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Blog of Jack and Jude
explorers, authors, photographers & videographers
A rather busy life afloat these last six weeks
It has been a rather busy life afloat these last six weeks, and we have loved it. Reading through my notes, we’ve been in the wilds far longer than connected to the communications network, and frankly that’s just the way Jack and Jude love life afloat. So let’s catch up with some headlines from that time back and forth, in and out of Nature’s Kingdom.
But first, why do we want so much time alone surrounded by nature’s beauty? The simple answer is, to write a new book. A big thick offering that has been too long waiting in the wings, and the best place to find the right ambience for such a task is alone, surrounded by open vistas of the natural world. No phones to disturb us – no internet distractions – just the harmony of two lifelong soul mates reminiscing golden times, who are not the sort of writers depicted in the movies dashing out a word perfect novel in one long night of bashing a keyboard. Our stories are true, based on diaries, notes, and letters home that describe moments of beauty and challenge, adventure and hardship served up with plenty of pluck.
In this month’s blog:
- New Book in the Making
- Betsys Bay Track Clean-up and Fly over West Coast Sloop Rocks
- Rise of the Phoenix
- No Fish Farm Trash
- Strahan for more Tucker then Hot Sail Outta There
- A View from the Top
- Gunge Everywhere
- Lonely Gravesite of long ago hero
New Book in the Making
This tome is about our two sons’ coming of age while circumnavigating our magical Earth in the mid-eighties. Life has moved on considerably since they were twelve and thirteen after already spending ten years afloat sailing In Ever Increasing Circles, which is the working title of the book. They are nearly fifty now, and we are surrounded by ten grand offspring who deserve to know a lot more about their fathers. In a big way, our sons came of age on that three-year voyage spanning fifty thousand miles. I’ll crack the nutshell a bit here and give you a few facts from our greatest adventure. If you have one thousand and fifty days of free time – twenty seven thousand Australian dollars in spare cash, and don’t mind sleeping out in the middle of an ocean for two hundred and forty-seven nights (that’s one in four nights), then you too can circumnavigate the world like we did!
I almost forgot. There’s one more thing. You’ll need a splendid little ship like the Banyandah to make all those numbers become a dream come true.
The book describes our voyages of education; teaching the boys high school education while taking them to the places they were studying. And at the same time, passing on by teaching them the ancient art of sextant navigation, then giving them the duty of taking us safely to faraway places, which were often quite remote and tiny. Not forgetting that we were already a well-oiled team sailing the vessel we’d built from the keel up. To complete In Ever Increasing Circles is our major mission this summer and we hope to see it in print for their birthdays this winter.
Betsys Bay Track Clean-up and Fly over West Coast Sloop Rocks
As members of newly formed ‘Friends of Macquarie Harbour,’ Jude and I cleaned up the Betsys Bay walking track that links Macquarie to the wild west coast, which also gave us a perfect opportunity to fly our new Mavic drone. Now that’s a magical addition to our bag of tools that admittedly is proving quite a challenge. On that sortie, we produced two visually stunning videos, and then, horror of horrors. We suffered a major disaster. For unknown reasons, that took a long time to decipher, our new beaut aircraft decided to land on water! In fact, our drone made the most perfect landing on the dark waters of Farm Cove, before sinking in seven metres of brackish saltwater.
Rise of the Phoenix
After dragging a grapple across the Mavic’s last known position the whole afternoon, on the last cast when nearing dusk, Zeus smiled upon us and the grapple caught and hauled up a slightly muddy bird dripping saltwater.
Back on board, after the battery was removed and the camera gimbal locked, it went straight into a bucket of fresh water, and then sloshed up and down. Changed water, repeated the process, then left the bird submerged in that water for a few hours. Afterwards, shaking Mr Mavic as dry as possible, the aircraft was then hung vertically until next day when the sun came out hot, so we put our poor birdy out on deck for the next 48 hours, turning her over from time to time.
