Adventures

I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Townsville


Have you ever wondered what a dumpy little town would be like if it had all the money in the world?  Your answer might reside in Townsville, where, with the recent economic boom due largely to mining, the crappy little town has actually become quite nice.  To be fair, I had not visited Townsville prior to Monday, so I can't give you an exact account as to what the city was like 20 years ago, but I imagine it was not particularly nice.  

Why is Townsville not very nice, you might ask?  We can begin with geography.  The city is located at 20 degrees south, which means it is tropical, or to put it more bluntly, HOT.  Fortunately it is now May and going into the "winter", which means that the humidity occasionally drops below 80%, the temperature below 70 and it doesn't rain for days upon days.

Second, although Townsville is located on the coast, you can't swim here.  Or rather you can, but you take the risk of being stung by one of five dangerous jellyfish or being eaten by a saltwater crocodile.  Granted, the highest risk for getting stung by an Irukandji or Box jelly is November - May, but I'd rather not take my chances.  (These jellyfish are also found out on the reefs but are way more common by the mainland.)  Even if there was nothing in the water to kill you, the water itself is not very inviting -- it is murky, super salty and contaminated from local mining pollution.  

So not only is it hot but you can't swim.  However, with the massive amount of money pouring in from the mines, as well as the huge numbers of families that have moved to Townsville to live closer to work, the powers that be decided to make the city more livable.

On The Strand, the stretch of about a mile from the marina to the end of the main drag along the water, there is an olympic sized public pool ("heated" although totally unnecessary) and next to that there is a kid's water-park -- free and open all day every day.  But if you don't like chlorine or want a more "natural" atmosphere, there is also a manmade saltwater Rock Pool at the far end of The Strand.  The free guide states, "Sea water is constantly pumped into the pool, after being strained from marine life and stingers into a natural beach setting.  The pool, which is about 10 times the size of an olympic swimming pool, has the entire water volume replaced every three hours."  Moral of the story?  At least for now, money has conquered nature and Townsville has a safe swimming beach.

After a swim in the Rock Pool (I couldn't resist a salty swim without worry of stings or bites) I walked around town.  I came across "The Sweatshop", a cute little hipster cafe with cool art on the walls and funny (albeit cheeky) signs out front, where I got the best cappuccino I've had in a long time.  

Yes, in spite of my low expectations I actually found Townsville to be a nice place.  There are tons of bars, restaurants and cafes, the Museum of Tropical Queensland (which I didn't get a chance to visit but hear is good), some nice hikes, good dives and other tourist attractions.  

Then again, I am not particularly sad that we only spent two nights there.  While I was pleasantly surprised by the city, I was also glad to leave.  We are now en route to Cairns and hope to be there in a few days.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Whinging in the Whitsundays




I guess it's not all bad..

I shouldn’t whinge.  I mean, I REALLY shouldn’t whinge.  Some people work their whole lives to charter a boat for a week in the Whitsundays, to sail from isle to isle through aquamarine water looking for the perfect anchorage where steep, tropical-green mountains meet powdery white sand beaches; all the while keeping a lookout for sea turtles, manta rays, dugongs and, at the right time of year, whales. 

But I – I am not that impressed.  And I really don’t know why.  I honestly can’t tell if I set my expectations too high or if I just have a shitty attitude, if I was deceived by the stunning aerial photos or my vision is clouded by desire for crystal clear water and/or waves.  But I can tell you one thing: I am incredibly spoiled.  I am the first to admit it.  However, as you are my friend and confidant I am sure you won’t mind if I vent for a bit.

We arrived in the Whitsundays almost a week ago after a quick overnighter during which we were nearly run over by a freighter but saved thanks to my quick, evasive action.  The next afternoon we were greeted by the beautiful sands of Whitehaven beach, known for having the purest silica sand in the world – so pure in fact that sand from this beach was sent to the U.S. in order to make the lens for the Hubble Telescope.  (I am not sure if this is actually true, but it makes for a good story and was told to me by a tour guide.)

