Halloween, for 52 years the 31st of October has been the most important day of my year. It came to be so because Larry was born on Halloween. He suggested we get married on October 31st so he wouldn’t forget our anniversary. We decided to keep to tradition when both of our boats reached completion in time for a Halloween launching, Seraffyn touching saltwater for the first time on Halloween 1968, Taleisin two days after Halloween 1983. Thus, it seemed fitting to hold a celebration of Larry’s life on Halloween. And fortunately, here in New Zealand Covid19 has been virtually eliminated so it was possible to truly celebrate, with a house full of friends from all the years Larry and I have been based in this country. Unfortunately, our overseas relatives and friends could not attend. For those who could not be with us, I hope this probably over-detailed recap helps make you feel included:
Long before Larry became ill, he had told me how he admired the final celebration the famous Broadway choreographer, Bob Fosse created through his will. Before Bob had his first major success, he and a group of would-be actors, dancers, and playwrights met at a favorite Broadway café every Wednesday evening to eat drink and encourage each other. It became a game, trying to be the one who actually paid the bill each week, for that meant the bill payer was, at that moment, “in the money.” A week after Bob died, his Wednesday evening friends assembled at the café. Of course, stories flowed along with drinks and food. When it came time to pay the bill the café owner stated, “Bob has gotten the last laugh. His will has a bequest that covers the bill for this Wednesday evening gathering - in perpetuity.”
In memory of that story, I waited for Halloween to create the kind of gathering I knew Larry would have liked, one that included lots of laughter, music, a wide ranging group of friends and lots of time to enjoy each other’s company. On Thursday the 29th I headed over to the mainland very early (taking the 7am shuttle) to shop for food then pick up the first guests, Elspeth MacDonald and David Cregan who had flown in from Nelson on New Zealand’s Southern Island. By the time we got back to Sandspit where David was waiting for us in Bubbles (pronounced Boob – lay) my station wagon was so loaded with food and supplies that my guests had to carry some on their laps. When we motored into North Cove, we had to slow down to greet guests who had already sailed in on three different yachts, one from Whangerei, another from Bay of Islands, the third up from Auckland. Taleisin was already there. Since returning from Tonga, her owners Annie and Eben have made North Cove their base of operations. As we passed her, I could almost hear Larry saying, “yes, I built her to last for 50 years, she’ll definitely make it.”
Friday saw Bubbles doing cargo duties, rounding up extra chairs and a marque from Maree Zylstra who runs the café at the Mansion House Reserve, two bays away from my home. And when that was finished, I packed her crew off for a walk across the island so I could have the kitchen to myself. Meanwhile I set to work making Larry’s favorite company dish, 18 kilos of lasagna including two trays full for vegetarians and one light on cheese for those watching their weight. The deck and house had the buzz Larry had always loved, the laughter of friends stopping by to offer help, flowers, fresh garden greens. Rain was in the forecast for the next day, Halloween and with about 66 people expected, I did have a bit of concern as our cottage, the one Larry built entirely from plantation grown Lawson cypress, is small, only 600 square feet upstairs, and we needed room for the two musicians too! But Larry’s words came back to me, “we’ll just make it work!”
 Bubbles, a 4.85 meter (16 foot) Buccaneer runabout built here in New Zealand in 2013 and now outfitted with a brand new Yamaha 70 four-cycle outboard, is a replacement for my old workboat, JayDee. I didn’t name her, David did saying, she looked a lot like a Bubble.
What a fun hive of activity from 7am on Saturday. As I began serving breakfast guests started arriving by ferry and by dinghy from the boats at anchor. By very good fortune, Leanne Graham who owns a guest lodge across the bay from us, had offered to let me use 5 of the rooms for any overnight guests, the same with the holiday house with two bedrooms next door. By noon 14 overnighters were installed in their respective rooms. Several came over to help string brightly coloured flags the length of the jetty. Sahula looked splendid in her berth alongside the pontoon, her red hull gleaming, flags flying. Soon her bunks were filled with gear from more overnighters. I could imagine Larry urging our visitors to take little Felicity for a sail, or use little Cheeky for a row around the cove, or come downstairs for a game of pool.
