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Windsurfing In The BenAnna Republic

The world of Ben-kingdom seen by Anna-rchista

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NSW Coast and Tasmania 2015

Our trip on Inara during January-July

Riding around in south NSW.

This is the last post of the winter adventures down south. Essentially I will try to be succinct and honest without pushing the truth too far or use too many superlatives. So dot by dot the places we really liked and the things to do there.

– Eden and Two Folds Bay: With a name like this you either get yourself ready to be disappointed or enchanted. For us the latter took over. Eden is a small town, not too far from Victoria but quite detached from the main highway. Situated on top of a hill, you will be sure to enjoy good exercise every time you want to do your laundry, replenish the boat in food, send postcards or just give in to eat a hamburger. The view is top, at 360 degrees showing the large deep bay where many yachts are anchored (terrible spot for westerlies). At Eden there are free hot public showers (accessible at the jetty/marina) which allow you to warm yourself for an endless 2 minutes and then see you scrubbing for 30 seconds until you can start the hot water again. Fair enough, this is quite efficient to save the town money and to avoid than people abuse this wonderful service cherished by yachties and travellers. Hot showers might seem ludicrous but when we were there, temperatures were in the maximum 18-20C during the day, so a good warming up was very welcome.

Eden is famous for its Killer Whale Museum where it exposes the story from the beginning of the 20th century when orcas and humans were hunting whales in a cooperative fashion. This “tradition” and hunting technique seems to have been inherited from aboriginal customs. Unfortunately, the symbiosis stopped after one of the hunter had hurt the male Orca lead, Tom, causing the latter to loose a tooth and leading him to his death by infection. This accident unsurprisingly was caused by the greediness of the man who wouldn’t leave the whale have the “tongue price”, which was the only thing the orcas were after; following the kill of the whale. The orcas were never seen again fishing with men or even visiting Two Folds bay. Out of guilt and remorse, the town built the Museum where Tom skeleton is exposed and his deeds are celebrated. Curiously, nothing of the final accident that led to Tom death is mentioned in the Museum. The Museum is quite famous now and it is the main source of income for the town: buses of tourists and grey nomads stop there by the truckload. It’s a very good Museum indeed, worth every cents of the entry fee.

For the ones that love outdoor, the Ben Boyds National Park is ideal. It offers a large choice of walks (or MTB for us), along the foreshore to discover this area full of history through the eccentricities of Ben Boyds. The Tower, never used as a lighthouse is reputedly haunted. Bittangabee, is a heaven hidden in the midst of the national park. Finally, Green Cape has a historical lighthouse and from there you can admire a full section of the coast never touched by civilization. The extreme south-eastern corner of Australia looks very attractive for survival camps and Bear Grills aficionados, its unspoiled wilderness extends endlessly for hundreds of kilometers. Have a look in Google Earth.

What else in Eden? Well, it is full of bell birds, filling the anchorage with their endless calls echoing as thousands of tiny golden bells. It can get to your nerves after a few days but it’s lovely. There is an great sea swimming pool on the main beach on the other side of town where pink granite overhang over a crystal clear sand filled bath while the foamy waves are lazily licking the rocks around it.If I have an advice about Eden: go there while you can a.s.a.p., because they are planning to built a gigantic ugly marina where the old cannery used to be. Therefore, there will be no more clear water on the anchorage (probably no possibility to anchor in front of the marina anyway), no more bell birds, no more melancholic old jetty full of delicious mussels that you can pick for free. They will ruin it, they will sell it and then they will forget how such a piece of paradise it was.

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Bermagui

A beautiful anchorage for very shallow draft boats. We were anchored in the main river in the middle of the sand bank which leaves 1m depth at low tide. Perfect for Inara, this clear water river does not have many fishing boats passing through as the main marina/boat ramp is down the stream. Also Bermagui doesn’t have any maritime officer (delegated to Narooma), so we were not harassed by any cowboy desirous to spend his frustration on innocent yachties. Bermagui has an excellent coffee shop and bakery, a very nice atmosphere, MTB tracks very close from the anchorage and an endless network of trails in the national park adjacent filled by the songs of highly inspired lyre birds. It is criss-crossed by hidden little creeks (probably full of gold also). The track along the shore goes to the Wallaga mountain where gold used to be mined. You can still visit the old gold mine. We did so, with a group of elderly tourists all around 75 years old. I owed Ben so many apologies (crepes making) for insisting on taking the tour. We ended up “escaping” it at half visit scared and reminiscing memories from another gold mine and another zombie story. At the bottom of Wallaga Mount, there is a vast lake and it seems to be another area where MTB riding is promising. We spent a full week in Bermagui, not feeling the weight of time, really enjoying each single day.

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Narooma

A dump. Bad maritime officer. Crappy anchorage, terrible town scared by the highway, no good bakery or coffee shop, horrendous overbuilt foreshore, food replenishment made difficult because far from the water.

The goods things: Great trails for MTB and bicycle paths everywhere. A kitsch little arty cinema in the middle of the town. The seals that bake themselves on the main rockwall just 10 meters away from you.

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Ulladula

A tiny, ridiculous cute little harbour. Next to the road. Excellent anchorage, very shallow (1m draft). Next to the road (downside) but extra close to Woolworth, Coles, Aldi (accross the road) The best spot for replenishing on the south coast AND heaps of delicious restaurants (especially Thai restaurant). We only stayed one night.

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Jervis bay

Beautiful if it wasn’t for the huge Naval base with warships that go back and forth all day across the bay for training. And at night, they fire bombs. Very good MTBing around the numerous tracks in the National Park on the south side. The Green Patch is an absolutely gorgeous place. They have hot showers at the National Park camping facilities. Free access for yachties. 🙂 Otherwise,not much more can be said, the towns around the bay are as boring as the weather we got while there: raining most of the days for 2 weeks. Cold, wet ghuuuh…

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Finally my favorite place in the NSW coast: the Hawkesbury river.

