Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Australian Quarantine and Customs & The Land of Rules


IMG_1192We were ready just over a week ago for Australian Quarantine agents when we entered the Port of Bundaberg early in the morning hours of November 11 – coincidentally exactly 8 months to the day of having departed Mexico for our Pacific crossing.  Quarantine was ready for us as well, waiting on the quarantine dock for us as we tied up. We were pleased that the goal seemed to be more about allowing us to keep as much as possible, rather than to confiscate any uncertain items.  We had placed all our questionable food items on the cockpit table or in bins on the cockpit benches to make it easier and quicker.  Two hours later, we had reviewed all of our food items.   While we thought we’d be cleaned out of most of our food, this was not the case.  We thought we’d loose so much more than we did.Here is the summary:

*The obvious: all fresh produce was taken. All canned goods are fine.
*Dried beans and lentils were taken, but not anything split (as in split peas and red lentils were okay).  We were allowed to keep our refried beans in vacuum sealed packets still from Mexico.
*Rice and couscous were fine (just examined for any bugs) but barley was taken.  Rice noodles and rice paper wrappers were fine.  Egg noodles were taken but all other noodles (ramen) were fine. We were allowed to keep our pasta too.
*Oatmeal and cereals were fine.
*Flour was taken but not sugar, and not the Bob Red Mill’s flour still in the original packaging (rye, pizza dough mix, etc.). Frozen bread, tortillas and rotis were all okay to keep.
*We were allowed to keep our herbal teas but sachets were opened to examine them.  Quarantine is looking for anything with orange peel in it, which ours had, but because they were pretty pulverized, they were deemed okay.  Coffee was fine.
*Corn kernels for popping popcorn was taken, as was the honey we got in Fiji, but not the honey from NZ. Powdered milk and powdered eggs were taken.
*Dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, cherries, goji berries) were all okay to keep, but all nuts were taken.
*All my spices were fine except mustard seeds and whole cinnamon sticks. Anything ground is fine.
*All mayonnaise was taken (2 and half jars!) simply because it did not list the egg content; anything with more than 9% egg content is not okay.  Because the egg content again was not listed, two unopened bottles of Harrison’s favorite Ceasar’s salad dressing were taken. 
*All other condiments were fine (BBQ sauces, teriyaki sauces, ketchup, mustard, pickles, marinades, vinegars, oils, peanut sauces, jams, peanut butter, apple sauce etc.).
*Cheeses that were made in NZ and Australia were fine.  Cream cheese was fine. My homemade yogurt was taken (I love my yogurt maker!). 
*Tofu was okay; if I had had any meat left over, I’m pretty sure it would have been taken unless packaged in NZ or Australia.  The fish we had in the freezer that we had caught ourselves was all fine.

We were also asked about wooden items like carvings, which were simply examined for termite holes.  We had been told to place any woven baskets or wood items into bags and sprayed with insecticide and left for a few days, but when we showed it to the quarantine agent, he said that it wasn’t necessary.  He even let Harrision keep his wooden self-built catapult, notwithstanding the termite holes in it; Harrison had made it in NZ so clearly the termites were long gone. The agent simply shook baskets to see if any bugs came out.  We were allowed to keep all our sea shells. 

All in all it was a pleasant experience.

Customs and Immigration was the standard questions routine.  More interesting, however, was the fact that Australia’s second largest drug bust took place the day we arrived on the dock over from ours.  Four men (some say British, others Spanish) on a boat called Freedom Friday were caught with about 300 kilos of cocaine with a street value of about $300 million, as well as $20 million in cash on their boat.  The drugs had been picked up in Vanuatu three weeks earlier, and the guys thought they could slip in under the radar screen by signing up for the Port to Port (Port Vila, Vanuatu to Port Bundaberg, Australia) Rally which we were also a part of.  The customs people spent two full days pulling apart the boat down to its bones. The boat became known as Jailed Saturday.

IMG_1194Our experiences here have thankfully not been as dramatic, although what has stood out for us over the week plus that we’ve been here is the number of signs setting out instructions and rules that we’ve seen.   It’s been a long time since we’ve been anywhere with so many rules.  In fact, there are so many rules, that they get lost as background noise. And yet, ironically, with so many rules, Aussies are some of the most laid back people around.
Down Under, with a sparkling clean and much lighter boat – after spending the first week scrubbing and de-cluttering; we haven’t been on a dock in 8 months!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Approach

We are now less than 50 miles from making landfall in Australia. The seas are calm - as in flat calm - and there is less than 10 knots of wind with a full moon. We have the massive kite-like spinnaker sail pulling us forward peacefully at a slow 3.5 knots (roughly equivalent to 3.5 miles per hour). We see the lighthouse's signal in the distance, almost whispering "You've just about made it." We've covered thousands of miles, visited numerous countries and cultures, met countless people, and survived small quarters with our family of four.

