how they could not have seen us because it was bright sunshine, but they were not aware of us at all. Another ship (the M/V AUDAX) was headed north and was on a collision course with us. We were on the starboard side of his path so Bill hailed AUDAX advised them of our location and projected paths, so the AUDAX altered course to pass behind us. Here are a few screen shots of our chart showing a few of the AIS tracks of ships that crossed our path.

We made the turn northwestward up into the Capricorn Channel and sea conditions very slowly began to improve. By Monday late afternoon we were maybe 100 miles up the channel behind the Great Barrier Reef and the seas were no longer swirling. Seas had finally settled into a definite direction and we were surfing large waves from directly behind us. Hey, this was nice! How wonderful to have a calm afternoon of sailing for our final day of this passage. Winds were still 25 knots but were well behind the beam and the seas were steady even if they were large. These conditions were perfect for reading and taking turns napping. Gave me an opportunity to toss all the left-over meals that we had not finished during the passage and to tidy up the galley. Only one more night and we would be in a marina! We both were beat.

But our final night of this passage was anything but boring. We continued to see heavy shipping traffic because Mackay is a port that handles a lot of cargo. Still thankful for our wonderful AIS so we can safely monitor this cargo traffic and stay out of the way. The distance from the outer reef and the smaller inner reefs and coastal islands was narrowing. The southern entrance into the Capricorn Channel is about 100 miles wide between the Australian coastline and the Great Barrier Reef. We passed the Northumberland Isles on the left and around midnight made our slight turn left to point directly toward Mackay. The distance between Pine Peak Island where we turned and the western edge of the Great Barrier Reef is less than 12 miles. Felt strange to be in "close quarters" again after being on open sea for a week. But so far everything was matching our charts perfectly. All the lights marking various islands and reefs were blinking right where they were supposed to be according to our charts.

Around midnight -- why do these things always happen around midnight??? --- I noticed a white light well off to our port side that was not indicated on our charts. Over the next half-hour this light changed to green. It slowly became obvious that this was the green light of a tri-color. A tri-color is mounted at the top of the mast on a sailboat which increases the distance at which it is visible to other boats. A tri-color shows green to the starboard side, red to the port side and white at the stern. So it was very obvious that a sailboat was approaching and that I was on his starboard side and that we would cross paths at some point. By watching this green light I was soon able to determine that we were on a collision course. Another note to non-sailors: if an object remains on the same point on the siderail of your boat as you are sailing along, then you are on a collision course. If the object moves forward or backward on the siderail of your boat as you sail along, then you will either pass in front of that object or that object will pass in front of you. Really simple way of knowing if 2 vessels will safely pass one another or if they are on a collision course. We were definitely on a collision course with this sailboat!

By the "international rules of the road" we were the stand-on vessel in this encounter. There is no such thing as a "right of way" vessel. There is a stand-on vessel and a give-way vessel; and both are responsible for taking whatever actions are necessary to avoid collision. The stand-on vessel is supposed to maintain course and speed and the give-way vessel is supposed to do exactly that -- alter course or speed in order to give way to the stand-on vessel. But it was rapidly becoming apparent that this other sailboat was not altering course or slowing down. We were closing upon one another, each traveling at speed of 8 knots so the distance was diminishing rapidly. I tried hailing this boat 3 times on the VHF but got no response. By this time he was getting WAAY TOO CLOSE!! Bill was asleep downstairs and I yelled to him what was happening and asked that he come up top. Bill grabbed the 2,000,000 candle power light and started flashing it onto the other boat. That is when we could plainly see it was a catamaran about 40-42 feet long. I started the engine and powered hard down forward.

The catamaran driver (I refuse to call him or her a captain) finally realized what was happening and did a quick turn to his right. He missed hitting our stern by less than half a boat length. That is the closest we have ever come to a collision during all our years of sailing.

I don't know if the bright light Bill was flashing onto their boat raised their attention or if it was the sound of our engine starting and powering hard that did it. We never saw the person driving the boat and could not get the name of this catamaran. They never responded to VHF hails so they obviously were not monitoring VHF channel 16 as required by law. I strongly suspect that the person on watch was asleep; and I absolutely cannot understand how anyone in charge of a boat could fall asleep when sailing between all this reef. Seems like the stress alone would keep you awake.

The rest of the night was uneventful and Bill tried to go back to sleep. That is when the wind shifted direction to directly behind us and I had to deal with sails. All that activity convinced Bill that further sleep was fruitless and he relieved me for watch an hour early. I crashed into deep sleep for 4 hours while Bill motored past all the moored cargo ships near Mackay. At 5 a.m. I took over and let Bill grab an hour of sleep before our arrival. As daylight creeped up we were both in the cockpit and almost to the port entrance when it began to rain. We did a 180 and re-traced our course back out until the rain stopped because we did not want to enter a strange harbor when we had poor visibility.

We officially docked at the Quarantine and Customs assigned berth for clearance at 1000, exactly a week to the very hour since we departed Noumea. We were both exhausted and very, very glad that there are no more long passages in our near future.