Once we set the anchor I went for a paddle in the kayak to get the scoop.  You see, the Whitsundays are an excellent cruising ground and are also a charter boat hotspot.  You might think that the fact that people who have no idea how to sail whatsoever are anchoring right next to us might have put me off, but really it just made things a bit more interesting.  I could have also been put off by the heaps of tour boats dumping 30 snorkelers in the water with foam noodles to ensure their survival, but again, that was pure entertainment. 


Not joking or exaggerating.

In fact, and you might be surprised to learn this, but I was a bit hesitant to go in the water at first.  You see, both the box jellyfish and the microscopic Irukandji jellyfish are both incredibly painful stingers that can be fatal, and they are known to reside in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.  So I decided to ask the tour guide if it was safe to swim in the water.  “Oh yea mate, no worries this time o’ year! Although, people been stung all times of the year, no rhyme or reason to those buggers.  You’ll be ‘right though.”  Thanks for the reassurance.  Don’t even tell me about the tiger sharks.

His reassurance was enough for me and for the past few days Mom, Mary and I have been enjoying some pretty good snorkeling.  To be fair, Mary was blown away by the coral – the staghorn coral surrounded by bright blue tangs, the lettuce leaf coral being munched on by parrot fish, soft corals galore… And if I hadn’t snorkeled and dived Vanuatu and Chesterfield Reef I would have been blown away too.  It’s just… after diving with 100 feet of visibility and pristine coral, 20 feet of visibility is kind of disappointing.  Like I said, I am spoiled.  I prefer crystal clear water, steep coral walls and lots of big fish swimming around.

However, I have high hopes for the outer reefs of the GBR, the outer atolls.  I have been told (mainly by Aussies) that the northern GBR surpasses anything they saw in the South Pacific: bigger fish, more pristine coral and so on.  So once again I have very high expectations, but as part of one of the biggest marine reserves in the world, I think they are warranted. 

But we are still in the Whitsundays and I am really trying to enjoy being here now.  Today Mom, Mary and I (Dad’s arm is still hurting so he has not been joining us on expeditions) went on a nice hike through the bush.  I came across a three foot goanna (giant lizard) as well as a giant spider which must have been six inches across.  I think I’ll stick to the water – I would much rather encounter weird ocean creatures than weird land creatures.

Unfortunately all good things (and not-so-good things) must come to an end.  Mary flies out tomorrow afternoon and we will head north, probably stopping in Townsville.  It has been great having Mary on board – she keeps us all in good spirits, is always keen for a swim and does the dishes frequently – all good qualities of a guest/crew. 

And so, moving on!  I hear Townsville is a really stellar place and I am sure you won’t hear one more peep of negativity from me.  Thanks for listening.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Gettin' Salty


Epic sunset our first night out.

Let's see... where to begin.  Rutea left Bundaberg at 0dark30 the morning after Emma and I finished a detail on a friends' boat.  We currently have an extra crew on board -- Mom's best friend from San Diego (and my friend as well), Mary.  We headed for Lady Musgrave Island, "the Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef", but I must admit I had rather low expectations.

Lady Musgrave is an atoll so we had the pleasure of taking Rutea through the pass, and although it was narrow it was easy enough.  And, bam! just like that, we were back in the glassy, electric blue waters that I had missed so much.  After setting the anchor and a bit of lunch, Mary, Mom and I jumped in the water for a snorkel.  Unfortunately Dad's neck and arm were hurting him, so he didn't join us, but he didn't miss much.

I was pretty bummed to find most of the coral on the bommie we swam over to dead or bleached.  There were still lots of fish, but I have only heard ravings about the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and I expected to be blown away.  Fortunately, we must have picked the worst bommie in the lagoon to snorkel on because the following day we went to the barrier reef of the atoll and it was stunning.


Stunning, no?