A week later in Strahan, we took a deep breath and fired her up with a new battery; and chuckled with surprise when it came alive in GPS mode, the camera also working but with a foggy lens. Now my blunt fingers aren’t quite suited to tiny gizmos but I gave removing the camera a go and managed to remove four of the tiniest watchmaker’s screws I’d ever seen, before being confronted by a miniature wiring harness. Frankly another miracle happened, because the camera found a new bill of health and produced sharp images again. Amazing! Thanks to Ronnie Morrison, we then flew the revived “Phoenix” round and round his mini aerodrome using up several batteries before starting to think that we might have been extraordinarily lucky. But! Seven hours under saltwater? How can it be considered reliable! So we are looking into alternatives, although frankly speaking we don’t look forward to forking out another $1500. Perhaps this is a good time to advertise – our video memory stick that now contain a new half dozen Full HD drone flights as extras.
No Fish Farm Trash
It’s just so disappointing! Nine months ago the west Tasmanian community did a full harbour clean up, 80 volunteers including Jack and Jude covered 80 kilometres of shoreline, and this beach was spotless.
This very much reflects the history of man’s development. Profit before sustainability and just look where we are at. Denuded land, forests gone, species destroyed, there’s less and less for our children. Stricter guides and morals should be a part of how we do things and would not add much costs to production. In fact, in this case, it would help the farms be acceptable, instead of getting stonewalled by communities.
You may have heard in the news that the Fish Farms are a bit on the nose currently. For good reasons. The Tasmanian Government should never have approved the expansion that allowed the quadrupling of fish stocks to what is now around five million fish; in what is, pretty much dead water. But the most apparent and flagrant disregard Fish Farms have for the community and Nature, is the huge amount of Fish Farm trash that litters these shores. In honesty, thousands of rope ends, kilometres of black poly pipe, plus runaway buoys, there’s a never-ending list to what’s getting caught up in the foreshore growth. Amazingly there is a community group that liaisons with the farms, but you know how some corporations think the community are just dullards. But the Friends of Macquarie Harbour do not. So we made a video of the trash we found on just 200 metres of shoreline and sent it to the Premier and Minister of the Environment, plus to many more environmental groups. Wow! Next day fish farm boats were going every which way with crews on shores dragging off their great lengths of poly pipe and bags of ropes, and they’re continuing to, now weeks since we published that video. You can watch it here.
Of course the farms contribute to the local economy by providing local jobs to a community that is somewhat suffering from population and property value decline – BUT that’s no excuse for destroying the environment and littering what is world heritage area. Instead of ensuring their workers are diligent in keeping ropes and pipes from escaping, and building a protective barrier around their work site. They’d rather let their litter float away and destroy what once was pristine foreshore.
Strahan for more Tucker then Hot Sail Outta There
The wind is hard to predict here in Macquarie Harbour. Summertime they are mostly light, favouring afternoon sea breezes broken up by occasional storms. The hot northerlies preceding these storms are what we sail on for the twenty miles down harbour, and one came up the morning after Australia day. Although just a week in port, we expeditiously filled up with water and victuals.
Taking that hot scorcher, sailing Banyandah off her mooring we headed back to World Heritage forested mountains and calm bays for another go at getting our stories into some kind of order.
This second excursion into writing mode had been greatly anticipated. Jude and I were deep in the groove and a powerful team brings its own rewards to a marriage. We’ve found, “A family that works together stays together.”
We reviewed both of the boys’ journals and extracted a number of their reactions and descriptions, from wandering over the Galapagos to living with the locals on Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and climbing Malpelo, a ginormous mid-ocean rock, along with their reaction to learning sextant navigation then piloting our ship. We’re adding those to my stories written at the time, along with notes from Jude’s journal. It’s all time consuming, but of course extremely rewarding. Imagine us reminiscing, often in dreamland as we read our notes!
