Gradually we were refitting Suka for the push up the Queensland coast and across the Indian Ocean. We had ordered coastal charts and had bought the appropriate tide tables and a coastal cruising guide book. We were also preparing our bodies for the rigors of sailing by exercising at a fitness gym. Riding the motorcycle, we went to the gym every other day, and there we lifted weights, and I joined an aerobics class. Our work-outs were strenuous, and we took advantage of the gym's hot showers, saving us from depleting Suka's fresh water tanks as frequently.
Ray enrolled in flying lessons, and accumulated many hours of air time in a Cessna 172. Once he had his license, when other friends were not flying with him, which was often, I jumped at the chance to assume the co-pilot's seat. I liked to take pictures and to gaze down at the now familiar countryside. Sometimes we would fly high over Suka, and then follow the curving Burnett River out to the ocean and make our way along the coast.
Flying lessons with instructor Greg.
Aerial view of the Burnett River leading towards the sea.
Flying over Suka on the Burnett River.
On the motorcycle, Ray was also able to escape the endless boat work by driving to the soaring field most Sunday mornings for a few hours gliding high over the patchwork hills west of town.
Ray's parents came to Australia for a vacation and to visit with us, and early every morning Ray and his Dad would ride the motorcycle to the airport, roll the airplane out of the hangar, and take off for an hour's flying. One of the highlights of his parents' visit was a fishing trip aboard Suka. With the four of us, and with our friend Gerry the welder and his wife, we motored Suka downriver, River Queen style. Gerry was an avid fisherman, and once on the open water of Hervey Bay he showed us how to bait the hooks, and to look for birds on the water indicating larger fish feeding. We hauled in half a dozen school mackerel, and to everyone's surprise Ray's Dad even hooked a small sailfish, which escaped before he could land it.
In town, we took Ray's folks to our favorite sandwich shop, or Milk Bar as the Aussies call a small café. Ray and I had patronized this particular establishment many times, and the proprietor, John Lathouras had become a good friend. With a cheery "G'day, mates" he would greet us and take our orders. A few minutes later he would set our steak sandwiches before us, and pull up a chair and chat jovially about life in Bundy. He talked about his family who had come to Australia from Greece, and about his plans to buy a cattle ranch.
John invited Ray and I on a "tour of the bush to see some 'roos." Accompanying us was John's mate Les Knoakes, who had lived many years in the outback, traveling both on foot and on horse. Les seemed to know this land as well as any person could know it.
Jenny finds a little gecko.
Spotting some kangaroos grazing in the tall grasses not far from the road, John stopped the car to give us a closer look. In most areas of Australia, kangaroos are considered pests; at one time great numbers of them roamed the country. More recently they had been ruthlessly culled, although today they are protected. Still, the wild kangaroos are furtive and wary. Sensing our presence, they would bound up the hill and disappear into the scrub and eucalyptus groves.
Brilliantly colored Rainbow Lorikeets are a big problem for the farmers and ranchers because these wild parrots eat so much of the grain.
John and Les
The day was warm and pleasant: a grand Australian day. The road wound through scrub forests where Les pointed out the varieties of trees. Once, we stopped the car and listened for the call of the bell bird. The stillness of the scrub forest was absorbing, and indeed, we heard the bell bird's sharp ringing cry.
We passed through thick groves of gum (eucalyptus) trees, then through meadows moist and green from a trickling stream. The road bordered expansive cattle ranges where the ranchers had cleared the land and sown grasses. John and Les discussed the advantages of owning a small herd of cattle, the ideal locations for such a herd, and other aspects of living and working in the Australian outback.
This was the first of many such field trips, and we appreciated the company of our warm-hearted friends, and their efforts on our behalf. Yet the pleasure did not appear to be all ours, as John and Les seemed to take special pride in showing us their country.
