The Voyage


Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Archive for the ‘Year 3’ Category

Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Posted by: melissa
Canned Lambs Tongues -- YUCK!

Canned Lambs Tongues -- YUCK!

The car was due at 12:30 so we decided to make a trip to the grocery store for a few assorted goodies, including drinking water which you can never have enough of.  One thing I can do without is canned lambs tongues, even for the low, low price of AUS$4.05.  And of course, tongues are conveniently shelved between the corned beef and Stag beef chili.  Gross!

After depositing the groceries and returning the car, we noticed that it was a warm and sunny day which was quite a novelty for us after chilly and rainy Sydney and New Zealand.  So we put on our running shoes and set out for a long walk. 

Newcastle‘s population of almost 250,000 is an eclectic combination of university students, surfers, and people associated with the current thriving coal industry and the rapidly dying, if not dead, steel industry.  At the mouth of the Hunter River, Newcastle is the world’s largest coal exporting port which has been a fundamental component of Australia’s overall economic growth.  Coal industry of that size brings blue-collar workers as well as highly compensated upper level management, and the town reflects this dichotomy. 

Newcastle was established in 1804 as a penal colony for those convicts too hardened for the original penal colony in Sydney.  In 1846, the nearby island of Nobbys Head was joined to the mainland.  The long and picturesque sand spit, complete with a scenic lighthouse, is now a favorite spot for runners and strollers.  Fort Scratchley housed a gun installation which fended off an attacking Japanese submarine in 1942.  In 1989, Newcastle suffered Australia’s biggest recorded earthquake which killed a dozen people and destroyed many buildings.  Subsequent rebuilding included strategic moves to increase tourism, foster real estate development, and shake off the seedy reputation of an industrial past.

Our walk through the central business district and the waterfront wharf was quite lovely.  We returned to the boat to find that our local restaurant was closed, so we were back online to research a place to eat.  

We ended up at a relatively new restaurant located in a recently renovated historical building that has been, at different times, a church, a theater, a community center, and a homeless shelter during the Depression.  We met some fellow diners who were also, ahem, historical.  One woman said that her father went to church there as a child. 

The menu was thoughtful, and the food was delicious and well executed.  But the best part of the evening was the signature cocktail menu.  I had a fantastic modified Cosmopolitan in a frosted glass, but Andy ordered probably the single best cocktail we’ve ever had – top shelf gin, Cointreau, fresh lemon juice, honey syrup, peach bitters, and lemon twist.  It was absolutely delicious, and so well balanced that the liquor was almost completely disguised.  All in all, a very lovely day!

Arrival in Coffs Harbour

Posted by: melissa

Yesterday, we had big plans to leave Newcastle at first light since Coffs Harbor was about 175 miles away and the East Australian Current is always a concern.  Unfortunately, we slept in so soundly, and then suffered some separation anxiety with the marina’s cheap, fast, and reliable wifi.  But we managed to shove off around 10:30 with a flexible plan of making landfall at Port Stephens (about 5 hours away), Coffs Harbour (about 30 hours away), or Gold Coast (about 55 hours away).

As we made our way through the channel, we noticed a lot of traffic.  One tugboat was leading a container ship out, and another tugboat was leading another container ship in.  Several container ships were loitering outside the breakwater waiting to be taken in.  Since we usually see freighters from afar, seeing one up close is a weird reminder of how gigantic they actually are. 

We made our way through the breakwaters and found a nice, calm, flat Tasman Sea … just like we like it!  Andy went below to check our position, and then I heard a loud booming noise.  I looked in the general direction of the noise, and having grown up within a couple of miles of an Air Force base, I knew that some kind of fighter jet was headed in our direction. 

The trick to communicating on a boat is the delicate balance between notification with a sense of urgency and scaring someone to death with a tone of emergency or impending disaster.  I leaned into the companion way, and as calmly as I could, I said “military plane” in a flat but loud voice.  Andy shot up immediately to catch the show.  It made a wide loop out over the ocean at fairly low altitude … deafeningly loud and very exciting.

