Sat 19 Dec 2015 00:17
Sunset, Salamander Bay, Port Stephens.
We have realised that we're no longer in the tropics. We had been enjoying fairly constant trade winds; they may go light for a few days or get up to 25 knots or so, they may go a little South or East of South East but basically you can rely on them being 15-20 knots from the South East. Now we’re in Australia we find the weather’s all over the place. Quite apart from the thunderstorms, that bubble up quickly with little warning, the winds box the compass backing all the way around in 24 hours and the strength varies dramatically from hour to hour. We’d seen the forecast, showing the winds coming every which way, so we’d tucked into Fame Cove, which is protected from every direction but the West. Then, all of a sudden, it started blowing 30 knots straight out of the West. And what a wind. It was like standing in front of a hair dryer, the wind was hot hot hot. We were on a free mooring, put in by New South Wales Maritime, and we didn’t know its rating. With the breakwater across the creek entrance right behind us we’d not have much time to react if we started to drag so we let go the mooring and moved down to Salamander bay, tucking into the Western end on anchor to get in the lee of the winds. By next morning it was calm again, the winds had shifted around to the South and it was almost chilly.
It made me think of those early explorers, coming upon this coast line, with no idea of how far it carried on nor of the thousands of miles of desert in land. When you look on Google Earth you see that expanse of orange brown, as wide across as the Atlantic, and if you zoom in you see the red sand streaks, broken up by rocks and scrub. One knows it’s there but it’s hard to remember that when we've barely scratched this green and fertile rim. That fan heater wind, constant and exotic, had blown over thousands of miles of sun scorched desert. When you fly into some little airport far away and you step out to climb down the steps onto the tarmac, there’s that first inhalation, redolent of childhood holidays abroad, the unused to heat, even at night, the humid fragrant air filled with unfamiliar scents: a warm sea, flower filled verdure, a hint of sweating bodies and a tang of drains. But the breeze we felt here I hadn’t felt before. There was no richness in the scent it brought with it and there was no relief in it’s coming. I finally knew in my body that those deserts were there.
Blue dinghy now. I know it’s a bit wrinkly but Im very proud of it - it was tricky with all those curves and holes for handles.
We took the dinghy ashore - its first trip off the boat in Australia, showing off its new chaps - I made use of the time we spent in Port Vila to made a cover for it, to protect it from the worst of the UV here and from wear against docks, and we trekked off to explore the interior of Salamander Bay. Our first encounter with the natives was worrying. They were orange topped council workers, wielding bolt croppers accompanying a council lorry filled with dinghies. They were removing all dinghies that hadn’t got a sticker on to prove that the owners had paid the dues to leave them on the beach. We feared for the life of Charm Lion (you’ll remember that our dinghies are named from anagrams of Lochmarin: the original inflatable-floor Avon was March Lion and the Metzeler inflatable sailing dinghy is Calm Rhino).
The second load of dinghies removed from the beach.
Phil appealed to the bolt cropper wielders, explaining our situation as transient visitors, and we were assured she’d be left in peace whilst we scouted for provisions. It was a good job we’d seen them! Charm Lion could have ended up being carted away, new blue chaps and all. We hiked through streets of well to do houses, across immaculately kept lawns decorated with utes (pick up trucks, but posh ones), runabout boats on trailers and murder homes. Murder homes sound dreadful when you first hear of them, but then you realise it’s actually the local way of saying ‘motor homes’ and they’re just regular camper vans. After a mile or so we came across a huge open area, of sand, parched grass and tarmac, surrounding giant warehouses in a cluster. We’d found the shopping centre. Our aim was to send Christmas cards and parcels, so we hunted out the post office. Surprisingly, we needed ID to send a parcel to New Zealand, the first time I’ve been asked for ID to post something somewhere. We didn’t have our passports with us but my PADI diving course card seemed to suffice, it has my photo on and a name and date of birth, and clearly looks official enough. Hmmm, I wonder what else I could use it for, just consider, usable ID for the price of a PADI course.
Back on the beach we were relieved to see that Charm Lion had survived the cull and we made our way back to Lochmarin, stopping to say hi to some neighbours. It was the only other occupied boat around, Wings, with a lovely couple, Bec and Grant, from Melbourne who keep her in Port Stephens and come up to spend time on her whenever they can. We invited them to lunch on Lochmarin and they invited us to join them and another couple to dinner ashore that evening. Getting ashore was a bit of a mission. If we’d been back in the islands we’d have taken the dinghy up to the beach, dragged her up a little ways, popped the anchor into the sand higher up the beach, or tied her to a palm tree if it was in reach, and gone on our way. But it didn’t seem safe to leave her, with her lovely big outboard (a birthday present to each other, we both had significant birthdays last June so decided to treat ourselves (mind you, Phil treated me again on my birthday, as is only right and proper, even though I’d said the outboard was more than enough)) just sitting on the beach. Someone might steal her. Any trees were too far up the beach to be able to carry her up to tie to. Wings just had a little wooden row boat, with rather low freeboard, that only just managed two people, but was perfect for carrying up the beach to lock up. In the end Phil took me ashore in Charm Lion, left phone and wallet with me, picked up Grant and towed their row boat back out to Lochmarin, left Charm Lion there, made a precarious transfer to the row boat and made it back to shore without shipping too much water.
We had a lovely evening, chauffeured to dinner in Wings’ hire car, an absolute feast of a meal in a Thai restaurant, and excellent company, not just in the form of Bec and Grant, who are mountain climbers and explorers as well as sailors, but in the other couple, Chris and Ros, a retired sea captain and his wife, who had wonderful tales to tell of voyaging the Southern Seas. Chris also teaches in the ‘Australian Ship Handling Centre’, which is where they have a series of canals and basins and scaled down versions of massive container ships and tankers, to learn how to handle them in different conditions. The mini ships end up being about 10-15ft long, with the people driving them looking like those folks driving miniature steam trains, all out of scale. It sounds brilliant fun and more like working in a theme park like digger land than a proper job. I’d love to have a go.
With stomachs full of food and heads full of tales we headed back to the shore, changed out of our shore clothes into shorts and Phil and Grant made the intrepid row out through the chop to pick up Charm Lion and bring me back aboard in style. It is lovely how one meets such a range of fascinating people in this life we’re leading, folk who I’m sure we’ll cross paths with again.