There is nothing that can prepare you for the amazement of this labyrinth of gorges accessible from the sea so easily and most of it inaccessible by vehicle. The cliffs of sandstone abruptly covet kilometers of calm waters full of fishes, abundance of streams, caves, rocky bluffs and even waterfalls. We anchored Inara in front of one, very special. The downside is the proximity of Sydney which provides a huge number of boats. The upside is that even if Sydney is close, there is not one soul living on this land. This is mostly National Parks apart from a few tiny clusters of preposterous mansions officiating as weekenders for the rich and famous. “To live happy, let’s live hidden” as a French saying goes.

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And I can’t resist. The worst place ever in the Eastern Australian coast I have ever been in: Batemans bay. There is absolutely nothing worthy of writing I can tell you about Batemans bay. The worst rock and rolly anchorage, no access to the foreshore, busy road accross the river, weekender place for Canberrans.

To finish still on a happy note, NSW was great. It kept us healthy, we did heaps of walking and riding. We almost were not bothered by the Maritime officers. It was cold, each dip in the water was a treat but we really enjoyed it.

Flinders Island, why it left us speechless.

The temperatures starting to drop down; (It was May by then), we quickly decided to make our way up North; but first we HAD to stop at Flinders Island. You see, someone very close from us (he will recognize himself, he likes amphibians and two accessory floats for the main hull. :D); had been lobbying the last three years or so on how Flinders Island was “sooooo beautiful”, that it was a jewel undiscovered, that it was THE place to be in the whole world, so pure, so pristine, so depopulated.

We passed close to Waterhouse Island and it seemed a pretty place with a homestead, a cattle farm and absolute pristine water but unfortunately we couldn’t stay as the wind was forecasted to change and the anchorage wasn’t protected enough.

Our first stop in Flinders was Trousers point which beams crystal clear waters (you would think it’s tropical in the pictures) and the Mount Strezlecki National Park less than 5 km away. We climbed the 760m of the roof of Flinders, a very nice walk which takes you quickly to the top through eucalypt and fern tree forests. Heaps of wildlife everywhere, wombats and wallabies, we saw the endangered swift parrot.

On the way north (Flinders is about 50 km long) we stopped at Whitemark for replenishing (Aaouch for the prices) and bled ourselves in the luxury of getting a second gas bottle (twice the normal price). We were anxious that we would run out of gas. The temperatures being under 10C during the night, our evenings were spent baking all sorts of delicacies (potatoes, cheese, bacon). Whitemark sports a bakery, a little tiny grocery store, a butcher, a pub, a coffee shop, a tool shop, newspaper/tourist shop, and the post office share the office with the bank. All of it is over-priced. This is the capital of Flinders Island, 50 souls (including the pets).

Then we strolled along toward Marshal Bay where we visited the Furneaux Museum (really interesting actually) which enlighten us with the display of the trade of the baby muttons bird. So young… their parents having spent so much energy to come back from the other side of the world and fed them tons of fish. All of this, for them finishing prematurely snatched out of their burrow by a human who will eat their meat, transform their feathers in pillow and squeeze the oil out of their gland to make hand cream…..unless a nice tiger snake inhabits the hole…..

Also Flinders Island has an endless count of shipwrecks…. Not surprising when you see the treacherous rocks all around and the non less vicious wind which takes a malicious pleasure to turn around at 360 in 24 hours…. Many human stories finished exposed in the museum.

We also stopped next to Roydon Island and in Killicrankie Bay. In the latter, we missed our last weather window for departure because I absolutely wanted to hunt for topaz gems which are abundant on the beaches. I found a few but the cost of them will stay forever in my frozen bones: it was cold, very very cold. The coldest being the night in Killicrankie, when the thermometer painfully rose to a little more than 4C in a full moon night. As a result, the sea steamed and threw itself in vapors to the sky as many white flames wanting to lick the ivory pale globe. The dark ominous accidental lines of the mountains on the background were only adding to the tragic stillness of the night.

We hurried back south of the island as a serious westerly gale was forecast. The Bureau of Meteorology has a color scale for their forecast: light blue for light wind, blue and green for a good sailing breeze, orange for a gale, bright red for storm wind. On our forecast screen, the next 10 days were showing from bright red to dark red (50 knts+// very very bad for you) all around us with patches of black, where BoM doesn’t even want to give you a forecast.

Anyway, we holed up on the beach in Badger Corner, next to Froggy (Dan’s trimaran). Inara was like a spider in a web: 3 big ropes to 3 trees and 2 stern anchors. But when the first bullet hit, we felt it hard. A good 45 knots hammered us at high tide and we were praying for our system to work because Froggy was just behind us (it first hit from the N-NW then went W). Luckily, we were pointing into it and we watched Froggy, 20 meters behind us, take the hit on its side. As a result it heeled a bit on his leeward float but stayed the right way up. For the ones that know the boat, you would remember that it has been very unlucky and have already found itself the wrong way up. Anyway, 10 very gloomy days followed with maximum temperatures at 8C. The condensation inside the boat was impossible to bear, it was dripping everywhere like inside a cave. We had good times though. One of them:  watching Dan trying to light his fireplace inside his boat. The wind was so gusty and so strong that the smoke simply refused to go through the normal way, i.e the chimney. So we would witness smoke coming out from all the hatches on Froggy, Dan coughing and sputtering, but not a plume of grey wisp out of the normal exit.

Every day brought his shares of screaming banshees hurling themselves spinning onto the sea, bringing havoc on the surface of the water, deadly Eerie Walkyries. Every night brought his shares of cheeky giants toying with our masts, with their clumsy hands, shaking and banging as if to check if we would finally have fallen asleep. I highly recommend Flinders Island in a western gale for a resort you would send your worst enemies to. It was entertaining though to monitor the wind instruments on the airport clocking 74 Knts at a time. We thought that 40 knts where we were was quite protected.