On a few occasions we visited the Robertsons, homesteaders of the great Aussie bush. Robbo, as John Robertson was known by his friends, and his wife Rhonda owned a few cattle, a few horses, a couple of shaggy sheep, a pen full of chickens, several dogs and two rambunctious boys who were a menace to anything in their paths. The family made us feel like close friends.
At Robbo's we glimpsed the legendary Australian pioneering spirit. Their ranch house was a temporary one, not quite as substantial as a shed but something more so than a tent. Not having yet dug a well, they trucked in large barrels of water from a distant town. Rhonda had a small camp style stove, a couple of ice chests to hold perishable food, and makeshift cupboards and counters. For a shower, they had rigged a plastic curtain hanging in a circle from the tin and wood roof. A bucket with an attached showerhead was suspended overhead, and on the floor sat a catch basin. Across the dirt yard a few hundred feet was their privy, and nailed onto its door was a wooden plaque proclaiming it as "Robbo's Roost".
Sometimes Ray and I would help with the chores; other times we relaxed, enjoying the peacefulness. One late afternoon we walked the perimeter of their land with Rhonda, while collecting stray cows from the bush. With a stick she urged the cows along the trail and into their corral for the night. During one visit we helped shoe the horses. This was one of those jobs where one person does the work and the others stand around offering advise. Watching fascinated from the top rail of the corral, this city-girl-turned-sailor found the show captivating.
Rhonda also cooked on an outside wood fire, and this evening she put on chops to sizzle over the flames. The "tucker" was delicious; steaks never tasted better than they did that evening at Robbo's. And that evening as the sun sank below the horizon and the sky glowed like the coals in the wood fire pit, I tried to picture myself in Rhonda's place, and felt almost envious of her homesteading lifestyle.
Installing a radar reflector. Whenever we need something done on the mizzen, I would send Jenny up there because she's much lighter than me. The mizzen became known as "Jenny's mast."
Preparing for Departure
The new months of 1984 slipped by quickly. We planned to depart Bundaberg in April, and as that month approached we concentrated on preparing Suka; so with reluctance we had to decline many of John's invitations for more sightseeing. With experience gained during the past year and a half, the job of reprovisioning our ship had become considerably easier. The amount of supplies needed for one year no longer seemed so staggering, and I had a better idea of what types and quantities we would need. Our bodies now objected strongly to salty food, as though a great deal of salt had permeated our bodies while at sea. So we appreciated the fact that the Australian canned goods were far less salty than their American counterparts. The grocery delivery truck arrived at the jetty bearing our four carts of provisions. In two or three dinghy loads we had transported the grocery sacks to Suka's cockpit and decks. We spent the remainder of the day removing labels from cans, writing the contents with water-proof ink, and then stowing the cans.
Reprovisioning with groceries for the next leg of our journey.
Caught with the hand in the cookie jar. With the labels striped off the cans, Jenny's making a list of provisions before storing them away.
After loading the motorcycle on board.
One afternoon we tied Suka to the jetty in order to load the motorcycle on board. John came to help, and after an awkward stint of pull, push and shove we lashed the big Honda 350 on the afterdeck. Taking an intermission during our sail up the Great Barrier Reef, we intended to linger several weeks in the town of Cairns, where we figured that the motorcycle would come in handy, and where we then planned to sell it.
Typing the journal.
On a quiet Easter weekend we enjoyed one last stroll along Bourbong Street, calling in at the sandwich shop to leave a few gifts for our friends and to sadly bid them goodbye.
Ray and I planned to motor the ketch downriver during the afternoon with the outgoing tide, and then to set the hook for the night in the turning basin where we had first anchored upon our arrival six months earlier. This scheme would permit an early morning start for the jaunt to Round Hill Creek, 48 miles to the north-west. I untied Suka's mooring lines, and Ray powered gently ahead. Holding back the tears, we watched Ross and Yvonne returning our the waves, wishing us well from aboard their Ricochet.
The Queensland coast and the islands of the Great Barrier Reef beckoned, and we were on our way.