About 10 minutes later, we had a humpback whale sighting!  Again, I leaned into the companion way, and as calmly as I could, I said “whale” in a flat but loud voice.  Again, you have to be careful not to communicate a message of panic or emergency, but rather just a really cool sightseeing opportunity.  Anyway, it was a pod of at least three whales traveling up the coast together.  We mostly saw their spouts and backs … no flukes or fins or full breeches this time, but very cool nonetheless.

The rest of the day was quite nice and uneventful.  I’m reading a book called Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  It won a Pulitzer Prize and I can definitely see why.  Andy’s reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and constantly shaking his head at the disturbing tale. 

This storm, and the weather warning of high winds, chased us all the way into Coffs Harbour.

This storm, and the weather warning of high winds, chased us all the way into Coffs Harbour.

Unfortunately, we downloaded some weather forecasts and a weather warning had just been issued for high winds for our area around Coffs Harbour the following night.  As I mentioned, we had decided that if we didn’t make it to Coffs Harbour for a daytime arrival, we would try to press on to Gold Coast.  This new weather warning killed that idea promptly, so we had to pick up the pace a little bit to make sure we made it to Coffs Harbor with daylight to spare. 

And we just barely made it!  Literally, we had minutes to spare as a huge, angry-looking storm chased us in to shelter.  The slip was barely big enough to hold us and the neighboring boat already moored there, but, in his best performance yet, Andy perfectly threaded the needle.  Oh, bowthruster, how do we love thee?  Let me count the ways!

We grabbed the shower bag, stopped at the marina office, and per their instructions, opened the lockbox to obtain the keys.  We had dinner at the closest restaurant, and it was actually pretty good.  I had yellow fin tuna that was probably just a few hours fresh, although, I felt Andy’s brother, Erik, also known as the Seahadist (the seafood Jihadist), breathing down my neck for not eating something else (Artic Char?).  His overwhelming knowledge about, and activism to stop, overfishing are really cutting into my enjoyment of seafood!

Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia

Posted by: melissa

Andy was pretty out of it from having the night watch, but I got up early, put on my running shoes, and set out to see the town.  The high winds predicted by the weather warning were in full force, but it was still warm and sunny. 

The entrance to the marina in Coffs Harbour is a little tight.

The entrance to the marina in Coffs Harbour is a little tight.

Originally called Korffs Harbour, Coffs Harbour was settled in the late 1860′s and the jetty was erected in 1892 for the logging industry.  Honestly, there’s just not that much to it … lots of retirees, families on long weekends, lesbians and owners of mountain bikes that cost more than a car.  I walked the main parts of town, browsed the shops, had a coffee while overlooking Coffs Creek … that’s about it.  I understand that during the summer, there are probably more outdoorsy things to do, but otherwise, there’s just not that much to it.  There’s also a zoo, botanical gardens, and other family-friendly activities, but we’re just not into stuff like that.  The small harbor is pretty nice, and I had the entire public jetty and the small beach all to myself.  I tried to sit and read, but that didn’t last very long since it was quite blustery.

Evidently, Coffs Harbour’s main attraction is a gigantic banana statue thing, but it’s too far to walk from the marina, so we didn’t go.  We probably should’ve, but I just couldn’t force myself to spend money on a taxi to go see a giant banana.  Plus, we all know how Andy feels about bananas!  

This evening, we went to the Coffs Harbour Yacht Club for TGIF Happy Hour – AUS$3.00 schooners and free munchies between 5:45 and 6:45.  It was actually pretty fun.  The telly was on, and the sports segment of the local news was running highlights of the Coffs Harbour lawn bowling club.  Is that local news, or what?  We then went to the main strip in town where there’s two Thai restaurants, two Italian restaurants, two seafood restaurants, and two Indian restaurants.  We made the mistake of going to the one Chinese restaurant which was pretty bad.  It was obviously a mistake to go to the restaurant lacking a local competitor in its genre.

So, Coffs Harbour is nothing special and the weather warning has expired.  We’ll probably head off tomorrow morning, although we need to check the tide tables and the depth at the channel entrance.

Arrival in Gold Coast — Welcome to Queensland!

