2002-10 (OCTOBER, 2002)

Whitsunday Islands - Queensland, Australia

'Captain Chris' was on duty as skipper for the Curtis family for five days in the Whitsunday Islands on a 36-foot catamaran motor launch.

I was up early on Saturday morning and off to catch my 09:00 flight up to Hamilton Island with plenty of time in hand. This was just as well - the airport was in chaos when I got there. I had neglected to fully allow for the kind of people-traffic associated with the Saturday morning of the first 3-day weekend of the summer. My flight up was direct and I got in just after 11:30. Unfortunately my transfer to the mainland (where I was meeting the rest of my crew) was delayed until 12:45 and turned out to be via another island, rather than direct to Shute Harbour. Thus I arrived much later than expected and therefore missed much of the briefing about our vessel, 'Sunbird', (fortunately Dave had been paying attention instead). One of the rules for 'bareback' boat charter (as DIY boat rental is known) is that the vessel must be anchored/moored-up for the night by 16:00 every afternoon. By the time we had demonstrated to our rental company representative that we could pick up a mooring it was after 15:00 so we had to steam like mad to make port by 16:00 (we were given a little grace, fortunately). Our first anchorage was in Cid Harbour with quite a number of other yachts. We had to drop the anchor a couple of times before it dug itself in, but everyone gained a good load of practice with the anchor because of this. They hopefully also gained a little confidence in their skipper's ability to spot a dragging anchor too! ;-) As evening came on we spotted our first sea-bound visitor, a lone seal who had followed the fish into our little harbour. The night was spent drinking more than a beer or two and BBQing all our fish supplies. Nice. We were also introduced to a rather pleasant South American cocktail that Paul had picked up on his travels - a mixture of white rum, fresh mint and lemonade. I slept out on the upper deck - utterly idyllic.

I was first up and had already got my first swim in for the day before anyone else had stirred. After several rounds of bacon sandwiches we upped anchor and headed south. Our ultimate destination for the day was Boat Port on the northern side of Linderman Island, but we took our time and did some fishing along the way. We also spotted our first sea turtle. 'Sunbird' was at anchor by early afternoon so we decided to assemble a picnic and go for a walk on the island. We tramped through some pleasant, but unremarkable, bush for just over 1km and plonked ourselves down at Coconut Cove. I went for a quick swim in the shallow water of the cove and got to see another turtle quite close up. After a scrummy picnic and a quick audit of the number of coconut palms in Coconut Cove (6 in total - a bit of a misnomer there) we trundled back to where we had left our tender. By this time the tide was well out and we had a small mission dragging the Naiad over the mudflats and back to the water. Upon arriving back on board we were greeted with our first little shipboard drama - the gravity-enabled lock on the toilet door had engaged itself whilst we were away. So began a race against time to get the door open (the girls were particularly anxious, being less well set up for the 'over the side' method). In the end we had to get into the tender and use the boat hook pushed in through the, thankfully, open toilet porthole. We then disabled the lock from any further operation, accidental or otherwise. What a palaver! The evening meal consisted of a shed load of BBQed steak and salads. Delish! Another beer or two slipped down with the sun, too.

By the time I'd had a lightening quick dip the rest of the boat was up and about. We got away nice and early so as to beat the crowds to Whitehaven Beach, some six miles to the north-east of our anchorage. The crossing was a bit rough (wind against tide), especially after passing Pentecost Island (the template for Dr Evil's Island Lair, I swear), but we made good time and pulled in to the glorious bay of Whitehaven Beach at around 09:30. We pretty much had the place to ourselves (the crowds of day-trippers weren't due to arrive until after 11:00) and had plenty of time for a round or two of bacon sandwiches before taking the tender ashore. We spent a very pleasant few hours on the pristine sands of this fabulous beach and then returned to the boat for lunch. We continued north in search of some good fishing for Dave and Jenny, but didn't have much luck. We elected to moor for the night in Catalan Bay at the northern end of Border Island, just inside the boundary of the Marine Reserve (no nighttime fishing that night). Paul and I were on dinner duty (BBQ chicken and salads), but I ended up doing sod all - Paul and Dave were the BBQ kings by this time. Despite the wind we had a very pleasant evening under a flawless night sky.

Another early start today so as to get a good few hours of fishing in before heading around to Butterfly Bay, another Marine Reserve with the best snorkelling in the islands. We chose Mackerel Cove as our fishing ground and Dave and Jenny began their long-awaited fishing contest (until the bait ran out anyway). Jenny won 9-8 with an eleventh hour catch using the very last piece of bait - Dave was not happy. ;-) We pootled around the northern point of Mackerel Cove and on into Marion's Cove in Butterfly Bay. Here we had to drop all of our anchor chain in order to secure ourselves in the deep waters of the cove. I looked longingly at each of the three permanent moorings in the bay and fervently wished that one would become vacant. Paul, Dave and I took the tender out for a spot of snorkelling and got to see some wonderful coral and a great variety of fish. The visibility was a bit poor, but everything else was magic. Upon returning to the boat we were pleasantly surprised to see that the boat on the mooring next to us was preparing to depart. Competition for the mooring was going to be fierce and it was now that the well-practiced anchoring team came into their own. We had completed the re-positioning of our vessel before the anchor was even fully out of the water and well before any of our anchored neighbours had realised what was happening. Smooth! Once on the mooring (much more secure than deep-water anchoring) we relaxed and spent a very pleasant evening trying to eat and drink the remainder of our supplies (quite a task, I can tell you - the girls had provisioned us very well). Dave slept up on the top deck in a fine nest constructed from every cushion on the boat.

