Sunday, December 27, 2020

Rottnest Island

[Kyle]Christmas morning at the Fremantle Sailing Club was a picture of tranquility. As far as I could tell, Maryanne and I were the only ones up and about at the normally busy marina. The water was flat, too. We untied, gave Begonia a gentle push and bid farewell to Freo.

Departing Fremantle Sailing Club while calm (a rare moment)

Once we were out of the marina, the wind gradually filled in from the south. We took it easy and sailed under just the jib to Rottnest. My back was kinda playing up and I wasn't up to hoisting the main for such a short trip.

We bypassed Thomson Bay, which was chock-a-block full of moored boats packed together like cars at a drive-in theater. Next was Geordie Bay, which was even more densely packed. No room for us. Finally, we came to Parakeet Bay, which only hosted half a dozen boats. Parakeet's saving grace is that the bottom is a patchwork of half sand, half thick grass. The sand is good holding, but the grass is definitely not. This keeps the long-term boats somewhat spaced out, although still a bit close.

Anchored in Parakeet Bay, backed by sand dunes

In between, on the grassy patches, are the short-termers. These are mostly runabouts and flashy cabin cruisers who select their spot for proximity to the beach or because it looks like a good spot to fish. They'll show up, drop their anchor until it disappears into the grass and then throw out another ten feet of rope (it's always just rope with them) for good measure. Then they will start whipping out the fishing poles or the inflatable toys or whatever. After a few minutes, someone aboard (usually a kid alternating beers with juice boxes) notices they are dragging. Then someone rushes to the helm, starts the engine and pushes the button to retrieve the anchor. It emerges as a ball of weed. Then they move a bit and drop the whole ball at a new spot, still clearly in the weeds. After the third or fourth try and a few close calls with other boats, they usually give up and head somewhere else, trailing a big string of weed. This is exactly as Liz had said it would be. Also like she said it would be: few boats stayed for the night. The ones that remained were well spaced behind their individual sand patches. She was wrong about the naked woman thing, though. I'm still at the normal amount.

We had expected the density of anchored boats, particularly the not-so-good-at-it crowd, to go from high to crazy as the holiday progressed. A big (30-45kt) blow was in the forecast for Boxing Day, which we think not only kept people away that day, but sent them scurrying back to Perth on Christmas afternoon. Still, quarters were a bit close to feel it was really safe to leave the boat unattended. That was fine. My back was probably not up for a walking lap of the island.

Maryanne had not even had a chance to make her disappointed face when I informed her of my plan to give her the best Christmas present ever: a day without me bothering her! I knew she would not want to miss the island, so I insisted she go while I watch Begonia. She was surprised, but took the offer and was quickly rowing ashore to spend Christmas walking the roads of Rottnest like a lonely bag lady.

I think she had a good time. The island has lots of beautiful beaches and the clouds from the approaching blow made for some stunning photographs.

In no time at all, while I was watching the Parakeet Bay drag race, she texted me pictures of her first quokka. Rottnest was named after them by William de Vlaming, who mistook them for rats, and so named the island 'Rat's Nest' in Dutch. This was clearly in the days before corrective lenses were available to the aged, which was anybody over twenty-five in 1696. Quokka's are not rats, but are instead tiny little wallabies, which are small kangaroos. Therefore qoukkas are Australia's tiny, cute, friendly little chipmunk-cheeked 'roos.

Maryanne had been really wanting to see one. She needn't have worried. Rottnest is a protected zone for them, with over ten thousand on the island. They are well accustomed to humans and are more than patient enough to wait for you to get your camera out and set up the perfect shot before joining you on your walkabout. Maryanne's quokka practically climbed into her lap like a cat looking for a cuddle. I'll let her expand if she wants, but she arrived home looking happy with her day while simultaneously saying things like, “It wasn't the same without you”, etc. Well, of course it wasn't! She got through the whole day without having to do first aid on me OR having me eat half of her ice cream before she even got to see what it tastes like. It must have been just miserable for her.

Maryanne: Oh boy, we had a such a short time at Rottnest, and I really wanted to get ashore; I was crushed when Kyle revealed his back just wasn't up to it, but he nudged and encoraged me that it was OK to leave him alone on Christmas Day. So off I went. I walked along the various trails between Parakeet Bay and "The Settlement" in Thomson Bay. The island is really idyllic, covered in sand dunes (think Nantucket). No private vechicles are allowed (there are just a couple of busses and an ambulance), so most people invest in a bicycle to get around. Aside from the roads, there are miles of trails that criss-cross the island. Like all things Australian, Rottnest is abbreviated to "Rotto" by the modern-day locals, but its native name is Wadjemup meaning "place across the water where the spirits are". While its population is just in the low 300s on busy tourist days (like Christmas) there can be 15,000 people ashore. Most come for the day on the ferry, but there is a hotel and a host of self-catered accomodations and camp sites (even glamping) avaiable.