Before we even got in the water I could see through the glassy surface that the coral was vibrant and bright.  After anchoring the dinghy and suiting up, I rolled backward into the water only to be greeted by a rather surprised white tipped reef shark.  He looked at me, I looked at him, he decided I was not to be trifled with and swam away.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a reef shark, as they are indicators that the reef is healthy.  There were huge patches of lettuce leaf coral, tabletop coral, staghorn coral, soft corals... Parrot fish, angel fish, snapper, grouper and tang.  I was also pleasantly surprised to see two massive sea turtles hanging around the reef.  One of them must have been well over 50 years old.  His shell was covered in moss and cracked, his flippers huge and gnarled, and the look in his eye said, "I've seen your type before and I know you can't eat me, so piss off."  I swam with him for a while before heeding his advice.

It wasn't surfing, but I can't begin to describe how good it felt to be in warm, clean, clear water again.  I am out of practice free diving but still managed to get down to 25 feet or so (that's about as deep as the lagoon gets).  I am still coping with the fact that I might not surf for a long time yet, and although I have dreams of longing, I will try to focus on diving as deep and gracefully as I can to stave off the cravings.


I like to chase turtle..

The rest of the afternoon was filled with more snorkeling and scrubbing the bottom of the boat.  In the evening there was a dinghy raft up/cocktail party in the middle of the lagoon which was fun but unfortunately Dad still wasn't feeling well so he didn't go and unfortunately the wind had picked up so the dinghies were all bouncing around and getting us all very wet.

Still more unfortunately was that night the wind picked up to 30 knots, and has been solid 20-25 knots with gusts up to 35 knots for the past week now.  As you probably know, there is not much to hide behind in an atoll, so all there was between us and the wind-whipped ocean was a barrier reef, which is covered by water at high tide.  For the next three days we rode out the wind, confined to the boat except for a swim or two to neighboring boats.  Nothing like swimming across a lagoon in 30 knot winds with 2 foot wind chop to get the adrenaline going.

Anybody up for a swim?

But even more unfortunate than the weather was the fact that Dad's arm seemed to be getting worse.  After three days of intense pain, we decided to get him to a doctor.  However, this is no easy feat when sailing out in the boonies.  We left Lady Musgrave on Wednesday, sailed all day, stayed the night in a horribly rolly anchorage at Cape Capricorn (one of the rolliest of my life), and arrived at the marina in Yeppoon on Thursday.

By Friday evening we had been to at least four different doctors and determined that no, we won't have to amputate his neck.  This is a good thing, as Mom and I have been (trying) to do most of the sail changes and it's hard work!  Everything on Rutea is so damn heavy that I can hardly sheet in the genoa by myself.  Anyway, it's a work in progress.

As for Yeppoon, well, um, I can't say it is a gem of Australia.  That being said, it is a huge relief to have access to quality medical care in a place where everybody speaks English.  Mom, Mary and I have explored the town thoroughly, hiked the lookout and walked the beach.  There were actually surfable wind waves on the beach by the marina, but we are getting into not only box jellyfish territory but salt water crocodile territory, and I am not keen to make acquaintances with either.  Not to say we can't go in the water at all, but the waters on the mainland are generally more dangerous.

Speaking of dangerous, we plan to leave Yeppoon tomorrow and head north to Port Clinton as a stop on our way to the Whitsundays.  We heard from another boat that a croc was recently sighted there
and yachties are being told to stay on their boats, not swim or walk on the beach.  Yikes.  Feels like we're finally getting into the outback, mate!  I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Road Trippin' Pt.4


I did.

It's cold. How cold? Freezing. Well, what are you wearing? I'm wearing flip-flops. Why? I'm too cheap to buy shoes. Well, what are you going to do about it? Put socks on. NO. Yes.


Yes, I'll admit it, I committed the cardinal sin and wore socks with flip-flops. Not in Melbourne, not in any cities, but at the campgrounds out in the boonies I rocked it. You see, I knew it was going to be cold so I packed a jacket. But after a solid year of summer I couldn't fathom it being so cold as to need shoes, but I was wrong. Fortunately Annette and Sara did not banish me from the FemPurr -- probably because they needed me to make tea and huddle together for warmth.


