Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Boy, Discovered

Well, you'd think it would be hard to lose things on a boat. There's only so many places for something to be. But I find a way.

We have a great waterproof point-and-shoot camera that we have used little because the software for it was missing. But just before our Whitsunday trip I found it, and when I downloaded the camera for the first time I got a great surprise.

The first pictures to download were the ones from the Whitsundays. The last of those was this one of Elias with his friends Malachy and Remeny:

But, for some strange reason having to do with the way the camera orders pics, the next one to download was the very first picture we ever took with the camera:

This was taken June 13, 2007, ten days before we left Kodiak, when Elias was ten months old. Whooeee! Coming on this pic unexpectedly gave me a feeling of vertigo, like I was staring down a well of time.
There were a smattering of pics from other points in our trip that gave a great timeline of E's early childhood.

At a restaurant on the malecón in La Paz, Baja California, Mexico.

On a beach in the Sea of Cortez.

At our favorite ice cream joint in La Paz.

Meeting Dolores in Nuku Hiva, the Marquesas.

Taking fruit back to Pelagic.
Wow, I didn't realize he was that young during the trip!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Is It a Vacation? Or Real Life?

These wonderful people are Miles and Melissa, friends who we met in Iluka at the beginning of the year. We just spent ten days with them at Haslewood Islands, in the Whitsundays, where they camped out on the beach with their two kids.

Here is Pelagic, anchored off the beach where they camped. Haslewood is a fairly out-of-the-way spot in the Whitsundays, and camping is normally not allowed on the island. Melissa and Miles wrangled special permission from the Parks people to camp there. When we arrived, Alisa and I looked at the colors of the place and said - ahh, we're back in the tropics!

Elias LOVED having Remeny, on the left, and Malachi, on the right, to play with. I realize that I am probably not spelling those names correctly. That must of been one of the great consolations of the distant era when people gave their kids names like "John" and "Sue". You didn't have to worry about demonstrating how poorly you really know a friend by misspelling their kid's name.

We had thought that having one child on board a sailboat could be pretty hectic. This photo shows how much more chaotic three kids can be. I love all the action in this pic. Two year old Malachi really really wants a cup and his six year old sister is helpfully holding it just out of his reach. Elias is so excited by having his friends on board that he is clenching a butt cheek in one hand and stomping his foot. Melissa is wondering if she should wade in and referee the fracas between her kids. Miles, meanwhile, is doing his best to eat all the guacamole while the kids aren't looking.

In the evenings, we reverted to our normal routine on Pelagic. Here is Elias, petting the horse ("Gray Mare") that Alisa made for his birthday. He scratches Gray Mare on the nose and says a soothing "wheyyy", just like his Australian uncles do with their horses. As an aside, I will mention that Elias has recently been checking all of his stuffed animals for penises, as a way of seeing if they are daddies. Turns out they are all mommies.

"Boy, some of these connections are really loose!"

Elias is very interested in trying to catch fish with a bucket.

When he succeeds, we get an impromptu lecture on ichtyology.

Apropo of nothing, the view from the spreaders, with the deck awning set.

One day we chucked the kids on Pelagic and took them to nearby Whitehaven Beach, which according to our Rough Guide to Australia regularly makes "ten best beaches in the world" lists. In the background you can see a line of boats anchored off this famous beach - compare that with the earlier picture of Pelagic anchored all alone off Haslewood Island. A few minutes after this picture was taken, charter boats showed up and unloaded scores of daytripping beach lovers. That's how it goes in the modern world of travel - the "best" places are too hectic to be much fun, and the out of the way spots that no one has heard of are the places to be.

These are some longfin spadefish that came to Pelagic, begging for food, at the crowded anchorage at Whitehaven Beach.

This is a beach we went to on Haslewood Island a couple days later - not famous, no one else there. Just right.
Elias flew the kite that he got for his birthday.

Underwater life off the beach. The coral was out of this world, far and away the best coral I've ever seen. The underwater visibility, though, was generally terrible, which is usual for the Whitsundays.

More underwater life. Having Miles and Melissa along to watch Elias meant that Alisa and I got to snorkel together for the second time of our whole trip.

Miles brought his tinny along, and though the engine had troubles throughout the trip, the tinny was great transport.
While we were driving around to different snorkeling spots, Miles commented what a nice break from the hectic routine of working and child-rearing this trip had been for him and Melissa. I answered that it was kind of a vacation for us, too, a nice break from our routine - no work (yes, I have been working a bit in Oz!), no boat jobs, no big writing projects. But then I thought about it, and realized that these ten days weren't really a break from our routine - this was the sort of routine that we try to get into, the purest sort of cruising. We had lots of leisure time each day, in a fairly wonderful spot, and we were doing it with local friends who we never would have met if we hadn't chucked it all to spend a few years living on a sailboat, and traveling the world slowly enough to have the chance to make friends along the way.