Thankfully, some of Dan’s friends kindly let us use their car (we had to ride our bicycle around the bottom of Strelezcki to get to the car, a great 8km ride); so we could get supplies, hot chips, and drive around to use the car heater mainly.

When the gale stopped, everything went back to its monotonous normality. And that’s why it left us so speechless, despite all the fantastic boulders, sightseeing, abundance of fishes, rarity of people, Flinders Island miss something. It’s barren in its soul and you have the feeling that human species is not welcome here, everything is too salty, nothing would grow and the fantastic horizontal light for photography at the end leaves you depressed.  The granite are prominent and the bushes rugged. It’s an island of hardship with all the inconveniencies of an island (remote, expensive, impossible to find anything) and none of its advantages (there are still too many people, you can’t go swimming, you can’t live on the foreshore).

At the end, it’s hard to really grasp the general feeling of loneliness that Flinders Island communicates.  Everyone on this island seems a bit out of place, rough individuals and lonely. Flinders Island is just the place they ended up. There are no dreams, just rain and cows. We had some adventures still, and at the top are the following ones: we discovered a large old Whale carcass, we saw the highly endangered Cape Barren Geese, we spied on penguins going back to their burrow at night, we collected and ate delicious Abalones, we fished Australian salmons, and started a collection of micro colorful shells out of boredom. And if one day you’ll find yourself there out of incredible luck (or not), don’t miss out the best view at the Lady Barron pub eating scallops.

The Ghost Trawler and Tasmanian Adventures

After our landing in Flinders Island, we headed toward Badger Island where we scored three big flathead in less than a couple of hours and sighted not less than seven fishes. They were very playful and responded handsomely to the lures. Good fun.

We then made sail for Bridport. From there, we were visiting Ben’s family, his aunts and especially his nan; who is a cricket fan (the ICC was then on);a very amazing person, strong minded and amazingly alert being 97 years old.

So Inara was landed on the beach in Bridport. We were spending most of the day at the family house. Bridport is a small town which sport a caravan park, a salmon farm, few shops but nonetheless a fishing activity on the decline. The ferry for Flinders Island (loaded with cattle) leaves from there several times a week. The creek being quite narrow and shallow we had no other choice than getting out of the way of the steel barge that sometimes run aground even at high tide. With the cows onboard panicking and carrying on, it’s somewhat funny, a pure glimpse of Tasmania.

Other things are less glamorous though. For example, at some times on Saturdays, the water of the creek turns as black as coal and thick even at high tide just next to the salmon farm. Curiously, we never have seen any sign of fish, bait fish or even normal proof of life in this creek… The soldiers crabs are very few and look a bit sick. Even if the water is very clear most of the days, the global feeling is very similar to Moreton bay. Highly contaminated from the farms… But apparently EPA doesn’t have a strong word in Tasmania.

Anyway, a couple of days before the very important match (ICC) between India and Australia, we came back at night to our boat. A Westerly change was forecast this night with winds in the 25-30 knots range.

We noticed another boat was beached 500 meters far from us downstream to the northwest. This fishing trawler didn’t seem of any threat at all being very far.

Yes but….

Around 1 am, the change kicked in, just at the top of the tide (Murphy Law). Strong winds and battering rain (and probably some instinct) pulled Ben out of bed (I usually stay nice and warm buried under mounts of blankets) to check if the anchor was holding alright. We were then floating in 1.5 meters of water. Behind us, 25 meters away, was a big solid wooden pole delimitating the channel. I wasn’t too worried, we have a good anchor and those blows usually last just over half an hour.

When, all sudden, I hear the voice of Ben panicked (extremely  rare, my skipper being of the cool headed sort):

“Anna, come on deck, the trawler, it’s gonna get us!”

SHIT!

Before I understand how, in a quarter of a second, I am in the cockpit, naked and shivering while the rain was drawing curtains all around us. I wasn’t cold though; so much my heart was racing. I could make out clearly the ominous dark form coming straight toward us at 2 knots, pushed by the tide and the shrieking wind. Thirty tons of screaming unforgivable metal with no one onboard which was aiming to grab our anchor pin us against the pole and reduce us to splinters in the blink of the eye. Absolutely nothing could be done and both our heads were racing to find a solution in the longest 20 seconds of our sailing life. Already our body were running around setting the outboards and getting ready for impact. I was on the verge of crying, praying, busting for a miracle to happen when suddenly Ben exclaims with relief, joy and emotion (also very unlikely, him being of the reserved sort):

“It’s gonna miss us, oh my God, It’s missing us!!!”

And it did. Against all odds, the current and the wind sightly pushed the Abomination and it passed just a couple of meters away from our delicate shiny sterns. That’s when you know that both our mums have been sacrificing to the right gods to grant us safe life at sea. When you think that you did well to release such and such fish and somewhere maybe someone is counting for all the bit of plastic you have been fishing out of the ocean.

That’s when the air seems lighter and the rain warm even when it is actually icy. This great feeling of immense gratitude directed towards everything on Earth for sparing Inara.

We watched the Thing going into the main stream of the flowing creek, turned around a couple of times before it hit the river bank on the other side. It hung there, looking as it wanted a second go at us, revengeful and full of hatred for nice shiny looking fast catamarans.

After a couple of hours watching the tide starting to recede, we finally were convinced that it couldn’t come back toward us and grind us to pieces. We went back to bed. I was seriously praying for this Horror to either sink (and block the ferry, haha), either to be taken out at sea with the ebbing tide and never be heard of, ever again. It would only have been fair for the owner.

Oh, did I mention that the owner DID NOT PUT ANY ANCHORS OUT WHILE BEACHING!!!???

He just let that Monstrosity on the beach, on its own, with absolutely no anchors, while a westerly change was forecast and went back to his home to warm his feet to the fire. Nooo Wooorries maaaate…!!! What a moron!