Then my only concern came to the fore. Rain began to spit down. Fortunately, I’d borrowed a 3-meter (10 foot) by 6-meter (18 feet) marquee. More fortunately, the half dozen folks who worked to put it up, finally stopped and read the instructions. Willing hands helped remove all the front room furniture and stack it in the bedroom or on the verhandah.
Larry himself, in the form of a tidy wooden box filled with his ashes, arrived mid-afternoon. He was carried lovingly by Keini Tollemache, the wonderful woman we’d met almost 37 years before on the isolated Tongan island of Nuiatoputapu. She and her two sons have been like family since she moved to New Zealand in her early twenties.
At 4:30 PM the wonderful Mark Mazengarb, who had played his guitar for our big 45th anniversary gathering, arrived on the mid-afternoon ferry. With him was one of the finest violinists in New Zealand, Jess Hindin. Greetings exchanged, I took them over to my little office which is just 20 meters away from the house. We could soon hear the lovely sounds of their final rehearsals as the house began filling with guests and lots of duct tape was used to keep the rain hitting the marquee then running into the open sliding doors leading into the house.
By 6 PM the drinks table was almost overladen with wine, sushi platters (thank you Lyn Hume), nibbles of all sorts brought by guests.(I’d specified I’d bake up some lasagna, and asked folks to bring something to add to the meal.) One side the kitchen was filled with salads, the other with deserts.) The verandah and marquee were abuzz with friends catching up with each other, just the sort of hubbub Larry liked best.
Then, to make the evening flow better, the rain stopped. The skies cleared and the wind dropped right off so we were able to set up folding chairs the length of the main room of the house, out onto the verandah and onto the back deck. Mark and Jess were amazing together. Fiery fiddle against driving guitar rhythms, sweet violin solos followed by intricate finger picking. A medley of Beatles music, followed Chet Atkins specials, Irish jigs chased slow traditional American melodies. Jess sounded like New Zealands version of Stephane Grappelli, Mark matched her with his finger style playing. All music Larry had loved, especially when he could watch the musicians who played it.
A pause while friends insisted I get out of the kitchen and let them sort out dinner – tables laden with lasagna and pasts and salads. With a late ferry scheduled at 10:30 to pick up those who had to get back to the mainland, I was concerned that we should call everyone to order, get settled and hear the second set of music. But then I was reminded the ferry driver, in fact the ferry company owner, Rueben Zylstra was there and enjoying the evening, so the last ferry wouldn’t leave till folks were ready.
Michael Marris, a close friend and neighbor is a fine amateur photographer and acted as the perfect master of ceremony. He had created a slide show of photographs he’d take of Larry and I through the 35 years we’ve had a home base here on the island. These were projected onto a screen behind him as he encouraged everyone to settle in to contemplate Larry’s life. Michael invited me to bring Larry over to join us at the microphone. I held the wooden box tightly against me as I related the story of Bob Fosse. Then Michael invited David, the man who has become such an important part of my life, to say a few words. And when David began to speak, my eyes began to fill with tears. The tears were soon running down my cheeks as I remembered a discussion Larry and I had a few years before the first signs of Parkinson’s Disease forecast his decline and demise.
Michael Marris brought the second half of the evening to order, and with Larry in my hands, I told the story behind our weekend long celebration
Larry’s father had spent a very long time in a nursing home unable to speak or move after suffering a massive stroke. One day, as we left his father’s bedside Larry stated, “If ever something like this happens to me, I want you to make sure I have good professional care, then go out and grab ahold of life. Find someone to get you out sailing and stretching that brain of yours. I think my Dad would want my Mom to do the same thing.”
Now I listened as David, who is helping me fulfill those wishes, thanked everyone for making him welcome and stated his respect for Larry and Larry’s legacy. “Larry would have liked David,” I thought. “Even though they are both so different, they would have become good friends.”
Michael's photographs of Larry through the years, were the perfect backdrop to the eulogies that flowed.
Several other friends stood up to share stories of the Larry they remembered. John Sinclair got a good laugh when he told of bringing a slightly battered but well-loved wooden dinghy over and asking Larry to restore it. John is a great architect, but not a craftsman. He really admired Larry’s practical abilities. When he asked if he could watch Larry work, the answer was, “My rates are $50 an hour. If you watch $75 an hour. And if you want to help, $100 an hour.” Others who had raced with us on board Taleisin at various times, recounted Larry’s amazing ability to be exactly on time at the starting gun.