It's hard to believe. The retrospective begins.

- Barb
40 miles from Bundaburg, Queensland, Australia
24 degrees 19.170 minutes South
152 degrees 55.491 minutes East
At 11/10/2011 11:13 (utc) our position was 24°08.86'S 153°12.71'E

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chesterfield Reef

We stopped in Chesterfield Reef, officially part of New Caledonia, for a couple of days to break up the 1000 miles passage between Vanuatu and Australia, and the choice was like icing on the adventure cake. The little motus, or islets, that make up this fairly large circular atoll are untouched by humans and completely uninhabited, unless you count the animal life, and particularly the boobies and frigates that lay their eggs and care for their young right there in the middle of the sand. We saw leatherback turtle prints indicating turtles had come ashore almost nightly to lay their eggs and head back out to sea. The water was a bit cold for swimming although that didn't stop the kids. We spent time with friends re-allocating food - some canola oil for flour, rice noodles for garlic, beans for more sugar. We took the stopover opportunity to clean the bottom of the hulls and inside food lockers in order to better prepare for Australia's strict quarantine rules.

Harrison and some friends spent the night ashore in their self-built teepee, and had such a great time that we didn't see him until the following evening after a full day of building rafts, lighting fires and cooking food on them, and creating fishing lures from coral. He was so exhausted when he returned to the boat that he slept 14 hours and then continued a nap the following day.

We are currently about 300 miles from landfall in Australia at Bundeberg. I still can't believe that the adventure is almost over.

21 degrees 15.521 minutes South
158 degrees 54.926 minutes East
At 11/8/2011 09:01 (utc) our position was 20°46.03'S 157°25.86'E

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Food that Floats and a Provisioning Review

We've been unintentionally conducting some science experiments on flotation in salt water as we prepare our boat to enter Australian waters. This all began with some cleaning out of food lockers - the Australian Customs and Quarantine department are quite sticky about what food stuff is allowed into the country. Any dried beans, grains, fresh fruit and veggies, and a whole list of other items will not be permitted. Given that winds have been so light and the sea state so calm, we took the opportunity today to clean out our food lockers and gather up what we've got left. We've learned that the following two items, surprisingly, float:

1. Sticky marshmallows that have melted to the bag: Reason for tossing is self explanatory.

2. Frozen chicken: Don't worry, we didn't throw out good chicken. This stuff, still from Mexico, looked raunchy - freezer burned and just plain yuk. We have done well with provisioning our kosher meat - we had our last package of boneless chicken breasts tonight for Shabbat dinner. The last of the ground beef was used for making bolognese sauce, part for this latest passage, and part for the final passage between Chesterfield Reef and Australia in the coming week. The only items left in our freezer are bread, coffee, bananas (which will have to be tossed before arriving), and fish (caught aboard). Apparently, you can keep the fish (by the way, we caught a skipjack tuna late this afternoon).

As far as other provisioning, we will likely have to hand over about 2 kilos of dried black beans. While we overbought this item in Mexico, the fact that this will be the only dried beans left on our boat after nearly 8 months is quite a feat -- we will be finished our lentils (red, green and black), green peas, garbanzo beans, and pinto beans by the time we arrive (according to our meal plan). We will also have about 5 kilos of sushi rice left -- we were obviously optimistic about our fishing endeavors when we stocked up. We'll have finished up our long grain brown rice, our short grain brown rice, our whole wheat couscous, our quinoa and our barley by the time we arrive. We overbought on our rice noodles and rice paper wrappers although I may find some use for them yet with our two extra boxes of tofu and some carrots and cucumbers and cabbage. We'll likely have to hand over a bit of extra flour, although we've been baking up a storm of pies to use up pecans and apples. Sugar will be all but gone. We'll have the last of our pancake mix next week, and eat up our dried fruit (raisins, cranberries, goji berries, dried cherries) in a snack mixture with nuts. We may have extra pecans and walnuts but we'll see how it goes. We are sick of oatmeal so likely will still have a large amount of that to hand over too.

Other than that, we've done quite well. We don't have a ton of extra canned goods left over, although we were a bit over zealous in bringing back Trader Joe's items on our last visit home in February (barbeque sauce, teriyaki sauce, ceasar salad dressing, etc.). Our food lockers are emptier than they've ever been.

And we're still eating well.