Anyway, in the early hours of the morning, we heard a huge splash. The Bloody trawler was back in the water for God’s sake! It had fallen from the high bank it was hanging to. A nice fall of two meters that put it a bit on its side and it started taking water. Finally!!!! Yeaaah!!!

Alas, the tide was still ebbing and before the water had finished its work on burying this mountain of worries, the owner was back. He was quite surprised, the damn fellow to find his boat taking the water on the other side of the river. “How this can possibly happen?” he might have thought.

Ben went to have a serious talk with him but he quickly realized the depth of the guy’s wits when he sheepishly announced:

“Well, back in the days, we used to beach it there and it wouldn’t go anywhere.”

Yeah sure, and back in the day, the tides were smaller too?

Anyway, he eventually emptied the water out of his boat and put it back afloat. And then he beached it on the exact same spot, a bit on higher ground. He put an anchor out, a small one. Ben went to give him a tide chart and he also he told him that the tides were going to the neap tide, meaning the range was getting smaller. We put Inara a bit higher, just to  be sure that we would be out of reach for the Monster. We missed the very important cricket match India VS Australia because we were so worried for Inara, so we stayed aboard (with the radio on the cricket though…)

The obvious thing happened: His boat didn’t float on the next high tide and neither on the following one. After being a great Danger for the creek users, it was stuck for good!

But the story doesn’t stop here, for the next three following days, the owner brought a huge pump and he literally dug his boat out of the beach, moving hundred of kilos of sand. Finally, it worked and the Thing left a huge hole of 10 X 3 meters in the sandbank.

Ben joked saying “You think he will tie his boat to the jetty or just leave it there without any mooring line thinking that it would be alright?”.

Apart from this, I fell in love with Tasmania. I mean : “Waaahoo!!!”. This island gives you so much a feeling of freedom and wilderness; the air is sooooooo clean, the wildlife is everywhere, there are creeks at every corner and mountains tickling the horizon. There is also a strong spirit of self sustainability, largely increased these last decade, so you can find locals dairies (cheese, yogurt), veggies grown by the amish, free range everything, RAW honey and a larger range of organic products than on the continent. And all the fruits that we get in Europe (similar climate), and the seafood and so on….

What about the TASMANIANS though? Well, they sure are not the best welcoming people on Earth. But you can’t really hold a grudge against them when you consider that most of them live in semi isolation in farms or acreages and that they go through a very hard winter copping with all those westerlies coming from the Antarctic…. Brrrr…. And if they all look alike, it’s because they are not so many cousins you can actually marry. (hahaha) Joke apart, I think they are two very distinct categories of people in Tasmania: the farmers/ loggers/ miners and the hippies/ greenies/alternative genre. They have fought well for twenty years now, but in the last years, I would say the second group (which I like a lot) is having the upper hand.

Anyway, with all of that, Tasmania has a plethora of National Parks (none of them free by the way, but we usually never enter through a door; coming from the water; so, we don’t pay). And also Tasmania has this delicate trendy development taste for eco-tourism; in their first priorities: MOUNTAIN BIKING !!!! YEAHHH!!

Oh yeah, I forgot to explain: the BenAnna Team is an “Aquatic” team in … Summer (or when the temperature is over 20C in the water) with plenty of windsurfing, spearfishing, snorkeling, fishing. But in… Winter, we change our coats and we jump our MTB 29er that we love so much.

It happens that they built the ultimate last MTB complex in Derby, Tasmania. They did it for the Worl wide Cup in May 2015 and it opened in February. We were there in April…. J. Just awesome, there is no other word for it. The complete loop is around 20 km, taking you through not less than 5 different types of forests. The track is PERFECT with heaps of obstacles, boulder riding, bumps,  jumps, rock garden, mud and an endless succession of smooth beams while going down. It’s unbelievable the work they have done through such a beautiful valley, culminating at the top around the 200-300 m climb, a stream in the middle, gullies with tree ferns, huge massive eucalypts several centuries old. A day there and it’s a journey you would never forget.

What else happened in Tasmania worth saying…? Heaps, but I will shorten this post already long. We caught up with a friend and went walking up to the Myall waterfall and then to the plateau. A good hike, the top being at 1600 m. We came back knacked, well past dark.

Oh and Port Sorel. At the moment it’s probably the most probable place I would think of, if I was buying a block of land. It’s just awesome. A nice clear river, sea anchorage, national park around, the best French bakery up to now, wildlife absolutely EVERYWHERE and the state reserve free of people up to the Tamar river. Briggs reserve is criss crossed by trails, forest trails, and fire trails, pretty hilly, awesome mountain biking. There is NO ONE (no car allowed, and no tourists hiking as the smallest loop is 20km); it’s not advertised, it so beautiful and perfect.

Anyway, I loved Tasmania and I am looking forward to go back there. Here are some of the animals we had the chance seeing while there: Wombats, Potorroos, Benett’s wallaby, Echnidae, Yellow Wattle birds, King Parrot, Tiger snake.

Mallacoota, town of the dead and first crossing of Bass Strait.

The following events happened during March-April 2015.

We left Sydney on a pink cloud. From there, there wer a few weeks of classic drama comedy featuring Dan (Ben’s father), a rotten trimaran and a very unreliable buyer (this guy was a complete joke really). As a result, we successfully left Eden the whole lot of us three (BenAnna,  Dan and a 100 kg of Dan’s gear) on Inara. The wind was fluky, once more. We spent the night in Bittangabee creek (in the midst of Ben Boyds National Park). On the following morning we headed south toward Gabo Island. This island is the corner mark south east of Australia and the conditions are generally quite rough producing an amazing barren rugged landscape mastered by the most beautiful lighthouse than humanity has ever erected in such an unwelcoming place. A straight phallus of purpled Bordeaux pinky sandstone, so elegant and dignified within the colonies of seals surrounding it, this beacon of rocks seats on the edge of a deep sapphire sea foaming at its feet with rage and envy. The weather was fair while we sailed past but you could easily imagine screaming seas and despair as attest the high number of wreckages all around the island. This place truly is the last resting place of many sailors and innocent souls transiting through a country mean at its core and treacherous with its weather and coastal shores.