A view from the Top
On a particularly nice, windless sunny day after several days working, we decided to stretch our legs to the top of Mt Sorell’s Plateau, which lies just south of the peaks. We’ve climbed up there a few times before, and it’s a good workout, 350 metres up to exquisite views over the harbour as well as west to the horizon of the Great Southern Ocean. We took our revived Mavic along, thinking we’d fly a mission over land just in case it suddenly dropped out the sky. Hurrah! It didn’t, and we got superb footage, which added to the stuff that Jude shot on the ground has made a very watchable video. Here it is:
On the next windless day not long after that outing, we shifted our ship to the shores we’d cleaned during April 2017 Community Harbour Clean-up. Bloody Fish Farms! It was their idea to ‘spur on’ and get the community to clean up their mess. Well, it backfired because on that day, we and many of the community saw just how much trash ‘fish farms’ are heaping onto our shores. But, more than that, we also saw a huge amount of what Jude and I now call, GUNGE. We’ve been told it’s an endemic weed; but that it’s gone berserk with the high nutrient levels created by 5 million fish pooping in what are essentially dead waters. Ever seen what we mean? Green or red blooms on quiet waters created by high nutrient levels. Well, down here it’s a hairy GUNGE that gets blown up onto the shore vegetation and swamps it. Having seen great patches of it during last April’s Clean-up we thought we should investigate how ten months has affected the shoreline’s ecology.
So we loaded our camera gear into the Green Machine and paddled to the shores we’d cleaned of trash. We’re very pleased to report that there were only nuisance bits of ropes found, along with those little individual strands that will take days, weeks, or months to clean up. Nevertheless, all the big stuff had been whisked away in the preceding couple of weeks. But the GUNGE had hardened over the reeds and grasses, and over the rocks. To the touch, it was hard and crunchy, a bit like papier-mâché, and pulling it away revealed a real sadness. The ecology had been changed! How many times have we seen this happen before when jobs and growth cloud our legislator’s minds, and we get mumbo jumbo from them that all will be right, when they really don’t know. You can’t rule if you do not get re-elected. And you may have noticed that none of them talk about human population. That’s a real no-no. But frankly, it’s we humans swamping the entire Earth with us, and our trash, and us denuding everything, be it the forests, the oceans, the wildlife, marching us swiftly to a very boring future. It’s work, work, work, till you’re too old to enjoy life or just drop dead.
We made a video clip of what we found there, starring Mr. Harry Wombat.
Lonely Gravesite of long ago Hero
Strange how things happen. We had taken our portable VHF to the top of the plateau and from there had spoken with Trevor, master of Stormbreaker, when seeing him going into The Gordon to collect another lot of rafters that were coming out after doing the Franklin River Run. Each season he travels fifty or sixty times upriver to pick up rafters. While chatting with Trev, we mentioned seeing Max and Marie on Why Knot pull into their favourite cove at Kelly Basin. Next day, who showed up? Yep, Max and his beautiful, 4’10 ½” bride, who celebrated 80 years of life just a few months ago. Salt of the Earth they are. Max is a member of Friends of Macquarie Harbour, and a Strahan local who has been just about everywhere around Macquarie Harbour and the west coast; he knows all the tracks and can still walk most of them. Marie has to be a bit careful, but still gets about nicely, and she bakes the best cookies. Yum!
In two long sessions, we talked a blue bat into being red, and in that time learnt from Max where the old grave in Kelly Basin is located. Been trying to find it for years we have. Max even drew a sketch for us this time. Crikey, we’ve been searching the thick stuff on the wrong side of the ridge!
A few days after they putt-putted off in their forty-five foot ferro palace, the weather was sparkling and we needed a break, so we loaded up the Green Machine with nothing really in mind, just to see how the day went. Nevertheless, that morning I had worked out a Mavic mission to where I thought the big ‘gum’ tree that Max had said was where the old grave lay, and then we paddled off across Kelly Basin. Jude shot some beautiful stuff from the kayak going into West Pillinger, and then more of what had been a bustling town a hundred and eighteen years ago when the area had been the centre for exporting copper ore from the North Lyell Mine. Funny how things happen. In the decade before nineteen hundred, a gang of young lads carved a course through thick west coast rainforest for a railway line so that the ore could be transported to Kelly Basin. But it only lasted a few years before the two competing companies amalgamated and all shipments then went on the other railway through Double Barrel to Strahan. Today the old Kelly Basin rail bed is an easy walk up the beautiful Bird River from East Pillinger.
Across the basin, at West Pillinger was the main town that has been consumed by forest again, except where the locals have a pretty nice shack called Reindeer Lodge, a high flaunting name for a free bed and warm fire. There’s a lovely shady walk from it down what was once the main street, but in the other direction, a ridge trends away from the derelict outer wharf. The track rises about a hundred metres over a kilometre distance and then opens out onto a button grass plains overlooking Farm Cove.