I make good tea but I also make a mean Irish coffee.

Ok, I am being melodramatic. It wasn't THAT cold. But after they sweltered in Asia for three months and I have had eternal summer we were all a bit blown away. Yes, the south-east coast of Australia is a bit chilly in the autumn months. But really, if you think about it (or look at a map) you will realize that there is nada between southern Australia and Antarctica (besides Tasmania but that doesn't count). The arctic winds swept across a few thousand miles of open ocean before blasting us with icy air in our little FemPurr. It was right about then I so happy to be in the FemPurr and not in a tent.

Cold aside, the coastline was beautiful. Rugged, open, remote... dare I say desolate? I wasn't even tempted to surf the huge, perfect waves I encountered on some random beach because there was nobody around for miles. Too remote for comfort. Annette, Sara and I entertained ourselves by walking the beaches, making up songs, playing ball and making friends in the campgrounds -- typical camping activities.

I must admit it was a HUGE relief when we arrived in Melbourne and returned the FemPurr. Two-thousand miles, no dings and only one speeding ticket (that I know of) is pretty damn good. Sara and I even taught Annette to drive the FemPurr and the van was still fine! A miracle, I think.

Yes, we arrived in Melbourne unscathed. Unfortunately I only had about 30 hours to spend exploring the city as I booked a flight back to Brisbane for the following day. But what I saw of Melbourne I loved. What a cool city. Not as flashy as Sydney, a little more edge, a little more dark, mysterious, deep. It is a huge university town, has a massive library/museum, is a generally literary-appreciating city, has a cool (albeit short) history and is built of cute neighborhood after cute neighborhood. If I had to compare it, I might give it a mix of San Francisco and Portland, OR.


A hint of SF...
 (note the advertisement for the Bells Beach Rip Curl Pro on the trolley)

My only issues with Melbourne is that there is no surf close by, and that is is cold. Aside from that? Totally livable. So many good bands come out of Melbourne, the Cat Empire (my favorite) being one of them. The underground music scene is pumping, and you can walk into any dark bar and come up on a great performance, often times free. Melbourne is also way more affordable than either Sydney or Brisbane. The girls and I went out for food and drinks at 'Bimbo Deluxe' and got 3 pizzas and 3 drinks for under $35. That has to be some sort of record.

To be honest, initially I was not all that excited for Melbourne. Everybody we talked to said, "Yeah, it's a really cool city," but I was suspect. They were right. It is a really cool city, and not just in terms of weather. There is so much culture in Melbourne, it's less shiny, people don't claim it to be the perfect place to live (as I have heard in Sydney), but they love their city, flaws and all.

Melbourne is way the hell out there. Really. It's far away. But I guarantee, even if it rains the whole time you are there, you will have a great time. I did. Annette and Sara did. Although.. I have to admit, there were two terrible moments, and those were saying goodbye to two of my best friends. Annette left for Vietnam early in the morning the next day. It was almost better to be half asleep when we said goodbye as I didn't want to fathom how much time it could be before we see one another again. My flight didn't leave until the afternoon so I went on a guided walking tour with Sara (which made me wish I had booked my flight a day or two later) until I had to leave to go to the airport. Another sad goodbye, but can't wait for a FemPurr reunion in San Diego.

Because that's really what it's all about -- making memories with people you love and care about, only to meet up again someday and relive them. In the memories the tense times will have melted away, the grumpiness non-existent, the laughs harder and the days even more perfect than they already were. It was special to travel with two such cool, aware, open, honest, respectful and adventurous people, particularly two that I have a past with and look forward to future friendship with.

This concludes The Adventures of FemPurr. But fear not, my faithful reader, as the Adventures Aboard Rutea continue. We are currently sitting out 25 knots of wind in an atoll, which is always exciting, if not a bit nerve wracking. You will be happy to know that it has not deterred me from swimming every day. And so, stay tuned as the Salty adventure continues.
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At 5/7/2013 12:17 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 23°54.15'S 152°24.17'E

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Road Trippin' Pt.3


Sara and Annette taking Sydney by STORM.