The weather forecast and the exposure of the anchorage (next to a wreck) didn’t convince us to stay; so we changed our plans and went to check the entrance of the bar of the Mallacootha lake. The bar was quite shallow even at high tide and the depth wasn’t much more than one meter at the entrance of the creek. It is clear that those sands can easily close the bar in the event of a good storm , so the risk of being stuck inside the lake is real. But as you should know; ”adventure!, adventure!, adventure!” prevails with the BenAnna team (and Dan) and we were excited with the prospects of new discoveries to be made in a place where very few yachts can enter. We anchored next to a little island in the middle, with clear ocean water all around still. The depth being quite shallow in many places (2m), we realized that the tidal range was almost equal to nothing (20 cm). The following day, we dinghy-travelled (20 min, our dinghy is quite slow) to the town of Mallacootha. We were thrilled to discover that they were hot showers in free access in the middle of the town.

However, the reason for this providence left us a bit less enthusiastic: the hugest caravan park I have ever seen composed ¾ of the town! Even this late in the season (autumn) the caravan park was 20% full with your favorite kind of vacationners:  The Grey Nomads!

This simply means that there were at least 1000 people over 55’s populating a town of 200 people (probably retirees also anyway). As a consequence, the delightful lady at the bakery (usually in their 20’s) was wrinkly; as well as the cashers at the supermarkets or any other person active in the town. The terrace of the many cafes were all full with oldies and their dogs; both smelling of liters of perfume. I even saw a “young” woman in her mid 50’s wearing an extra short girlish skirt assorted with pigtails. Weird. They were everywhere with their turbo diesel 4×4 towing the caravan full of the last trendy outdoor chinese gear that they would never use anyway because they only station in perfectly well groomed caravan park….

Ben and I were the youngest in town (and we are not that young anymore…)and it seemed so surrealistic that it clearly freaked us out. It looked as if a spell (or a giant aging laser) had been cast on Mallacootha and everyone had turned 60 overnight.

Dan was fine though. Good camouflage, I guess. But even him was shaken by the observation. I don’t mean to be disrespectful or inconsiderate toward people of a certain age but it is quite unsettling to see a full community without anyone with their original hair color. A good thing is that they all sported a good health, social amusement and outdoor love obviously. Nevertheless, we joked about zombie invasion endlessly while staying in Mallacootha.

We still swallowed a few pies at the little bakery (this has its own importance for what follows) and we moved Inara toward the bays further inland of this internal sea.

We anchored close to the spotted dog gold mine (only accessible by boat) in a perfectly calm body of water.  Ben was feeling a bit fuzzy and I, myself, wasn’t feeling too well but I was resolved to explore the gold mine. I said to Ben that bushwalking the four kilometers to the mine would probably be good for him to overcome his queasy feelings and he agreed reluctantly to follow along. If I had known what an ordeal I was preparing for both of us, I would have tucked him myself inside the warm blankets and left him in peace. But the BenAnna republic can be a bit of a dictatorship sometimes….

Anyway, we proceed to land ashore and walk toward the mine. On the way, we stopped to check out the tombstones of an old abandoned cemetery that host the remains of the miners, most of them drowned into the lake, curiously. Everything was silent, way too silent. The birds and insects were making a lot of efforts to be utterly quiet. Maybe they were not there at all….A solid feeling of awkwardness filled the place and Ben mentioned for the first time that this was probably a cursed place. It felt that way anyway.

After the cemetery, the gold mine wasn’t different. A few signs explained the meaning and the organization of the site. I desperately looked for gold, in vain. Ben continued muttering that the curse was on us (I might also  have seat on a tombstone or two while coming back…) We came back home and Ben wasn’t feeling any better. The pie, or the curse, or the fact that it was Friday the 13th, put him to bed and the fever rose to a solid 40+C in a couple of hours. That fever was not to go down at anytime for the next 3 days. All the signs of a severe food poisoning were present and poor Benny couldn’t even keep a glass of water in. On the 3rd day, giving up to my nagging (and experience with acute food intoxication, thanks to Asia) , Ben agreed to start a course of generic antibiotics. This brought some improvement just in time to jump on the next weather system. Or so, we thought that Ben was in shape.

In the morning of the departure (Monday 16th), we realized that the swell had seriously picked up and the bar looked dangerous with waves breaking all over it like a set of teeth frothing toothpaste in anticipation of our gulping.  But we all trusted our bright skipper, back from the dead, for the crossing of that perfidious looking water. Inara is an exceptional boat and when one the foaming wave caught us sideways, Inara just went over it as if nothing happened. We didn’t even get any water in the cockpit or on decks while Dan and I were bracing for impact. Ben was still a bit in the clouds apparently, the outside was standing but in his head he was still fighting the demonic fever. We started motoring for a couple of hours and then we hoisted the spinnaker. Benny was still the wrong shade of green and he stayed in his cabin most of the time, coming on deck only for the sails changes and navigation control. We were so lucky to have Dan onboard which gave us a lot of comfort regarding sailing experience and watches. But more than anything, It’s Inara that crossed Bass Straits almost on her own, she glided down the waves under spinnaker as a joyful child of the sea. When the wind freshened in the evening, we hoisted the jib and nothing else was much needed to keep a good fast constant speed. We passed the Sisters Island at 2 am and Ben was once again on deck to advise on the anchoring spot. Finally, at 4 am we plunged the pick in the bay behind Roydon Island.

Tired but happy, we had finally crossed Bass Straits!

