Saturday, July 25, 2009

Escape from Mooloolaba II

Well, more news from the accidental sailors on board Pelagic - yesterday we again set out to leave Mooloolaba.

Early in the morning we pulled the hook:

Elias supervised.

Alisa pulled the anchor and hosed the mud off the anchor chain. Note the winter clothes - time to get back to the tropics!

Spirits on board were high. The anchor up, we merrily headed downstream, towards the sea, happy to be leaving the Mooloolah River after our longer-than-expected stay. In a few minutes, though, a problem became apparent - this bridge, across the river, barring any further progress downstream:
"No problem," I said to Alisa. "I must have followed the wrong branch of the river." So I turned Pelagic around and took the next branch we found. Everything looked good, but then we came to another bridge, shown below. Looking at these pictures after the fact, I realized they encapsulate much of what I dislike about Mooloolaba. These are two different bridges, but the boats and houses are so cookie-cutter that at first they look like two pictures of the same scene.

Alisa looked at me quizzically.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"I don't know," I answered. "We're heading downstream, so we should be heading towards the river mouth. But I don't remember any of these bridges."

We tried another branch, but found another bridge, like the others far too low for us to pass under:

The last branch we tried was also blocked:

Shaken, we took refuge in the Mooloolaba Marina, since we had reached the ten-day limit for anchoring in the Mooloolah River. I think there was another reason that we went to the marina - it was bad enough getting lost at sea the last time that we tried to leave, and coming back to Mooloolaba when we thought we were going to Wide Bay Bar. But failing to even find the sea, even by the true-and-tested method of following the river downcurrent, really threw us for a loop. Suddenly our confidence is a little low, and I'm not sure that either of us feels secure at anchor and having to ride the dinghy back and forth from shore. Here's Pelagic in her new home, safe and sound, tied to something that's pretty much guaranteed not to move, and ideally situated so that we can walk on and off the boat:

Later that night, after the little fellow went to sleep, Alisa and I took our solace in some serious gin and tonics. We read through the logbook entries for the day, reviewing the hourly records of position and conditions as we wended our way through the intricacies of the Mooloolah River system. Everything in the log books checked out - all of the GPS data of lat/long, SOG (Speed Over Ground), COG (Course Over Ground), VMG (I never figured out what that one meant) - it all read properly and error-free. Yet still, there was the insurmountable, inescapable fact of the day - we had failed to find our way to the ocean.

The bottle of tonic water was getting low when Alisa had the Eureka! moment.

"Give me the tide tables!" she said.

And, once she opened the tide book to the correct day, her face was filled with the the Cheshire Cat Grin of being the one to figure it.

"Mike," she said.


"We followed the river downstream."

"Um. Yes?"

"Well that was the wrong way to go."

"How could it be wrong?"

"Easy. The tide was coming in this morning. So the current was flowing upriver, towards all those bridges."

"Oh, right. Eureka."

So, mystery solved, and our string of embarrassing posts now extends to two in a row. But we figure that, if nothing else, anyone who is out there with dreams of setting off to sail the world on their own boat might learn a cautionary tale from our own experience.

Meanwhile, we still have to leave Mooloolaba.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

An Experiment, Gone Bad

Well, it's rare that I have something really embarrassing to share. But everyone makes mistakes, and it seems there's no point in sharing the highs of our life afloat if we don't also own up to the lows.

We finally left Mooloolaba two days ago, after being there much longer than we ever expected. It was a calm morning, wind almost nil, and Alisa and Elias relaxed on the foredeck as we motored north. It felt so good to be moving again.

We passed the Glass House Mountains, named by James Cook in 1770.

We got to talking about Cook's exploration of this coast. He sailed almost the entire east coast of Oz and narrowly escaped a disastrous end when he discovered the Great Barrier Reef the hard way. We marvelled at the incredible challenge he faced, navigating huge sections of the globe utterly blind, with no charts save those that his expeditions drew as they went.

And then I had an idea.

"We know there aren't any off lying hazards along this section of coast," I said to Alisa. "We're just going north until we reach Wide Bay Bar, which is the first entrance we come to. Why not try navigating by eyeball once, just to see what it's like? It will be our little taste of what sailors like Cook must have experienced. We won't ever have a section of coastline that's easier to navigate than this."

And so that's what we did - turned off the GPS, covered up the compass, put away the charts. We were already a couple miles off shore, with no other vessels in sight, so we even closed our eyes and let the autopilot-less Pelagic steer herself in circles for five minutes. We figured that way we'd begin our experiment on a blank navigational slate, without even a clear idea of which direction we were traveling.

Closing our eyes at the start of the experiment.

Things went smoothly enough. A light wind came up, and we were able to sail. The family fell into our comfortable routine of being underway.

And then, a few hours later, we came upon a harbor entrance, just about when we expected to.

We dropped the sails and motored into the well-marked harbor. There's something that Cook never found in Australia - red and green markers to show the channel.

As we motored in, Alisa and I both started getting nervous. This harbor didn't look anything like what we remembered of Wide Bay Bar and the nearest town, Tin Can Bay. Those places were pretty sleepy, but the place where we found ourselves now was built up, with condos, a fleet of docked commercial fishing boats and a marina full of recreational boats. Something wasn't quite right...
And then it clicked - we were back in Mooloolaba!