Woohoo! Saw more sharks today! AND a bunch of sea turtles, including the biggest, gnarliest, oldest looking turtle I have ever seen.

Anyway, back in the FemPurr we made our way down to Sydney. We entered Sydney during rush hour and I had an absolute blast driving the massive machine through city streets and trying to park in a rather hilly part of Manly. Of course I made Manly our first stop when we got into Sydney as that is one of my favorite neighborhoods (and I knew the swell would be good). My friend Chris was nice enough to let the three of us crash at his house for a few nights, and we had a great time beating him, his housemate and all their Aussie friends at beerpong. Holding it down for Team America! (Who says we didn't learn anything useful in college?)

Walking around Sydney I felt like I had come home. I always love coming back to a city and knowing my way around -- or at least having a vague notion of where I am going. I was also excited to show Annette and Sara my favorite haunts of the past few months, and I like to think that they were impressed with my oh-so-extensive knowledge of where to go and what to do. Or course this involved surfing Manly and Bondi, getting drinks on Oxford street and getting extremely cheap (probably too cheap) sushi rolls at the train station.

We stayed with Chris for two nights and then with friends Sara and Annette made in Bali for another two nights. It never ceases to amaze me how people are willing to open their homes to complete strangers for a few days and treat them royally -- with trust and respect. I only hope to do the same in return when I have a home of my own someday.

Revisiting Sydney was great, particularly in that it gave me closure. I realized that while I love this city, I am done with it, for now anyway. After living there for three months I was a bit gutted to leave, but after visiting for another four days I acknowledged that I am ready to move on. That is always a good feeling when traveling.

This could also have something to do with the fact that my best friend from Sydney moved away in the time that I was gone, but he only moved a few hours south to Woollongong, so we decided to pay him a visit. The girls and I left Sydney and made the beautiful drive down to Woollongong on a bright, sunny afternoon. Parts of the drive reminded me of Big Sur and we stopped every five minutes or so for a photo op.


Photo Op!

In spite of the numerous photo stops the drive was short we arrived in 'The Gong' by lunchtime, but Alex didn't get off work until six so we had time to kill. Annette decided to treat Sara and myself to a ridiculously nice lunch at a swanky little beachside cafe. During lunch we laughed until we cried and everybody in the cafe probably thought we were stoned or drunk, or both, but we were genuinely just enjoying each others' company.

As this cafe was right on the beach I couldn't help but notice the pumping waves. It was big, but breaking far enough out that it didn't look thaaat big. I really wanted to surf, or at least paddle out, but the idea of surfing alone and after a massive meal was unappealing. After a while I decided that the feeling of defeat was more unappealing than getting smashed by a few waves, so I psyched myself up to paddle out.

I was so full of delicious food I almost couldn't get my wetsuit on (yes, I was that full and I also couldn't remember the last time I wore a full suit to surf). By the time I walked up to the shore I realized that yes, the waves were actually really freaking huge and I might puke if one landed on me. But you can't really suit up, walk down to the beach and then turn around and walk back to the car, so I paddled out. I only got smashed by one wave and although I hyper ventilated a bit, the paddle out was easy.

And then I saw it. A dark mass on the horizon, cresting way out the back. I started paddling for my life. Long. Slow. Deep. Breaths. Don't panic. Duck dive deep. Feel the mass of water move over me and crash onto the sand, shooting me out the back. Is there another one behind it? No? Ok, I can breathe.

Shit. I was in way over my head. That wave must have been ten foot. I looked around for a friendly face, somebody I could ask to keep an eye out for me. I paddled near one guy, "Pretty big, hey?" I said. "Ah, it was bigger this morning." He replied. Oh. Right then. Nevertheless, my adrenaline was pumping a mile a minute. I saw another set on the horizon and paddled towards it as fast as I could, doing all I could not to have a panic attack and start crying. Fortunately I made it over the set, paddling up up up over the faces and then dropping down the other sides. I guessed the waves were ten feet, but who is to say? Nobody else seemed too impressed...