I launched our bird from Reindeer Lodge feeling a bit uneasy and then flew it down the valley towards the end of that ridge, and then around the end of it to where Max had said stood a large lone eucalyptus. From there, the bird came back over the top, above the hundred metre high forested ridgeline. It was scary because halfway through the flight, the hill blocked the signal to my controller, and so it was with great relief to hear the bumblebee buzz of it returning.
With that mission successfully completed we set off in long pants and boots through the bracken to where Max had mentioned the track of sorts he’d cut and marked a couple of years ago. When Jude and I walked that ridge some four or five years back, we found it a bit thick with bracken, but lovely and cool because of the tall forest both sides. Since then Max and his mate Crossy have been at work on it, and the first stretch we found rather easy to follow because it’s along a narrow ridge, without a lot of tree fall to make it hard on your shins. After an hour’s walk we came to where we’d made the wrong choice, and this time following Max’s red tapes, went west instead of east and came out overlooking the neighbouring valley, where a few hundred metres further on stood a lone eucalyptus tree surrounded by low bushes.
Geez, when we got to it, threading our way through those bushes revealed an impressive gravestone in a nice clearing, obviously kept that way thanks to Max and others who cherish local heritage.
Carved into that headstone is: Joseph Brown, died Kelly Basin 1900, aged 15 (we now reckon it’s 45 after a close look at the photos). It is strikingly so alone with a grand view of Mount Sorell and covered in decorative, floral patterns of lichen. The drone footage, blended with the video taken by Jude around the lodge and on the track, has been made into a very enjoyable twelve-minute clip. It and the other five clips made these past six weeks can be seen on YouTube or if want to view the ridgy-didge Full HD versions on your laptop or widescreen, get our Memory Stick, which also contains all our films.
We’re in the midst of a wet spell here in Strahan, catching up with web work and boat maintenance. When it ends we’ll be taking the first northerly down harbour again, for another crack at completing our next book. Till next time, we wish you fair winds and safe anchorages on all your journeys in life.
Betsys Bay Track Tour and Track Clean up
This beautiful walk linking Macquarie Harbour to the wild west coast has long been a bit of eye sore caused by human trash, mainly beer cans! Admittedly some empties were used to mark the few difficult parts of an otherwise easy to follow track.
BUT thanks to Jack and Jude, Wildcare Friends of Macquarie Harbour, both the trash and track have been cleaned up! Red tape now marks the track in lieu of all the cans, bottles and plastic that was taken away to the tip.
Betsys Bay Track 2 hours one way – Great for picnic, beach combing and return in one lovely day.
With this along the way –
Walking track to the Great Southern Ocean from Betsys Bay in Macquarie Harbour about 10 NM south of Strahan. A good day walk, about 5 km one way, with time for a lovely picnic and return. Drone footage around the Bay then walk to the Wild West Coast on beaut sunny day.
Wild West Coast Fly over
Bye Bye Birdie – Bye Bye!
Very remote location salt water inlet – no communications – no humans nor infrastructure.
Planned Litchi waypoint mission one third completed when “System Error” reported and mission aborted. Bird stationary. Reloaded mission and bird began to return to first waypoint – not what I wanted so I paused mission and took control. All okay for first moments until I saw that it was going backward to controls, or so I believed. Plenty of power – 85%
Tried to complete part of my planned flight best I could, but maybe it was my frizzled nerves 15 metres above saltwater, because it did not seem to be responding to my stick movements, so initiated RTH. Big mistake I think although I have done this once before when over water, and cancel out when the bird got nearly back to home.
The home location (boat) had shifted so Mavic flew past. I cancelled RTH or so I thought and began to fly back to boat where I descended to about 7 or 8 metres using controls then started getting into position to hand catch. While moving across the deck, heard “Landing” and looked to see the craft a metre or two above the water. Pushed sticks in panic. But she splashed.
Sank in 7 metres of dark tannin stained water, viz nearly zero.
Spent the rest of day dragging a grapple across last known position.
Zeus smiled down on last cast when nearly dark, a sodden slightly muddy bird came up dripping saltwater.