When we opened our eyes and started following the coast at the start of the experiment, we had inadvertently begun following the coast south, back towards Mooloolaba, instead of north to Wide Bay Bar. What should have tipped us off was that the coast was on our starboard side (see the second-to-last photo), when it should have been on our port.

Kind of embarrassing, really, and to be honest we thought long and hard about whether we should share this experience on the blog or not. But we figured that we don't really have anything to prove, and anyone can make a mistake, so there's really nothing to be ashamed about.

After successfully finding our way across the Pacific, accurately making landfall after landfall, we finally goofed one up.

At least we renewed our respect for the achievements of Captain Cook...

But now we have to leave Mooloolaba again.

Friday, July 17, 2009

We're Back!

Well, the blog starved while we were away in North America, but now we're back in Oz, and back in our own life, and the postings will resume their earlier pace.

We found Pelagic in great shape after sitting for seven weeks unattended at someone's dock in Mooloolaba. We've re-entered the emotionally close lifestyle that we get to enjoy as the result of living in a little space with a Little Person, without the saving grace of a door to close behind ourselves every now and again. And finally, finally, we're starting the trip north to the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow.

I admit that I felt a little trepidation as we returned to Oz. Keeping everything going on the boat is such an unending struggle, and it's a little weird to be sitting on the anchor so much lately instead of sailing across an ocean, and the part of Queensland we've been in is so unappealing.

But it's been great to be on the boat again. And I've noticed that even in soulless Mooloolaba the sky is much more dramatic than in the U.S., and the light is much more beautiful. I think it must be because the air is cleaner in the southern hemisphere.

Our trip back to the States was all about seeing family, and we had a GREAT time doing that. But apart from the family visit, I also had a few neat insights during our time in the Lower 48. One was how nice it was to occasionally hear Alisa blurt out, "This place sucks!" as we were driving around some sprawled-out, generic town where the public space was dominated by the same corporate edifices that you find everywhere else in America. Usually I'm the one who voices strong opinions about things like that, so it was nice to let her say how ugly and pointless were some of the places where we found ourselves (no offense to our loved ones who might live in those places). Disagreement over what constitutes a good place to live can be one of the hardest things in a marriage, and I'm happy that Alisa and I seem to be in such perfect agreement on that score.

Another neat insight was the way that people tend to aggregate with others of their ilk in particular places. For instance, American men with bad toupees seem to gather in airports. And Put-in-Bay, Ohio, a little town on an island in Lake Erie where we spent a delightful day with Alisa's fam, attracts fat people. I had gotten used to thinking of Australians as being a little chubby and out of shape, but that's nothing compared to how big an average American on summer vacation at Put-in-Bay can be. No offense to anyone, of course, but I started wondering about the implications for the future of the nation - as people get less healthy, they work less during a lifetime, and their health care becomes more expensive, and it all has to add up somewhere...

I recently read an article about how American parents no longer teach their little kids nursery rhymes, but instead teach them pop songs and TV theme songs and advertising songs. When I read the article I thought that change sounded like the natural outcome of change in the society, and not necessarily a bad thing. But (neat insight!) seeing the cultural diet of some American kids for myself changed my mind. I came up with the phrase "culturally polluted" to describe the phemomenon of little kids who are full of age-innapropriate pop art. Again, no offense to anyone whose five year old might know the words to "Gin and Juice", and I'm sure they'll all turn out to be happy, productive adults. But the little kids that we know in Iluka are so innocent by comparison. And that innocence seems so important.

Hmmm. There were some other neat insights, but I guess the gist of them is that after seven weeks of house-living back in the home country, I'm really really glad that we're sailing now, at the prime of our lives, and not still dreaming about it.

(More of) why we love Alaska

Here are a few pics of our now not-so-recent trip back to the Great Land to illustrate some of the reasons we love that place so much...

I'll begin with some shots taken 20 minutes outside of Anchorage, the biggest, most disgusting city in Alaska. We've stopped to picnic at a creek where people are dipnetting little fish called eulachon (pronounced "hooligan" by those who dipnet for them). Eulachon are off the charts in terms of oil content, and some people love 'em. Could you find such a cool scene 20 minutes outside of the biggest, most disgusting city in any of the other states?

The eulachon were running heavy, and people were averaging ten or so fish per scoop. Elias charmed this nice old couple, who kindly gave us a gallon bag full.
Eulachon! We fried them for dinner that night.
Here's our picnic spot. We're at the head of Turnagain Arm, first explored for the Western world by James Cook, who is also known for some exploration he did in the Southern Hemisphere. In Alaska, this is what we consider over-crowded country, too close to the road to be any good any more.

We were picnicking with our good friend Ann, and her new husband Dustin, whom we had never met before. Turns out he's a stellar guy.

We spent a few days with Ann and Dustin and other friends (Paul and Kim and Shiway) in Hope, Alaska, a little town Alisa and I had never been to before. It was much warmer here than it had been in Kodiak at the start of our trip (no surprise), warm enough to enjoy ice cream. This may be Elias' first-ever ice cream cone, though opinions on that point differ.

Ann and Alisa dishing - talking some serious talk - over breakfast and over Elias. The little house that we rented in Hope was great, and we took a couple of great hikes along Turnagain Arm. But, as always, the real magic of Alaska was in the people, more than the place.