Aside from the snakes, I was also looking out for the native quokka since it seems every visitor is pretty much guaranteed to get a quokka picture if they want to. It took me a few miles of hiking (apparently the tame ones favor the town), but YES - I did get to see a few of them too (I was so excited).

Once I reached the settlement, I had planned a slightly different route back to the boat (via the ponds), but I was starting to feel guilty about leaving Kyle alone. Amazingly the bus was running on Christmas Day, and I grabbed the option to take the bus back; this would not only get me home sooner, but with the added benefit that it would first drive me around all the remainder and greater part of the island. From the commentary I learned that the train and a host of other tourist stuff is currenly closed (for upgrades and maintenance) - so I figured that would help Kyle feel a little better that he hadn't made it (mabye?).

Rotto, its beaches, and its quokka

It was a bit chilly, but I managed a quick snorkel around the bay too

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Fremantle & Perth

[Kyle]Our first day in Freo, as the locals call it, was the usual boring boat chores – laundry and check-in and trying to chase down our missing rigging order. The next day was my birthday though, so Maryanne made me go out with her to have some fun.

We started with a long walk to the town center, making a point of stopping along the way at anything that looked interesting. We rode a Ferris wheel and found lots of interesting cafes and pubs. We also found several good second-hand bookstores, including a chart store with a ridiculous selection of maps for sale. You can buy maps of Scotland there that are printed in French, or one of Estonia in German. How much market must they have for those in Fremantle, I have no idea, but they've got 'em.

{Maryanne: Fremantle was the early settlement for the area, and the historic feel of the town remains; and is now the port town (practically a suburb) of Perth, the capital of Western Australia}.

We both really liked Freo. It's small enough to be personable but big enough to be interesting. Once we were sufficiently footsore and filled with historical tidbits, we topped off the day with a don't-even-look-at-the-prices dinner at a brewpub, which had been recommended by a few of the different people we had met along the way.

Exploring Freo for Kyle's Birthday

So much for fun, back to Boat Jobs.

Tony, from the rigging company, showed up to finally finish the last of the installation with the newly arrived parts. After getting everything apart, he found out the parts were the wrong size. Oh, you have got to be kidding me!!

These parts don't seem to be a match - Ugh! More delays

Nope. Not kidding. After receiving the first delayed and incomplete order, our rigger reordered the parts using the part numbers stamped on our existing parts (in this case, the lower sockets for the diamond stay turnbuckle stemballs. That's for you, Darren). The new parts weren't even close to the right size. Now they needed to put in a third order, which included very careful measurements of the part we actually wanted. It would be here in something like another week. Well, that gives us some more time to explore, I guess.

The next day, we were planning on having some more Freo fun. First, all I had to do was change the water pump on the port engine. A gasket within had failed, which takes hours of fiddly disassembly to access. Maybe I would tackle that later. For now, I'll just swap it for a brand new one from our spares. That job takes ten to twenty minutes.

The problem was that when I opened the engine compartment, something didn't look right. It took me a while to realize what it was: Our Webasto cabin heater was leaning against the engine. It is (was) mounted on an 'L' bracket that is screwed to a big wooden block epoxied to the sidewall. The epoxy had failed and the whole mess was resting against the engine. I guess that passage had been a little rougher than I had thought! We had considered firing the heater up when it got really cold after we arrived the first night. Now we were glad we hadn't.

So now I had to deal with that before we tried to use the engine or the heat. The day's fun was canceled.

Re-epoxying the wooden block back to the wall was relatively easy (No it wasn't. It took two tries), but the screws for the bracket were being blocked by the heater, so the heater had to be removed from the bracket first. ALL of the attachments between the heater and the bracket, including fuel, electrical and exhaust fittings are, of course, on the bottom, where I cannot see or reach them without putting fifty percent of my body weight on my head on the engine compartment floor and the other fifty percent on my left collarbone, which was smashed against a very bolty part of the engine block. At least the engine had not been run for two days.

The work was very frustrating. I had to use one hand to support the weight of the heater, one hand to undo the fastener and the other to hold the wires so they don't get yanked out. Then I used the other other hand to keep the fuel line from snapping. Wait, that sounds like too many hands. Okay, so one hand must have been my knee and the other was definitely my face.