Mark and Jess started the second set with a lovely rendition of “China Blue,” a song written by Mark with his partner Loren Beringer. A modern sea chanty, we’d first heard it at a music festival in the woods of western Maine where we originally met Mark. (We’d gone there to listen to Larry’s the guitarist Tommy Emmanual. And I must admit to be a real Tommy groupie.) Then after a wonderful 30 minutes of music Mark announced, “Lin asked me to sing Larry’s absolute favorite song, but my voice isn’t really good enough. So I hope this works.” Then Jess slowly drew the opening phrases of Jennifer Rushes “Power of Love” from her violin. As the sound of violin soared with the beautiful melody, I looked around the room to see tears in the eyes of almost every one who had come to share this special time with me and wished that Larry could have been with us in reality as this was exactly the scene he loved, fine music good food and camaraderie.
Sunday morning started more slowly. The sun was out, the morning absolutely still. By 9am the grill was on and the first plates of apple pancakes with maple syrup and bacon were being devoured. After 15 overnighters plus a few folks who had sailed in were sated, I left everyone chatting comfortably on the back deck then gathered Larry in his wooden box and set off in Bubbles. I took only two other people with me, the two who had known Larry the most intimately, Keini and Doug Schmuck. Together we motored out through Maori Channel until we were in open water. Then I shut down the motor to drift quietly on the amazingly still water. The three of us shed some tears, and shared some memories as I opened the bag containing Larry’s ashes. I put a small handful of ash in a separate bag so that I could bury it on shore, then slowly poured the rest into the sea. A huge grey blossom seemed to form beneath us. Then slowly dissipated as the current caught it. Only when there was nothing left to see did I re-start the engine and motored slowly back to North Cove. Not a word was said by any of us until we were once again secured alongside the jetty that Larry had rebuilt so many years before.
About four dozen friends and islanders joined us by early afternoon. Together we climbed into small boats to motor across the cove to Camp Bentzon, the outdoor recreational childrens camp. Peter and Erin, the managers of the camp, showed us concept drawings of the new covered pavilion area and open firepit that will soon be built at the beginning of the track leading to the Larry Pardey Memorial observatory. Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Observatory Fund. Over $22,000 NZ dollars are in the fund, the equivalent of $15,000 US. Part of the money will be used to upgrade the four telescopes. Part will purchase the materials for the new pavilion. Volunteer labour will soon have construction under way.
We all wandered up to the observatory platform which has room for a whole school group and there is a small building which houses the four portable 10 inch telescopes and a dozen very good star observing binoculars. As a coda to an almost perfect weekend, Mark played a few melodies on his guitar. Just pure acoustics, no electronic boost. The sound of his strumming, light breezes stirring the leaves of the trees, tui’s warbling. Mark was joined by Daniel Tollemache for two final melodies. Then in almost total silence, we all walked through the wooded areas of the camp and back down to the beach where a ferry was waiting next to our smaller boats to take everyone home.
Mark and Daniel playing the final music of the weekend on the deck of the Larry Pardey Memorial Observatory
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There have been many heartwarming tributes written about Larry. He would be utterly amazed to find he was remembered not only in sailing publications but in national newspapers such as the New York Times and London Times UK. But I would like to end this celebration by sharing my own thoughts, the tribute I would wish he knew I’d write:
The Larry I Remember
“An amazing sailor. He did it all,” wrote one magazine editor. “Raced boats, delivered boats, built two boats, sailed them engine-free around the world, both eastabout and westabout. Rounded the great southern capes against the prevailing winds…”
“Amazing boatbuilder,” wrote another. “But he’ll be remembered for his motto: go small, go simple go now. It inspired thousands of would-be sailors to get out there and try it.”
Since Larry took his final voyage a few weeks ago, I have been almost overwhelmed with the tributes his admirers have shared with me. Many bring tears to my eyes as I recall the 55 years of our hugely rewarding partnership. I use the words partnership instead of marriage for two reasons. We were only legally married for 52 of those years. And second, if there ever was a true partnership, it was the one we shared, from building our boats together, to working as a delivery team, wandering the world for more than 38 years in the intimate space of boats under 30 feet in length, building a home base in New Zealand, and then writing 10 books as a team.