When there seemed to be a lull I paddled as fast as I could in toward the beach. Forget catching a wave, I just wanted to live! Of course I made it into shore fine, and in retrospect the waves probably were not that big, but I came to the realization that I will never surf big waves. I don't want to surf big waves. I just want nice little peelers, maybe a barrel or two, but I also realized that I seriously need to step up my game when we get to Indonesia. We'll see how that goes.


Heya buddy, thanks for everything!!!

Anyway, back on land, Alex got off work so, after relating my near death experience to Sara and Annette, we headed to his house. It was great to see my old buddy, tell him just how gnarly the waves were, eat, drink and be merry. We played a rockus game of spoons in which if you lost you had to do a dare -- Alex had to do a headstand and eat a lime, Annette had to wash Sara's hair, Sara had to sing a song about a dog and I had to rap about 'The Gong'. We are silly, I know, but we had a great time.

Alex surprised us with coffee and muffins in the morning so we were well fortified for a surf adventure. We headed south to Kiama where Alex and I surfed Bombo beach. The waves were big but nothing compared to the previous day, so I felt quite brave as charged the six footers. All you need is a little desensitization, right?

Alas, once again it was time to go. Goodbyes were said, the FemPurr packed and off we went, headed for the deep freeze that is the south-eastern coast of Australia.
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At 5/5/2013 7:54 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 23°54.16'S 152°24.17'E

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Road Trippin' Pt.2


Crescent Head, NSW

I apologize for the lack of photos to go along with this post, but I have since gone out of internet range and am back on old fashioned sailmail. Hopefully someday I will catch up and get the opportunity to describe the awesomeness of this beautiful atoll we are currently anchored at -- Lady Musgrave Island. In the meantime:

Yes, after a few action packed days in Byron Bay it was time to move on. Unfortunately Emma could not join us on our venture south and we parted ways, but not before she made sure we were on the right road heading in the right direction. Yes, FemPurr was on the move. Our next destination was a little place called Crescent Head, of which I had never heard anything about, and reasonably so. Crescent Head is a tiny little town with a tiny little main street out in the middle of the New South Wales coastline. Annette and Sara heard about the place from a guy they met somewhere in Asia who grew up there and said the surf is good. Enough said.

After driving for hours and meticulously following the speed limit (although apparently not close enough as we were sent a ticket captured by a speeding camera a week later) we arrived in Crescent Head some six hours later. Not only is Australia a huge freaking country, but the roads don't hold a candle to, say, I-5. In spite of my whinging it was a beautiful drive (until it got dark, then it got a little scary).


Makes me wonder how many of these sweet little points are along the east coast of Oz.  I am thinking hundreds.

We arrived to our campsite in the dark, only to be greeted by a beautiful little point break in the morning. We spent the day on the beach talking, surfing and enjoying the scenery. It was around this time that Annette made the huge decision to accept Colombia University's offer to attend classes fall semester. Thus, she needed to use internet. We had spent the morning trying to find some place with wi-fi, and believe it or not, there still exist entire towns in which wi-fi is not available. Crazy, hey? It might have been refreshing had she not been trying to contact universities and other important people, but alas, it was kind of a pain in the ass.

Annette managed to get a bit of business sorted while Sara and I goofed off, which may or may not have been a general theme of the trip. Another theme of the trip was eating, and we always ate well. For our second night in Crescent Head I decided to make a kangaroo chili. Kangaroo is really cheap here, and while the steaks tend to be lean and tough, I thought the mince (ground) kangaroo might be better. And really, it wasn't bad. It just tasted a bit.. off. Kangaroo tastes similar to beef, but even under the disguise of heaps of chili spices it was still a little on the strange side. Annette and Sara humored me and told me how good it was, although we ended up throwing the leftovers away. A valiant effort if I do say so.