While all of this was going on, we had visitors! Liz and Bernie were two friendly engineers (one English and one American) who also have an Athena, just like Begonia. They had also come from up north, having arrived just a few weeks before us. They were now 'home' at their base, where they could spend time with their family and start refilling the cruising kitty.

Maryanne wanted to invite them for dinner. I was nowhere near finished, and not even able to extricate myself to come up to meet them, so we changed it to drinks later. When later came, I was almost finished, but then I would need a long shower before I wouldn't appear to be a scary engine room troll, so we moved it to coffee the next morning.

We kept that appointment. Bernie and Liz are just lovely. Being a pair of engineers, their boat is equipped with all sorts of useful modifications that the rest of us have not been able to find the time to do. We got lots of great ideas, though, so life should surely be getting more comfortable for us soon. First on the list is a cushy double helm seat that we can both enjoy.

We spent lots of time with them, which always had us looking at our watches afterwards wondering where it had all gone. They are so easy to pass the time with that we instantly felt sad that we would have to be leaving them and Perth so soon. After our first flurry of boat jobs were done, they took us on a tour of the city in their car, which turned into a dinner out. They knew the area well and were a great source of advice and entertainment.

They had more to worry about than hanging out with us, though. Bernie had a few days of what he says was particularly bad bout of acid reflux on the trip down to Perth. He went to the doctor at the town they were passing through and after a few tests, it turns out the diagnosis was much more serious and he was quickly scheduled for surgery on the Tuesday before Christmas. I guess it looked serious enough that the doctors didn't want to wait until after. They both seemed in pretty good spirits, considering, but their cruising plans have been put on hold for a little while.

Exploring Perth - Christmas decor and St Mary's (Catholic) Cathedral

Exploring Perth - A tour of the Perth Mint (home of the world's largest gold coin) and to see them pouring a gold ingot

A trip to the Bell tower where we not only heard the professionals play, but got to try ourselves (it's quite a work-out)

Perth Waterfront - Elizabeth Quay and a ferry ride over to South Perth

Perth AlleyWays are slowly being spruced up

Yagan Square

Perth's Kings Park Botanic Gardens
The flower is a sand-dune fringed lily

Maryanne and I spent a couple more days touring the museums and sights in Perth on foot as well as getting a better look at many of the places Liz and Bernie had taken us. We also spent another whole day in Fremantle, mostly in prison. No, wait – AT the prison, which is now the former prison because it wasn't up to standard anymore. They were still using buckets for toilets when they closed in 1994. At the excellent Shipwreck Museum, we even got to see Dirk Hartog's plaque.

Beaches, Bars, Museums, Markets and artworks - there was plenty to keep us occupied in Freo

Two days before the big Christmas holiday starts and all of the businesses shut, after yet another day's delay in shipping, Tony arrived with the correct stemball sockets and had them installed in a flash. The temperature had reached 41.5C (107F), so he got to feel like he was back in Exmouth again. At least the job was only minutes and not hours.

The new stemball sockets were stamped with a different part number than our old ones, which is why we got the wrong part last time. Tony and Brent initially thought the manufacturer, Z-Spar, had inexplicably changed the part number, but after calling them, they found out the real story: Way back when, they had made a batch of the wrong (to us) parts and then changed over all of the tooling to make the next size up, which was our parts. What they forgot to do was change the number they stamped on the new series. Our old parts ended up being two of them. We had the right parts, but with the wrong number stamped on them. That's the number we used to order what turned out to be the wrong parts. Apparently, there were also other parts in that batch that also got sent out and the factory has no way of knowing where they are until someone like us complains. Now our new parts are the correct size AND have the correct number stamped on them. Still missing is our backup forestay, though. Brent promised to rush it over on his way out of town the next morning. We had planned to be gone by then, but I guess one more day won't hurt us.

In the evening, Liz stopped by and shared some drinks with us. Bernie's surgery went well and after only a day and a half, he was out of the ICU and into a normal ward. He had even already been up and walking and Liz said he seemed and looked way better than expected. He was already joking about coming back home to the boat and fixing a few things. That was good to hear.

She asked about our plans. We told her we'd been delayed another day for parts, but that we were planning on leaving on Christmas Day for Rottnest Island. She gave us lots of great tips and kept telling us that it was really nice, just please don't judge it by what it's like on Christmas and Boxing Day.

Rottnest is pretty much THE place to go for every boater in the greater Perth area and Christmas is the day they all go for Amateur Week. Her stories very much reminded us of our last Christmas in Sydney, with booming party boats all crammed in way too close and then dragging anchors all over the place while no one is paying attention. She hinted that we may get a better than average chance of sharing the anchorage with naked women (think USA spring break).