Sydney, Two yachties lost in translation

Most of the people in Australia have been in Sydney; so this article might not be of a great help for Aussie readers and might even seems over enthusiastic. However from an European point of view and even more from a yachtie perspective, I say it clear and loud: SYDNEY IS THE MOST MAGICAL PLACE EVER!

It was clear after a few testings from Ben of my expectations that there was no way he could avoid to set sail for the big smoke; a place, I was also afraid of, as I never had visited it, but to which I was attracted with a clear mix of curiosity and dread. Cities terrify us. You see, we are so accustomed to open spaces, empty outdoor, clean air and peaceful sounds that any kind of megapolitan human activity throws a tantrum into our senses, resulting into terrible headaches, nauseas, anxiety, general feeling for getting out of it the fastest way possible.

I was expecting Sydney to be a dirty nightmare, scaling the Gold Coast to an insignificant troublesome town; and I have been rewarded of my cowardice by the most delightful experience of a city I could have ever imagine.

For starters, we sailed from the North. The wind was fluky and weak and we were making our way south along the huge sandstone cliffs bordering this part of the coast of New South Wales. Those abrupt white rock walls tower the sea from a couple of hundred meters. The rebound of the swell creates a chaotic state of the sea, ideal to trigger any seasickness buried deep under mind control. I couldn’t wait to see the city in the distance, expecting the looming of the skyscrapers making their way slowly toward us like a monster with giant teeth.

But there was nothing more than an endless line of beautiful cliffs and Port Jackson was nowhere to be seen. I started even to question the GPS and Ben. I even  believed that the NSW capital was to be around the next corner in the far distance but nowhere close. Ben laughed.  And there it was, unsuspected from behind the curtain of the ridge, the most famous line of buildings in the southern hemisphere materialized itself as if by magic. The contrast was breathtaking: the modern and futuristic creation of the human civilization was just unveiled by a face of sheer rock. It was sitting as a lady all in heights and gleam next to a shimmering blue pond that is Port Jackson. All around the extend of the water, beautiful houses and mansions were making discreet enquiries from within the trees. It was bright green, bright blue, sand, and metal. And how could I forget the dozens of sails going in every directions, with crafts of every size in this bright light of the late morning. Even the ferries look so authentic with their lines from another time and their green and yellow paint making them look like model crafts. Inara was gliding as always and we went downwind gently into the harbor, amazed at all the things around and all the boats being so courteous to each other.  Behind the Sydney tower in the distance, we could see the sails of the Opera House and just to the right of it the impressive figure of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was so excited and I was running around with my camera like a mad tourist, half tending the sails, half talking to Ben, half drinking my half of the celebration beer. Completely half 100% annoying Ben as he says it.

I couldn’t believe it when we actually sailed under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it’s like sailing under the Eiffel Tower! So huge and so impressive!

Making a long story short, we anchored into Blackwattle bay which is 10 minutes walking from Darling Harbour (the heart of the CBD). It is also under the M5 western suburbs 8 lines highway (Anzac Bridge) and we got a heavy load of fumes at traffic hour coming down to the water. That and the screaming, yelling longboat paddlers passing very next to Inara, we paid the price for being in a city. We visited the Maritime Museum and got given two tickets for free by a old lady to climb up the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We strolled down Glebe Point Road and its string of restaurants from all over the world, including a couple of French bakeries. We educate ourselves by checking on the expositions of the modern Art gallery of NSW. Complete tourists.

But the part that really made Sydney a VIP experience for the BenAnna team was the following: You can actually anchor for 24 Hours in Farm Cove, in the middle of the botanicals gardens, just under the Sydney Opera House and feel that you are the only (we were) quality guests of an exceptional modern capital. We left our dinghy attached to the jetty just under the Opera House and walked hand in hand looking at Inara displaying her graceful lines in the middle of all those wonderful buildings. Like a seabird in a classical fountain surrounded by sandstones, she looked so supernatural by absolutely not out of her league.

And then, at nighttime the magic continued. We enjoyed sundowners in the cockpit contemplating the Sydney Harbour Bridge when we noticed a few ferries full of tourists going around. As the night settled, our biggest surprise and my dearest wish were completed out of luck. Ben didn’t propose but he pretended that the wonderful fireworks illuminating the Bridge was made especially for me.

And I am sure it was

BenAnna Bootcamp in Port Stephens

Some time after leaving Brisbane in January,we finally came by our spinnaker in the Gold Coast.  We left that dump quickly(I hate the Gold coast, a cheap imitation of Miami , depraved, dirty and obnoxious, even worse than Noosa); an eye sore on an otherwise very nice coast line.

We passed Byron Bay and stayed at Ballina (where Inara was built) for a few days. Ballina is also a dump, a flooding one, but there, we caught up with a couple of characters that Ben knew since the construction of Inara and we had a wholesome good time recalling stories and people. After this, we had the most sociable section of our trip, we met several others yacthies, and had endless cup of teas, up to Coffs Harbour. I thought I would never stop having our boat spotless clean in case someones comes to visit… Did I mention we spend 3 weeks in Iluka//Yamba, waiting for the northerly wind that never occurred?

A great spot by the way, with a lot of cycling to do around and not less than FIVE beaches to explore on the Iluka side. We met a couple of great people going north (they will recognize themselves when they read this) that spent ten years building their own boat which turned out looking very good. One of those rare persons that seem to enjoy everything they do and yet never being short of happiness and optimism.  Most of the yachties being blaze and fatalists, this was a noticable change for once.

Finally, we jumped on the extremey rare and fluky northely wind to reach Coffs Harbour and then Port Stephens. Let’s not forget that we had used our spinakker EVERY SINGLE trip so much the wind was weak, capricious and changeable. We even overtook a beautiful Schionning design in light conditions as Inara goes up to windspeed with the right angle and the spinnaker; this works  from 4 knots of wind up to 10 knots of breeze. I love that cat so much that it’s difficult sometimes to stop bragging about her  exceptional performances, sorry. One day, I’m sure someone will overtake us and it will break my heart.