3 miles from anchoring in Chesterfield Reef, New Caledonia
19 degrees 345.847 minutes South
158 degrees 26.979 minutes East
At 11/4/2011 10:19 (utc) our position was 19°40.45'S 158°59.74'E

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ditch Bag Manifesto

Any well-prepared cruising boat should have an Abandon-Ship bag at the ready, just in case its crew needs to, you guessed it, abandon ship for any reason. We know that leaving our boat is very unlikely. First, it means that our catamaran, which is built so that it doesn't sink, would have to sink. Second, even if it does flip upside down, leaving one's boat for the life raft should always be a last ditch decision as it's much easier to be spotted by a rescue boat or aircraft if you are with your boat due to its relative size.

Notwithstanding all of that, IF we were to ditch our boat and head into the life raft, we are prepared to be out there, as uncomfortable as it may be.

In preparing our Ditch Bags, we realized that with four people, we had to split its contents into two bags. One of them is the 'priority' bag with the more important items. And because the bags don't float, we've wrapped them in life jackets, and enclosed all its contents into waterproof ziplocked bags. The bags are kept at our navigation station inside the cabin whenever we are underway so that they can be easily grabbed on our way out the door, so to speak.

In addition to these bags, we have reviewed other items that we need to take: Two EPIRBs (Emergency Personal Identification Rescue Beacons, which send off a signal to the coast guard), our sheath knife and leatherman tool, water bottles, spear gun, and of course life jackets (which should be worn at that stage).

After much research, here are the contents of our Ditch Bags:

Green dye marker
Satellite Phone (recharged the 1st of every month)
VHF radios (fully charged at the start of every passage)
Extra batteries for all electronics
Waterproof flashlight
Head lamp
Various tupperware containers
Various ziplock bags, plastic bags
Rain ponchos x4
Baseball hats x4
Wool hats x2
Toilet paper
Sanitary napkins, tampons
Plastic wrap (1 roll)
Tin foil
Sponges x2
Pocket Knife
Strong tape (duct tape)
Waterproof matches
Wooden stick
Safety pins
Emergency blankets (foil) x4
Notepads and pens/pencils
Game book
Deck of cards
"Adrift" (book about being lost at see for 76 days)
Passport copies
$100 Cash
Immunization records
Credit Card
Diver DAN emergency numbers

Fishing equipment:
50 lb monofilament line
2 weights, 2 lures, 1 floaty
10 lb test line

12 power bars
4 cans sardines
1 gallon water

First aid:
Sunscreen 45 SPF
Staff infection antibiotic
Triangle slingband
SAM splint
dry skin lotion
tensor bandage
bandage tape
Burn cream
alcohol swabs
blistex lip treatment
zinc oxide
antiseptic wash
artificial tears eye drops
non-stick first aid pads
sting meds: lanacaine, claritin
Pain meds: vicodin, tylenol with codeine
seasickness meds: dramamine, meclizine, scopalomine

Have we missed anything? Other items recommended by the author of Adrift, who was stuck in his liferaft for 76 days before being found thousands of miles later: rudder, closed cell foam cushion, and sail fabric.

It would be difficult to carry enough fresh water onto a life raft as it is heavy and cumbersome. We have practiced creating a solar still to make fresh water from salt water using the tupperware container, plastic wrap, and a weight. Harrison blogged about this last year.

Some might find it curious that we've included things like pad and pencils, deck of cards, and a game book. Apparently the biggest issue in surviving life in a life raft after getting fresh water is one's mental state. We'll take care of that one by having a games tournament. Our friend Sarah of Stepping Stone even added fashion magazines to her bag.

We certainly don't intend to spend very long in a life raft, especially given all the chances we've given ourselves to make sure that help is on the way as soon as possible (two EPIRBs and a satellite phone). Nonetheless, it sure gives us a lot more comfort knowing that we are prepared.

-Barb, comfortably on board Whatcha Gonna Do
Day 3 passage Vanuatu to Chesterfield Reef
18 degrees 59.217 minutes South
162 degrees 00.297 minutes East
At 11/2/2011 10:03 (utc) our position was 18°50.66'S 162°44.11'E

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Purity of Tanna

The crimson red glow of Mount Yasur's boiling volcanic cauldron greeted us from 20 miles away as we approached the island of Tanna at night last week. Tanna is in the south islands of Vanuatu, a perplexing group of 86 islands in the South Pacific and while it preceded our visit to Port Vila as well as this passage from which I write, it continues to hold a tremendous impression on me.