Larry truly earned the accolades that I read. But these tributes describe the man other people saw: big, bold, determined, generous. The Larry I knew so intimately was far more complicated than this.
Larry was a man who kept every promise he made, and a doer who knew how to dream. On our first date in Newport Beach, California, two days after we met, he took me to see his keel timber, the first piece of the boat he was building. He sat me down on the loft floor saying, “You are in the cockpit.” Then he walked along the 30-foot long, full-sized drawing of the boat plans, stopping to point out where a coachroof would someday sit, where the mast would be, then the bow. He extended his arm forward and, with a faraway look in his eye stated, “And then there will be a seven-foot-long bowsprit to point towards the horizon.”
“That was a wonderful day, almost like an adventure,” I said as I prepared to leave and head back to my home near the edge of the California desert, 100 miles to the north.
“Stick with me baby and you’ll go a long way,” he replied.
He definitely lived up to his promise.
When we’d been living together for about three months (I moved in with him a week after that second date), Larry was working three days a week on the boat, and four as skipper on a 20-ton charter ketch. I was working as a computer tech five days a week and a boat-builders’ apprentice—Larry’s—two days. One of his mates came by, who’d sailed as engineer on the 85-foot schooner, Double Eagle while Larry was first mate and the late Bob Sloan the skipper during a four-month charter trip to Hawaii for a movie shoot. The two men began recalling stories of their voyage. “Did Larry ever tell you he was dating a movie actress and she almost convinced him to come back to Hollywood with her because she had arranged for him to get some acting work?” Ken went on to tell me how Larry had dated Diana Hyland for a while. (Diana soon became John Travolta’s partner.) Later that night I asked Larry why he hadn’t taken her up on her offer. “I didn’t want to pretend to do things. I wanted to actually do them,” was his succinct reply.
Where other men might be ego driven, Larry wasn’t. Math and geometry are easy for me. Not for Larry, who took an extra year to graduate from high school. One day he was trying to line out the topside planking of the boat we were building. I asked him what he was doing. He explained how hard it was to get the right spacing so the lines would look fair and handsome. I thought about it for a few minutes and suggested a mathematical solution. “Let’s try it,” he said. A few months later I happened to be inside the boat shop cutting wood plugs when one of Larry’s mentors came by to check our progress. “Nice job of lining out,” Roy Wildman said. Larry didn’t hesitate: “Lin showed me how to do it.”
Larry was the master of quips. One day when I was trying to drive four-inch nails into my very first wood-working project, a set of saw horses, I threw the hammer half way across the boatyard in frustration. He calmly picked it up and said, “If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.” That became the motto that underlay our lives together.
Larry had very high expectations of himself and encouraged the same in me, while at the same time being very careful not to dent my self-esteem. After three-and-a-half years of working together we finally set off on our first ocean passage on the boat we’d built, the 24-foot Seraffyn. The second day out, a hundred miles south of San Diego, I became horridly seasick. I was laying on the cabin sole, bucket nearby, feeling sure I’d ruined both our dreams. He set the windvane, came down below and sat on the floor stroking my hair. “Remember, Lord Admiral Nelson got deathly seasick every time he went to sea,” he said.
Larry was first and foremost a sailor. Where other people went cruising to see the world, Larry went to sail. Nowhere in the world was he more relaxed, at peace and fully alert than when he untied the lines and felt the boat begin to move away from shore. He loved every aspect of keeping a boat moving under sail. He seemed to be able to sense exactly what was happening to the wind, the sea and the sails, even if he was down in his bunk. “Lin, how about checking to see if you can ease the headsail just a bit, I think the wind has backed,” he’d often say when I popped down below during a night watch. He was always right.
Though he grew impatient with long, drawn-out conversations about politics, and avoided what he called “self-indulgent intellectualizing,” he was a voracious reader of history. “That’s why I love going to sea,” he often said to me. “Only chance I get to dive into books like this.” Like this meant Winston Churchill’s history of the English-speaking world, or any of Barbara Tuchman’s probing tomes.