Getting down to the point; we arrived in Port Stephens, our windsurfing Mecca. After a few days of socializing around (Ben grew up in Port Stephens and there is still some close friends and family friends living there); we got what we were on the run for: 4 days of a good Northely forecast to enjoy pure gliding  with our personal water sailing toys. If there is one thing of the best summer could offer to us, it had been these amazing days.

Safely anchored behind Yaccaba, the sacred northern headland of Port Stephens, our boards and sails were permanently rigged at the back of Inara. Our cockpit became temporally a fiidling/adjusting spot where screw drivers, booms protectors, fins cover were hanging around, in a cheerful smell of neoprene, which tight my guts in a knot of excitement. I can’t believe there is any other sport on Earth that would be as rewarding as windsurfing. The sensation of freedom, acceleration and symbiosis with the elements is unmatchable. Absolutely all the muscles of your body work at once and you brain puts you in a semi consciousness belonging to a super hero fantasy.

The first days we kept on the northern side of the bay and didn’t venture across as the wind was a bit fluky and had a bad habit to drop out suddenly past 4 pm.  We were competing with the locals a bit and we enjoyed our luck to be able to live on the spot, without having to unrig on the sand or cram the gear into a car. On the second day, we hiked around Yaccaba (4 hours return trip on rocks) in the morning and even went windsurfing in the afternoon!

By the third day, we decided to move down the bay toward the entry of the creek which leads to Hawks Nest. The wind is more stable there and it’s perfect for a crossing as we thought. A solid 15-20 knots was then blowing, by 10 am we were on the water and Ben headed straight for Little beach  ahead, approximately 2.5 miles away. Ina  competitive sort of way, I kept on his heels (somewhat, he is really fast) and we were on the other side in a matter of minutes.

However, I saw him having troubles 50 meters from beach while arriving. The beach was completely sheltered and it was impossible to land elegantly without swimming. I tried once without success then turned back and came at it again, at full speed, bearing away as I approached the beach to keep enough speed and get close. No success, I failed ten meters short from the shore, the wind having dropped from a solid 15 knots to a mere 2 knots in a 50 meters distance. Raging, I tried to swim but a ferocious current was sweeping me away in direction of the rocky headland nearby.  I waterstarted and crossed the bay one more time, enjoying the great chop created by a strong wind against tide. On our second tentative, we headed for Shoal Bay, the next bay to the east, where, once again I was behind Benny and once again we were becalmed closing onto the beach. But this time we both managed to land after few minutes of acrobatics holding our sails up in very light breeze and avoiding sinking with our small boards.

Oh, I forgot; did I say to you what this was all about? The truth is that since the forlorn Gold Coast, I had this obsession for an Ice Cream. And since the beautiful Australian money is made for surfers and since basically it is made of indestructible plastic, I had a ten dollar note in the back of my harness. This was a Holy Iced cream mission and no currents or no wind fluctuation could get into the way. However, the fact that there were no Ice cream shops where we landed in Shoal Bay was a disarray in our expectations. There was no way we could have walked the 2 kilometers up the beach to the town while leaving our beloved windsurf board unattended. Without mentioning, there were currently wonderful conditions on the bay and every minute spent walking on the beach was a minute lost forever to the unconditional God of the windsurfing spirit.

So, back to Inara we went and we enjoyed a few more rides around the bay before stopping at our beloved “base camp on the sea” for lunch. Around 2 pm we were back on the water with only one idea in mind: dessert!!! I skimmed across the bay like a thunder while Ben was wondering what the hell I was doing given that Nelson Bay, where I was heading to, was well downwind from us.He finally followed, given that our sweet tooth is more powerful than the prospect of coming back against the wind and tide. We arrived dripping and laughing of our beautiful rides to the takeaway shops. I handled my dripping note and received in exchange two magnums ice cream. Lucky of us, Ben even got the winning wooden stick that allows you to get the next magnum for free. I safely pocketed it in my harness for another day and across back we went.

That when things started to get funny. For starters, that bloody beach was all sudden becalmed and the wind seriously dropped. The tide was rushing in, that means in the opposite direction to where Inara was waiting for our return. It was a straight course into the wind requiring at least 5 tacks without the tide factor. Ben was lucky and just got a gust to leave the beach (also his board has more buoyancy). I wasn’t. So I lamentably started swimming out, dragging my board behind me for a hundred meters. I remember a couple of oldies looking at me and wondering why the hell I was going back out. I hope they didn’t wait for me to come back given that I was actually going back home on the other side of the bay which is completely deserted apart for a catamaran in the distance….

Once I could finally waterstart, I realized there was no way I could make good progress against that current. On top of this, I reached some shoals on the other side that gave me some security feeling about not being swept away. However, the tide was screaming on this at a good 5 knots and even I thought I was making some progress against the wind, my margin was so small that soon enough Ben laughed at me (his board goes very well to windward) seing my pitiful effort back and forth trying to make it back to the boat. No kidding I might have done 20 or 30 tacks and I was still 500 meters far downwind from Inara. Ben was laughing but he wasn’t making much more progress, he was just having more fun and a bit of concern as the hour was getting late (4 pm). The wind was dropping more and more, the boat size in the horizon wasn’t growing at all.

Out of frustration we finally decided to hike in the beach directly into the wind. And here we are, carrying our boards and sails against the wind with water to our calves. That the moment where you think “geez I love how it always turns out to be a bootcamp…”

Two hundred meters later we finally reach the last stretch of water. Back on the straps and half an hour of tacking after we could finally touch Inara sterns. Extenuated.  The rest of our cherished Ice Creams were completely consumed. It took something ridiculous like 2 hours to go back to Inara!