We were there less than 24 hours, yet I can't stop thinking about its way of life. We came ashore at daybreak at Port Resolution, where Captain James Cook landed hundreds year ago, and while the people are now dressed in modern clothing (as dirty, worn and holey as they are), I'm not sure much else has changed since his visit. The ni-Vans, as they are called, are a deeply superstitious people who, though having adopted Christianity, still incorporate much of the mysticism into their beliefs. And who wouldn't, given the grumbling angry mountain so close by. But more on Mount Yasur in a bit.

We were greeted by Simon who spoke little English and was slightly slow. Any 'stranger' who enters a village in Vanuatu is escorted due to the prevalence of 'kastom' and 'tabu' to ensure we walk the straight and arrow. We were looking for Stanley, who was to be our guide to the volcano, and Simon took us to him in the village, a short walk away and past the local school, bubbling with the yells and laughter of all playgrounds worldwide. The village itself is not much different than it's been for years. Houses on stilts are still made of the forest out of wood and leaves - one room with woven leaf mats for beds. Stanley showed us how the roofs are made to ensure no water leakage, but need to be replaced every couple of years. The little groups of huts are divided into family branches, and each couple of houses share a cooking hut, with fires going and food cooking almost all the time. The younger children are running freely, ridiculously dirty, some without any pants on, playing with each other mindlessly, or hacking away with a machete at a piece of wood (!). They toss around a home-made ball made of leaves and wrapped in spider webs. As we watch, Stanley's wife quietly places 3 papayas into my bag and hands me a bunch of green bananas. She then brings over an impressive woven dried-leaf shoulder bag which she holds out to me without looking me in the eye, and then quickly disappears.

Further down into the village, another clan of about a dozen men, women and teenaged boys are sitting in the midst of its group of huts on woven mats wrapping their latest catch of fish in some sort of green leaves, and tying the leaves around with strands of dried leaves of a different kind. One of the women explains in French that they will steam the fish. Water is taken from a central spigot. And then she places 5 ears of corn into my bag. The corn, she explains, is thrown into the ground in special pits and left to ferment for 3 months. We boiled ours later that day.

The pig pen is the pride of the village. After all, pigs here stand a rung above the women as they are the only way for villagers to climb in rank. A pig kill and feast hosted by the owner is a sign of wealth and power and feed the villagers for days. The most coveted are the males who grow tusks that circle around and painfully re-enter their jaw bones. We saw one on its way.

Later that day, we were taken to the volcano, a bumpy forty minute four-wheel drive away, along pot-holed rutted-out paths, often along dried lava flows that naturally created the way. We arrived at the parking lot, a colorless grey rocky expanse that seemed to go on for miles. We could have been on the moon. The climb to the crater's rim took less than 15 minutes straight up, and as we got there, the roar of the mountain made me jump. 'Angry' was all I could think of. And without delay, the fireworks display began. High into the air, red hot lava spewed up, up and up, lighting the area as if it were daylight, and then subsided again until the next rupture. All from about 300 feet away. Apparently, this is the closest one can get to the inside of a volcano anywhere in the world. And it was quite impressive.

Stanley explains that the people in Tanna believe that Mount Yasur is their creation god, and after the people prayed to him for a way to cook, he created the fire of the mountain. The people also use the boiling water that bubbles up through vents closer to the village for steaming their food, including those fresh fish that we saw being prepared. The mountain has not fully erupted in several hundred years, but has killed people who ventured too close as recently as last year. Stanley proudly explains that the people figured out the volcano's active phases far before the official government monitoring stations.

Vanuatu became a state only in 1980 (previously it was known as New Hebrides), after a mild tug-of-war between its French and British settlers. Interestingly, it was never actually colonized. The indigenous people make up over a hundred different unrelated clans, and the fact that over one hundred different local languages (not dialects) are still spoken today continues as proof. At one time, both French and British legal systems existed unofficially side-by-side (yes, people drove on both sides of the road, depending on where you came from). Still today there are remnants of this in school systems - one French and one English. The one uniting language became Bislama, a form of pigeon English - but that's a separate blog post in and of itself.

What struck me most was the purity with which these people live. They grow whatever they need. There are no stores. There is no need for money until the school fees come due every 3 months, at which time the clan harvests whatever they can to sell in the big city. They all work together and share any extras with others or it will spoil. They help each other repair roofs, wrap fish, care for children, and weave a mat. Time seems to stand still in its utmost purity.

-Barb, en route Vanuatu to Chesterfield Reef, New Caledonia
18 degrees 26.409 minutes South
164 degrees 05.324 minutes East
At 11/1/2011 08:56 (utc) our position was 18°12.65'S 165°04.78'E

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