The next morning we woke up ready to drive to Sydney. However, the swell had picked up to solid head-high overnight and the girls were easy going enough to wait around while I surfed for a bit. The point was still kind of small so I opted to paddle across the river and surf the beach break, which began my career as (attempting to be) a big wave surfer. Granted, the waves were only six foot faces (plus) but I felt proud of myself as I paddled out with ease and got a few inside waves without getting thumped too hard. Perhaps this is my very problem -- that I do not like getting thumped too hard -- because this was the beginning of a swell that was to scare the shit out of me for the next week as I surfed Sydney and beyond.
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At 4/5/2013 9:39 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 27°56.98'S 153°25.39'E

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Road Trippin' Pt.1


4 hot chicks in a camper van.

'Right then.  It's been a while.  I know, I dropped the ball.  All this time I could have been writing stories of hippie surf towns, revisiting Sydney, surfing massive waves (or rather trying not to die), exploring the freezing south coast of Australia, checking out dark, seedy bars in Melbourne and so on and so forth.

But I got lazy.  Or rather, I didn't have the time or the focus to sit down on my iPhone and attempt to describe the ridiculously funny incidents or the ridiculously scary waves.  I was too busy laughing, exploring, driving, drinking (although not together), playing ukulele or working out the secrets of the universe.  Because those are the kinds of things that happen when the best of friends get together for a 2,000km road trip in a beast of a camper van so aptly named the "FemPurr" -- derived from "of the feminine persuasion."

So what now?  Do I attempt to recount everything?  Just the highlights?  Or do I move on completely, letting the memories bounce around in my brain until they slowly fade into a warm, fuzzy, distant notion of a lost time and place?  No -- no, I don't think that would do.  But I also don't want to overwhelm you (or me) so we will do this in increments.  I'll try to leave it on cliffhanger so you come back for more.

Ok, so.  I stayed with Emma in Brisbane before Annette and Sara arrived.  For those of you who don't know, Annette, Sara and I went to high school together.  To be completely honest I did not know Sara very well before this trip, but living with somebody in a van for two weeks you either grow to love or hate them.  Fortunately both are awesome chicks and we only grew closer over our time together.

Emma and I picked up Annette and Sara from the airport.  From that moment on we were either laughing hysterically, telling a crazy story about an encounter in some remote (many marriage proposals included), cooking delicious food or... who knows what.  Emma hosted all of us before we picked up the FemPurr and headed down to our first stop: Byron Bay.

A note on driving the FemPurr -- not only had I never driven a van that big, but I had not driven in eight months, never drove a manual transmission with the shift on the left, and was driving on the wrong side of the road.  Does anyone else think it is a miracle that we drove 2,000km and never crashed once?!  I certainly do...

Byron Bay.  It's the place that everybody tells you to go to: "Oh, you are going to Australia? Make sure you get to Byron Bay.  You'll love it."  It is the hippie-surf capitol of Australia, with a perfect right hand, sandy point break at "The Pass" and miles of open beach break as well.  The culture of the little surf town is mellow and down to earth, although one does get a yuppie vibe as well as a darker, underground drug scene going on.  Needless to say, we had a blast there.


 Burying Annette and giving her incorrect anatomy...


Emma joined us on our Byron expedition so the four of us raised hell in the beachside campground we stayed at.  We played loud music all day, drank goon (cheap box wine) all night, surfed heaps, played on the beach and made new friends.  Our last night there we hitched a ride out to the backpackers pub with a newspaper delivery man, who randomly offered to pack all six of us in the back of his van, just so long as we didn't sit on the newspapers.  That is the kind of thing that would happen in Byron Bay.


Annette managed to capture my steeze on a little left at "The Wreck"

That night at the pub was an open mic, and I must admit it was the best open mic I have ever been to.  There was a wide range of musical types, and everybody was good -- so good that I was deterred from getting up and rocking the ukulele -- probably for the best.  The next morning we headed out to The Pass where I surfed small but perfect waves.  The water was so clear that, as I cruised along on a slow roller, I watched a sea turtle ride along with me in the face of the wave.  I could see myself spending a long time there.  Unfortunately, we had to move on.