Anyway, sundowners in the cockpit helped us to celebrate a fulfilled day of a memorable windsurfing mission. We left on the following morning without any regret.

Explanation on following articles

Obviously, I haven’t been very careful in keeping everyone posted or trying to publish along while sailing since last Christmas. Wether it’s because we were enjoying it too much for ourselves or because the finality of it all was somewhat uncertain, I don’t know. It’s sometimes boresome to write (or read) a careless account of a yachtie’s life with their endless listing of anchorages, tides, weather, people they got tea with, museums they visited and so on. Let’s admit it, in many places a lot of yacthies do the same kind of things and the only difference between them and the grey nomads on the road is that they sail rather that burn fuel (actually a lot of monomarans do both).

I found out that a fresh account of events would be saturated with uninteresting details and glimpses of a certain over excited tone in my writing otherwise describing commons activities. Anyway, this is my excuse for not writing on the spot but rather publishing a selection of tasteful situations months after they occurred.  How the BenAnna team philospohy maintain a continous sense of discovery; in other terms how we make our life worthy and how we avoid the boredom that sometimes friends explain by saying “ I wouldn’t know what to do with all my free time if I wasn’t going to work”.  Well, it’s a lot of work still to keep an alert attitude and not fall into the laziness of a routine made of coffee shops and sandy beaches.

Well, without falling into cliches, I leave you to enjoy (or not) the following articles as it seems that now we are inevitably on the road back to the office (and the boatyard for Ben).

A BIG Night OUT

Yesterday we went out for a cool night out. It got a bit rough toward the end. The music was good and the company the best you can expect. We didn’t get to bed until 9am, tired and happy with our feat, enjoying the serenity around us. Our body were sore from the exercise and our head were aching from the excess; we happily got rid of our outfits reeking of sweat and saltiness. The fresh water down our throat was a relief as our kidneys labored to get rid of all the toxins accumulated during the night.

But it is not what you think, it’s not just the account of another Friday night crawling bars. We crossed Bass Straits. It was freezing cold. We left yesterday at dawn on a good forecast to cover the 200 miles to Bittangabea. Most of the day, we battled to keep the spinnaker up and try to average more than 6 knts in very light breeze (supposedly forecasted at 15-20 knots…!!!). At 3 pm the wind finally remained above 8knts but the flukiness of it was outraging. We reached under main and spinnaker for a while until it collapsed again; leaving us with no other option than dropping the main sail once more and cruise slowly downwind with our big red favorite parachute. Smooth seas and calm weather were auguring a tranquil peaceful night, Inara was now stabilized at 8-10 knots/h, slowly prodding along. We enjoyed a warm boatmade chicken soup with crispy  boatmade genuine French bread and wondered at the dolphins coming along with us trailing the night with a shower of sparkles due to the phosphorescence. Happy confident insouciance.

Yes, but….

50 miles from Gabo Island (the bottom east corner of Australia mainland), the wind starting to pick up drastically and; at 15 to 20 knots, our spinnaker does a good 15 to 18 knots surfing down the waves. No dramas, It’s pretty cool, the weather announced a bit of a westerly breeze coming through. 15 to 20 knots.  But the wind continues increasing sharply, and  at 1 am, Ben wakes me up (actually I was already awake as I felt Inara going berserk down the waves  smashing water around her and even jumping from one wave to the other; literally).

“We have the get the spinnaker down”

“Yep, no worries, let’s do this!” I jump out of bed as I hurry up toward my wet gear. On deck, there is a solid 20 knts, it’s a bit shaky and sure it’s bloody fast. We managed to get the main sail up while sailing downwind and then we shadowed our spinnaker to pull the sock on it. It all worked pretty good (and wet) even when I managed to wrap the sock around the stay (moonless night), oups….. With one reef on the main sail, we were still skidding along at 8-10 knts. Chilling out. The good thing was that the intensity of the maneuver left us quite warm. It was cooling down some more.

I took on the watch just after this. My focus on my mp3 was hard to be maintained. A ghost pirate story is not the right kind of thing to listen to when the waves are roaring around you. Mexican music (Los Authenticos Decadentes) was a much better choice, a bit of salsa in the cockpit keeps you toasty warm.

However the wind strength continued to go up and a few of my dancing steps started to be approximate. Downwind at 15 knots, when you feel a breeze of 15-20 knots into your back, you count your chicken, add the numbers and think it godamn pretty windy. By the way, Inara started to go again a bit feral (but safe) and the rig felt heavily loaded on the boat. I put my best grin on and got Benny out of bed.

“We’ve got to put the second reef on, I think.” Ben looked around, muttered something about being undersailed. Seeing my anxiety and dearly wanting some sleep, he agreed also. The wind had a nice screeching tone on the upper vocals of its song. We labored a bit to get the main down some more while under power downwind; but once the surface was safely stowed away, Inara came back to a comfortable 8knts. Ben went back to sleep (or trying anyway) and I kept watch some more. At 5h30 am, the cold was horrendous, it was 12C inside Inara and it felt very comfy. Outside in the cockpit, it might have been 8 -10 C but but the windchill temperature was -3C.  Benny courageously assumed watch while he hadn’t sleep and he endured the coldest hour of sunrise while I was happily snoring under my sleeping bag.

At 7h30, I opened an eye out. Jeez, we are close to the polar circle aren’t we? The weather had settled down and an icy cold breeze was coming from mainland Australia, with a fresh tint of snow, no doubt from the ski resort at Mount Bulah.

Bittangeabea Haven gladly received our anchor on its nice soft sand. The bare minimum was packed away and a warm cup of Milo helped us to celebrate another night of debauchery with the elements. Crossing Bass Straits had terrible consequences: We lost a cushion, 3 eggs got their shells slightly cracked, our Nutella went FROZEN and we got 3 drops of saltspray on our faces…. Arrgh…

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