Ahh, the sportin' life.

The end.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Drought Ends

On our Pacific crossing we got well used to the occasional windfalls that trolling lures behind Pelagic gave us - tuna and mahi mahi became regular, though unpredictable, staples of our diet.

But when we reached Australia things changed.

We've dragged lures up and down half of the east coast of Oz, with exactly one bite - something that broke our line off the Gold Coast almost a year ago. And because we've been generally unimpressed by the fish and prawns available in the fishermen's co-ops along the coast (Alaskans can be terrible seafood snobs), fish has largely disappeared from our diets.

But, on our sail into Townsville, things changed.

Instead of the southeast trades, we found northwesterlies that made the few anchorages along this stretch of coast unusable, and kept us tacking back and forth at sea all day and all night. We passed a humpback whale cow and calf that wouldn't stop breaching and slapping the water with their pectoral fins. We passed flocks of pied imperial pigeons, striking black and white birds, flying over the water on their migration from south from New Guinea. And we caught this:

Tuna for dinner.
The last fish we "caught" from the boat was the shark that bit our windvane three times, and our rudder once, 170 miles from the Queensland coast on our passage from New Caledonia.
It looks like the drought is over.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Behold, the Platypus

Well, our email has gone unchecked lately. The blog has been quiet. Op-ed writers on the Times web site have opinioned away without reaching us. For the last two weeks or more we have been blissfully out of range of the internet, doing some great traveling in tropical Queensland. More on that soon, but for now I'll catch up with past doings.


Alisa needed a quick visit to the doctor on our sail up the coast, so we pulled into the town of Mackay ("muh-KAI"), a regional hub in sugarcane growing country. There is no anchorage in Mackay, just a marina sitting inside an artificial harbor. Normally we would just do a hit and run in such a place, but our visit to Mackay also gave us the chance to fulfill a quest we've been discussing ever since we came to Oz. So we spent three nights in the marina, and hired a car to boot.

Elias catching a ride in a marina cart. Yes, he is sitting on two cartons of beer.

Once we had taken care of our errands, we spent a day at Eungella National Park, an hour from Mackay. Like every other foreigner who comes to Eungella, we came with the goal of seeing a platypus in the wild. Before staking out the platypus habitat at dusk, we spent a few hours rambling around the upland rainforest of the Finch Hatton Gorge.

Elias taking an apple break in the rainforest.

The "Wheel of Fire" waterhole, at the end of the track. The day was very hot. The water was perfectly cold.

Alisa shamed Elias and me into submerging in the chilly water. Then we kicked it on a sun-warmed rock, ate another apple, and watched the big flock of swifts high overhead.

Along the way, we did some birding, and saw three species we'd never seen before. We didn't get pictures, of course, but I got pics of all three off the web:

Wompoo fruit dove.

Azure kingfisher.

Red-headed honeyeater.

I'm not much of a birder back home, but I love to bird when I travel. Birds are the easiest part of a foreign natural history to learn, and looking for new birds gives you something to do in those odd travel moments when you're waiting for something else to happen. Plus, in the tropics, the there are just so many bird species, and they are so beautiful.

The real quarry, though, was the platypus, which as everyone knows is a monotreme, or an egg-laying mammal, and one of the marquee stars of Australian natural history. Platypus are typically retiring and difficult to see in the wild, but there are one or two spots in the country, like the Broken River in Eungella National Park, where they've become habituated to observers.

And, to break the suspense, we did see one. Most of the people who were at the viewing platform with us had already given up, and it was starting to get dark, when a platypus came paddling down the river below us, diving to the bottom to forage and stirring up mud clouds in the clear water as it probed for food. We watched for ten minutes as it went about its business with no concern for us, and for those ten minutes we were able to behold one of the true curiosities of the world, a sleek little water beast with a duck's beak (a great example of convergent evolution, by the way) that is the only mammal to produce venom (in spurs on the males' hind legs, and strong enough to kill a dog). They're such odd bods of the living world that European naturalists examining the first stuffed specimens to be transported back from Oz immediately assumed they were fakes. And we got to just stand there and watch one do its thing. We even got a pic:

Not bad, considering the light.

It was, in addition to the happy event of seeing a wild platypus, a great all-around day, a reminder of how fun it can be to get away from Pelagic every now and then to do some exploring ashore.
And, now that we have ticked this must-do of our "while in Australia" list, we have been prompted to consider what other items should be on that list. For while we're at that point where our Australian stay seems to stretch unbroken to the time horizons before us and behind, we know that the end will come suddenly, and we'll have the chance then to regret anything that we left undone.