Posted by: melissa

Well, during the passage from Coffs Harbour to Gold Coast, we passed two milestones.  First, we said goodbye to New South Wales, and hello to Queensland.  Second, we left the latitude of 30 and higher behind us.  I am relieved to have re-entered the milder waters and warmer temperatures of the 20s … equator, here we come!

Our departure from Coffs Harbour was delayed by a couple of hours because of the tide.  Low water was at 10:30 a.m. so we waited until noon to give ourselves some leeway.  Plus, Coffs Harbour was hit hard by a recent storm that pounded the harbor and damaged the marina.  The channel entrance was still undergoing some redredging as part of the recovery. 

We went through the breakwater and headed offshore slightly, but only about 2-3 miles to try and avoid current.  As night fell however, we started seeing more and more fishing vessels, and we were forced to go further out away from the coastline to stay out of traffic.  The wind completely died and we were forced to motor as well. 

At dawn, we passed by Byron’s Bay which is the eastern most point of Australia.  By that time, I was heavily into my next book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is a plot driven page turner which is nice on long passages.  Andy highly recommended it, as well as the sequel called The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Evidently there’s a third in this Stieg Larsson trilogy, but we don’t have it onboard. 

Anyway, I was totally engrossed when a humpback whale surfaced and blew its spout less than 50 yards away from the boat.  It was startling, but so incredible.  We’ve seen a lot of whales now, and it never gets old.  It’s just amazing to experience such a rare and exotic animal in such natural way … no tour group, no whale-watching guides, no throwing food in the water … just observing a whale doing what whales do, and have instinctually done, for millions of years.  Being that close is like meeting a dinosaur or something.  It’s awesome, in the truest definition of the word.

The sun was shining and as predicted, the weather was really warming up.  I may be able to put away my Newcastle Knights hat and scarf for good shortly!  Unfortunately, 20 knots of wind turned right on the nose, so it looked like motoring the rest of the way.  Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise were quickly in view — it looks like Miami with sky rises and huge white sand beaches. 

The approach to Gold Coast was pretty chaotic.

The approach to Gold Coast was pretty chaotic.

We located the channel entrance mostly by following the 30 or so boats heading in after a Sunday afternoon on the water.  The currents going over the sandbar were weird enough, but the wakes of macho, speed demon, power boats bounced us around as well.  Dinghies, jet skis, fishing boats, whale-watching power catamarans, party barges … it was pretty much total chaos.  But, we turned the corner and followed the very distinct aids to navigation, easily found the marina, filled up with diesel, found our slip, and settled in.

“The” Sandwich

Posted by: melissa

If you do nothing else in Saigon, you must have “the” sandwich. 

I can’t take credit for finding this, as it has already been well-discussed and well described by several foodie blogs including eGullet (which I use alot), and Noodlepie (fantastic archives on Vietnamese food).

This sandwich is absolutely transcendent — a certifiable “Holy Cow!” moment.  I cannot recall ever having a better commercially available sandwich — anywhere, anytime.  Of course, your mileage may vary, but it’s hard to imagine any person who doesn’t despise pork, cilantro or BBQ sauce not loving it.

The chef operates a stand, outside of residential alley, with a small charcoal grill on the curb.  The sandwich comes wrapped in a piece of paper (oftentimes an old phone bill or receipt) secured with a rubber band.  Pull up a plastic step stool as a seat in the alley, watch that the passing motos don’t run over your feet, buy a water next door (for the same price as the sandwich itself), and dig in.

They are not large – I had 2, Andy had 3, and it wasn’t a disgusting pig-out.

There’s nothing to “order” — it’s the only item for sale.

A couple of notes at variance with the Noodlepie blog post:
(1) The price is now 10,000 dong (approximately 55 cents).
(2) She sets up well before 5:30 p.m. — we went at 2:00 and she wasn’t there and came back at 3:45 and she was in full swing.
(3) By 8:00 p.m., she was done for the day (our first attempt was unsuccessful).

Finally, be sure you are at 37 Nguyen Trai in District One — there’s at least one other 37 Nguyen Trai (we didn’t make that mistake but easily could have).

All I can say is, “You’re welcome.”