“I’d make a lousy teacher,” Larry often said to me. But in the end, that is how some of his most loyal friends saw him. He taught literally hundreds of young boatbuilders tricks to keep them motivated. He refused to splice anyone’s wire rigging, instead teaching them how to do it themselves. In spite of being uncomfortable with public speaking, he gave wonderful seminar talks on subjects really dear to his heart, from how to make a boat easier to sail, to how to weather storms at sea. I asked three of the men he mentored when they were youngsters dreaming of building boats, “What do you remember most about Larry?” Each one said it was his generosity as a teacher. When I mentioned Larry’s reluctance to be seen as a teacher, Peter Legnos, who came to live with us on board Seraffyn for six weeks when he was just 18 said, “But that was Larry’s genius, he chose his students carefully.”
Larry had a fine sense of the humor and could be amazingly adaptive and supportive. As my writing career grew and people began recognizing me when we sailed into a new port (before he began writing too), we happened to run into one of his old friends, a woman who was highly engaged in the emerging feminist movement. “Lin, you are losing your own identity,” she stated firmly. “Every sailor I meet refers to you as Lin and Larry. You have to change this.” I shared this with Larry. “Why try and change it?” he said. “I like you being first.”
The Larry I knew was a complex man, complete with flaws such as his impatience with any paperwork; any bureaucracy that stood in his way; and a low tolerance with people who saw only stumbling blocks when he saw that the same blocks were ones that could be used to build a solution. His determination was one of his best attributes…and also one of his worst. It could sometimes drive him to exhaustion when, if he’d backed off for a while, he might have found an easier tack to take.
At the same time, he was fully aware of his good fortune in life, like being raised by loving parents, and with grandparents who introduced him to spirituality and inventiveness. The luck of having hands which naturally seemed to know how to shape wood to his will. And the blessing of finding a life that let him conclude, near the end, “I did everything I ever dreamed of doing and more.”
I had the good fortune of sharing Larry’s life and gained tremendously along the way. He showed me how to make and keep friends. He taught me to have confidence in myself, to stretch my horizons, to start both small and big projects and actually finish them. I remember one time when we had just brought a large ketch alongside a rough jetty. He climbed off and turned to give me a hand. I hesitated as I looked down at the three feet of water separating the boat from the dock. “Jump,” he said. “I promise I’ll catch you,” I did, then, and many times afterwards. He always caught me.
Lawerence Fred Pardey October 31, 1939 – July 27, 2020
Can you Ever Relax?
“Up a lazy river….” The tune keeps going round and round in my head as I watch a brilliant gold and orange sun slowly settle behind a small grove of palm trees. Cane fields stretch beyond the palms for as far as the eye can see. A flock of pelican skim the water between us and the shore. The only ripple I can see is the wake the river makes as it meanders past Sahula towards the Tasman Sea.
We are anchored completely on our own, 20 kilometers up the Clarence River just south of the Queensland border. David has joined me for some biscuits, three different dips and liquid refreshments out in the cockpit. Together we savour the moment.
It is hard to reconcile this utter tranquility with the frenzy of the previous hours.
We are bound from Tasmania towards Queensland to spend the winter months and to catch up with friends and family as we wait for September. That is when the weather should let us have a relatively easy passage back to New Zealand. After working north from the stormy waters of the Bass Strait, and then spending time amidst the congested waterways around Sydney, we had cherished the idea of heading up this broad river. No need to be constantly vigilant, no threat of storms, no worry about dragging anchors, no need to be tied up in a marina, herded into a tiny pen, cheek by jowl with neighboring boats where we’d feel like we were paying $50 a day just to listen to the sounds of clanging halyards and roaring traffic.
The reality had matched our expectations. Once inside the half kilometer wide river we found we could anchor freely, just about anywhere we wanted. Sometimes we were in view of a farmhouse or a small cluster of homes. Sometimes we saw a few other anchored cruising boats. Most often we were completely on our own. The few small villages along the river each offered floating pontoons where, at no charge, we could have pulled alongside and secured. A water tap was handy if we wanted to top up. The local pub was only a few hundred meters from each landing. But with the Covid19 isolation regulations, they were only offering take away meals. So, coming alongside didn’t really interest us. Instead we’d anchored off and rowed ashore for a walk and to enjoy the clusters of colonial homes and buildings which had been lovingly preserved or restored. We fell into a pattern of motoring up river for an hour or two one day, then settling in to read a book or catch up on a writing project the next. David got out his art pad and made quick sketches. Occasionally another yacht would anchor nearby and it’s owner would meander over for a natter. This had been one of those times in a cruising life when absolutely nothing happened and that was just fine with us.
