What happens to long range sailors when they stop long ranging? - Blackwattle's Journey is almost ended, and here are recounted the reactions of the crew to arriving ''home'' after an absence of five years, and finding that, for the moment anyway, there are no more oceans to cross.
Birds everywhere around
We're not home yet, still coastal sailing down the east coast of Australia.
However. the adrenaline flow that accompanied our frenzied preparations five years ago to depart perfectly safe shores for an untold number of strange anchorages in an unplanned number of strange countries, with only the haziest idea of what we were doing, is now mirrored by a readjustment of the last five years' remote-sailing habits, a gradual relaxation of wariness.
It's somewhat like an elongated sigh lasting over many weeks.
web Garrys Anchorage
''It's okay, it's okay - we don't have to panic to get that small maintenance item fixed – there's bound to be a serviceman in the next port as well...''
''Mmmmm, actually, maybe I can use a little more water in the shower – we've sailed the world without getting off the first tank (there are four). But that was in case we were marooned at sea without a watermaker for many weeks. I guess it wouldn't hurt to use up the second tank.....''
''Let's cut down on our purchases - No, Ted, we don't need any more toilet paper, and we don't need four months supply of powdered soy milk, or three months' supply of muesli. After all, amazing as it might seem, there are supermarkets everywhere in this country.....''
''Maybe we can restock the grab bag, which takes up a lot of storage room, because we probably don't need enough supplies to allow for 11 weeks in a rubber life raft any more.''
''Ted do we really need five emergency jerry jugs of fuel and two of water on the deck?''
''Why do we need TWO dinghies – we only ever use one – the second was a spare, remember?''
''Do we really need this ''tinnery'' any more? – the place for emergency supplies? - maybe we could open some of the tins..''
''Why do we need all this coloured sail cloth? – we won't be needing any unexpected courtesy flags for a while...''
So it goes on...the boat is gradually rising in the water, showing more and more of her new black bottom.
Then Mooloolaba hits us like an unexpected squall.
We've watched the tides and the depths and made our curving way southwards through more of the Sandy Straits.
Ted keeps the wheel, and I stand with our strong binoculars in one hand and the ''Beacon to Beacon'' Guide book in the other, making out the distant red and green markers.
We anchor beside a sand bank, just inside Wide Bay Bar, one of the most notorious of the eastern coastline of Australia, to wait for the early morning tide. Pelicans are holding a some kind of celebration - rock concert or a wedding maybe - on the sand bank, pushing and flapping, bickering and shoving like a raucous football crowd – there must be hundreds of them – we sip our sundowners watching them in softly darkening sky.
But now, next afternoon after a gentle motor-sail, we are here in the Mooloolah River, aghast.
Aghast because the shore is littered with blocks of swooping concrete and glass shapes, each more monstrous than the one before. They are crammed together on the foreshore like kids in a picture show. Did we not notice this before we left?
We stand openly staring while motoring slowly along the Mooloolah River to the anchorage,
''Windows don't open,'' mutters the architect beside me on the wheel.
''That means they must be all air-conditioned.'' I muse.
Outside each one is an aluminium and carpeted wharf, and great white motor boats and catamarans shine in the morning sun. There's no sign of life.... anywhere. There are few trees, all small, and the small patches where shrubs and lawns are allowed to grow are regimented into controlled lines and rectangles. And don't anchor in the wrong place in this river – it's still that very thin Queensland water, and there are no markings on the sand banks...
Welcome to Mooloolaba
Over the next few weeks, sailing from port to anchorage to port down the coast, we are to respond in unthought-of ways to this home country that we are seeing with fresh eyes after our lengthy absence.
It's hard not to think that Australia is a very strange place, or strange anyway to us, who have spent most of the last five years in ''developing'' countries.
First we are astonished at the hard line Australian accent – am I imagining it's grown stronger? Maybe there is such a big Steve Irwin fan club here in the last few years that all Aussies are talking ''Irwin'' – Crikey it's extreme!
I didn't remember how green the water is here – and why can't you see to the bottom? For instance, we are anchored in about three metres at the moment, and I can't see a thing – yet this is ocean water! But green? A bright olive green. Why so bright green? Do we have little green gremlins in the water perhaps? What on earth do people do, I ask myself, on snorkeling trips?
web green water
But the birds – the birds are wonderful – they serenade us every morning and evening. There are high gliding hawks or kites, cormorants of every description, pelican by the dozen, tiny robins, curlews, and, of course, the kookaburra. So much of the world has lost its birds – let us not lose the fish, as then we should surely lose the birds.
Web birds on sandbank
Our first freeway to reach the supermarket is also a shock – the growl of hundreds of tyres, the mad fighting for position, the huge speed. Our habit has been to always observe the rules of the country we visit, so we automatically obey the speed limit here too.
The cars around us are incensed.
They tail-gate us, they glower as they pass – we speed up and find that the general traffic flow is at 30 km over the speed limit. The noise is huge – giant road trains flash past with their power brakes making a horrendous noise, the windage slamming into us and moving our car sideways. I can't wait to get back to the soft slushing and lapping noises of an anchorage.
I can't help remembering our recent months, walking or riding our bikes to the local shops, the nearness of everything, the conviviality of the coastal walking paths, with their walkers, flower-behind-ear, saying 'hello' to each other, and us, in the afternoon sunshine.
I had forgotten how many scary things there are in Australia. Our international cruising friends hadn't though. After sailing to country after country where the scariest thing is a maddened rooster running wild, they are wary of this vast flat land. Sailing across the Pacific, as we drew closer and closer to the shores of Australia – and they did their obligatory reading for reaching any new country, the questions became more numerous –
''What about crocodiles – we see so many surfing pictures - how can people go surfing with all the crocodiles?''
''So many snakes – how can the children be let out to play?''
''What about the spiders? I won't be able to sleep!''
''What about sharks? - looks like we shouldn't swim at all?''
''I read you've got dengue fever, and Ross River fever, and malaria.''
''How big is a cane toad?''
''Are the big kangaroos dangerous too?''
We try to answer as honestly as possible, without scaring them enough to make them gybe sharply to the left and go to New Zealand instead!
We'd forgotten how ORDERED things are here in modern western societies - how many signs, and how many rules. Speed rules on the water, rules about where you can anchor, where you can swim, millions of road rules.
Rules about the rubbish, rules ab