In order to meet all of our various morning rendezvous, we had our earliest start yet. We had the waterways to ourselves and a magically calm sea. We moored up at Daydream Island for a cup of tea and some cereal (no more bacon sandwich materials left - boo hoo). At 09:30 we steamed back into Shute Harbour. We were met by another representative from the boat rental company who brought us into the wharf - I reckon our finely honed team could of handled it, though! ;-) Dave and Jenny made a dash for Mackay the moment we were alongside - they had to go and collect the hire car for the Curtis family's onward journey north. The rest of us emptied the boat and completed the hand-over (which included the story about the toilet door). At 11:00 I bid the rest of the family farewell and boarded my bus back to the airport for my flight back to Sydney. A most excellent trip altogether!

Canberra, Australia

I collected our hire car on Friday morning and loaded it up for our anniversary weekend away (five very happy years now!). Andy got away from work early and we were on the road before the rush hour traffic kicked in. Andy was still unaware of our destination (it was a surprise, after all) but had soon guessed once we had cleared the city and were out on Remembrance Drive, the main highway to Canberra. The drive took us until 21:00 and we were pretty knackered when we got in. It was here that I wished that I had jotted down better directions to our hotel - Canberra is an absolute nightmare to navigate around! We finally found our posh, but faded, hotel (The Brassey), checked in and were out again in search of a late evening meal. We ended up in the Manuka district, known for its restaurants and cafés. We ate a very pleasant Italian meal at the first restaurant we came to and then retired to a much-needed bed.

We broke our fast at the hotel (not bad either) and then motored over to the north side of the city. Our first stop was the excellent Australian War Memorial (more of a museum than a memorial). We briefly wandered around the gardens before heading inside to join a tour of the exhibits. We spent a very interesting few hours inside (did you know that Australia had conscription for the Vietnam War?) and then grabbed a bite to eat at the café. Next up was the Commonwealth Gardens and 'Floriade', the main purpose of our trip to Canberra (for Andy, anyway). 'Floriade' is an annual outdoor flower exhibition and this weekend was the last weekend of the event. We wandered around the displays and ornamental beds for a good wee while before stretching out on the grass to soak up some wonderful sunshine. Our final stop for the day was the Canberra Exhibition Centre, which contains a brief history of the city, including a section about Walter Burley Griffin, the city's designer. After returning to the hotel for a little afternoon siesta, we headed out again to the Manuka District to find ourselves a spot of dinner. We selected 'Legends', a Spanish restaurant, and sat down to a splendid meal of tapas and red wine. Yum!

On Sunday we again had breakfast in the hotel, loaded up the car and headed out to explore the south side of the city. First up was the small but interesting National Archives building. Unfortunately they were between exhibitions, but we stayed to watch a fascinating documentary about Walter Burley Griffin and his wife. Next up was the National Art Gallery, which was also very good. I was flagging a bit by then, but was revived by a surprisingly good lunch in the gallery's café. We abandoned the afternoon's itinerary in favour of a few hours of sitting and reading. At 15:30 we decided to make a run for home. We made very good time and had dropped off the car by 19:00. We cabbed it home and then went down to the gym to stretch our car-crunched legs. My last act for the weekend was a long, leisurely spa before retiring to bed. Most pleasant.

Milly Comes To Visit - Sydney, Australia

This weekend my little sister and her boyfriend, Mike, came over to Sydney for a wee break. They found their way to our house from the airport, dropped off their bags and then we were off out for dinner. As Milly had never been to Sydney before, we selected Nick's Seafood Bar & Grill in Darling Harbour as the place to introduce her to Sydney's harbourside dining experience. There we met up with brother Tim, his girlfriend, Marina, and his flatmate, Matt. The six of us (Andy was out elsewhere on her end-of-project free-food-and-drink-a-thon) sat down to an excellent meal (which included an unexpected fireworks display over the harbour - which, of course, we Sydneysiders were barely aware of, it happens so regularly). After dinner we went for a swift 'alf at the Dundee Arms on Sussex Street before guiding our visitors to a much needed bed (it was after 02:00 for them, after all).

On Saturday morning we went out for breakfast at my favourite breckie place, Kazbah On Darling. Delish! Afterwards we all went our separate ways for the afternoon.

We didn't get to see them on Sunday, as we had another diversion that evening. We were part of a Rent-a-Crowd organised by our friend, Sunil. He had found an Oxford Street café/bar (the Zipp Bar) that was up for sale and had convinced the owner to use us to fill his restaurant for the evening (to make it look good when the prospective buyer came past) in exchange for free food and wine. We happily obliged and were treated to some great food, a lot of very cheap red wine and a dance act courtesy of a combats-clothed nut-case who happened to be walking by. A very surreal night altogether - however the Zipp Bar's owner has invited us back next Sunday, as well. Strange, but true.

Monday brought my first day back at work since May (boo hoo), but I did get a last chance to see Milly before she returned to NZ. We all met up for lunch at the Sydney Town Hall (Milly, Mike, Tim, Andy and myself). We scoffed kebabs in the sun (the only sun Milly had seen all weekend, unfortunately) before bidding each other farewell. It was great to see her, I can tell you!