Then things changed.
Yesterday we’d moved another 10 kilometers up the river. In the early afternoon we edged over towards the side of the river and anchored, choosing this spot because David wanted to sketch the palms backed by some particularly interesting cirrus clouds highlighted by the setting sun.
“I’m almost finished with this book, loving it,” David said when we both woke this morning. “I’m going to stay in bed and read it.”
“Great,” I answered. “Gives me a chance to finish the chapter I am writing.”
I climbed out of the bunk, grabbed my clothes and headed into the main cabin to start some hot water for tea. I pulled on a shirt just as I stepped clear of the loo and into the main cabin, my foot hit water. I looked down to see a puddle on the floor where I stood, then I looked towards the galley. Wavelets were washing along the floorboards.
“David get here quick!” I yelled. “We’re sinking!”
He was there so quickly we almost collided as I turned to push the bilge pump switch on the electrical panel over the chart table.
“Only thing it can be is the stern gland,” David yelled as he climbed through the galley wielding a flashlight. He scrambled past the engine box and into the engine room. “Water is pouring in,” he called over his shoulder. “Shaft seal has gone. Go out and start the engine.”
Half clothed (upper half) I rushed into the cockpit and pushed the starter. The engine roared into life.
“Now put her very slowly into forward,” David yelled from the engine compartment.
“Now put it in neutral,” I heard seconds later.
His head appeared in the companionway. “Water’s stopped. We’re okay but can’t believe this happened. That dripless shaft seal hasn’t leaked a drop since I put it on 14 years ago. Wonder why it happened now?”
By now the bilge pump had been working for several minutes and still the water was still lapping the edges of the floorboards. For the next hour it kept pumping, removing over 500 gallons of water that had invaded the boat.
“Why didn’t the bilge alarm go off?” I asked. “Why didn’t the automatic bilge pump start up?”
“That’s something I’ll have to sort out when I get this mess cleaned up,” David answered as he pulled the dripping carpet and rug out of the main salon. “You are going to have to move your work into the stern cabin and stay out of my way. I am going to have to get all these floorboards up to make sure all the water drains and my tools get dried and…Sorry, but it’s a one man job.”
For five hours David was like a demon, sponging bilge compartments, pouring buckets of water overboard. “Thank god it’s fresh river water, if this had happened out at sea everything that got wet would have already started rusting.”
Though I could occasionally help by handing him a wrench or screw driver, mainly I just worked at keeping out of his way. By late afternoon the last water was out of the boat, each of the tools which are stored in bilge lockers had been dried then thoroughly coated with WD40 then returned to their now dry bilge spaces. Only then I was able to help replace the sun dried carpets, to re-organize the interior furnishings which had been hastily tossed aside as he worked. And by then we had rehashed what had gone wrong and share our relief that the leaking and the automatic bilge pump failure had occurred while we were on board.
As the sun finally set I pondered the fact that you can never truly relax when you live afloat. And there is always a maintenance job list if you have a cruising boat. “David when do you want to settle in and do it,” I asked. “Upgrading the bilge pump arrangement, checking the area around the stern shaft?”
He stretched and looked around at the peaceful scene. “Weather is good for heading north next week, getting too cold for me here. Nowhere on the river to put the boat on a grid. How about waiting for a better time, a time when we have access to good facilities. How about doing it when we we get home – only a few more months until we cross the Tasman and settle in for a year or two at Kawau?”
I agreed, but as we meandered northward, I noticed both of us making frequent forays into the engine room with a flashlight. Never once spotted a drip. But even today, five months later, I still check each time we use the engine.
 Sahula has what is called a dripless shaft bearing. The seal is created by a stainless steel plate mated to a carbon disk with a pressurized bellows surrounding the shaft. It appears the chemical change from salt water to fresh allowed a small bit of salt or calcium crystals to shake loose and jam between these two plates. Once the engine was put in gear, the impurities were washed clear to allow the two plates to mate perfectly again. But now we do check to ensure there is no leakage each time we shut down the engine.
I have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes everyone has been sending as they learned of Larry's passing. Many of you generously donated towards upgrading and ensuring the Larry Pardey Memorial Observatory at the childrens camp on Kawau island continues to thrive and introduce youngsters to the beauties of the night time skies. I am humbled by outpouring of support. As a small thank you, here is something to entertain you during these difficult Covid19 times.
This is the Perfect Cruising Ground
A matter of perspective
A flight of pelican skim the sun-sparkled water just a dozen feet from where we lay at anchor. A flock of black swan waddle across the exposed mud flats a hundred yards to leeward. No sight nor sound of traffic or city life, no moorings, no other boats, nothing but us and the birds.
We’d sailed for hundreds of miles to get to know David’s first grandchild whose family lives near Melbourne, Australia and to partake in family holiday madness. Western Port Marina, just a dozen miles from his daughter’s home, proved to be the perfect location, one that let us invite family and a host of David’s cruising friends on board. Being secured alongside in the marina let us head off to lunches and evening entertainments without hesitation. But after three weeks of being tied cheek to jowl with 200 other boats and partaking of an overflowing social life, we’d needed a break and this felt like utter bliss.
It would have been difficult finding this isolated anchorage without the aid of a chart plotter. Called Chicory Cut, it is just that, a deeper cut in a vast area of mudflats which now, at low tide, lay fully exposed but at high tide would be hidden under three feet of water. The nearest visible land is almost a mile away and when David got on his paddle board to go ashore for a walk soon after we anchored, he found solid ground unreachable unless he was willing to wade for half a mile through knee deep gooey thick mud. We’d chosen Chicory Cut as it is one of the few places in the huge expanse of Western Port Bay that offers protection from southwesterly winds and is, at the same time, away from swift currents and shipping channels. We knew we could only stay two days. After that we had to return to the marina or look for another cut on the northern side of the bay to have protection from the forecast northerly gales which would make this anchorage untenable.
“Sure looking forward to getting up to the Barrier Reef in a few months,” I commented when David set out snacks for sundowners. He nodded in agreement then added, “and after that be good to get back to New Zealand to enjoy meandering around the Hauraki Gulf islands. Talk about two almost perfect cruising grounds. Can’t see much to recommend this area.”
I had spent more than 4 decades exploring the world under sail before I met David, he had spent 11 years circumnavigating and I remember how, on our first meeting, we’d the begun the conversation by sharing our favorite cruising grounds. He had listed the islands of southern Turkey, I’d countered with Baja California, and the river estuaries of western Ireland. Our highly different lists grew as the evening lengthened. That had been the beginning of a relationship which saw us set sail together from New Zealand 18 months ago. We’d explored the islands of Vanuatu, then meandered through Australia’s Great Barrier reef area, south to Sydney and on to Tasmania.
Southeastern Tasmania might have added itself to our list of favorite cruising grounds except for the very short cruising season and the unreliable weather patterns which, even in the height of summer could bring week-long gales. But the local cruisers we met as we explored the hidden coves and rivers south of Hobart and around to the wild southwestern reaches of Tasmania, raved about their home waters. Perfect cruising, they told us.
Two days later, just ahead of the forecast gales, we returned to Western Port Marina for another round of socializing. That evening we joined Jan and Peter Metherall and their family for a leisurely lunch. I’d met the Metherall’s when we anchored near their Salar 40 in French Polynesia. We’d offered their three youngsters, at that time aged from 9 to 12, the opportunity to play around in Cheeky, Taleisin’s 8-foot sailing dinghy. Like many cruising friendships, ours had grown as we meandered further along the South Pacific Milk Run. Now their children had teenaged children. “Glad you found Chicory Cut, it’s our favorite anchorage,” Jan said. “Our kids couldn’t wait to go there. They loved getting covered in mud from head to toe, catching yabbies’ on the foreshore, fishing, swimming, exploring all the cuts. And then there is the anchorage at the end of Philip Island and...”
That opened a floodgate of stories about excursions taken first on a trailer sailor and later on the keel boat the family sailed throughout the big bays of Southern Victoria and from one end of the Bass Straits to the other before fitting out the offshore cruiser which took the them right around the world. “Never found a more perfect cruising ground than right here,” Jan stated. Her children seemed to agree. “Remember when we spent almost a month exploring the edges of Flinders Island?” one said. “King Island, that’s my favorite, never had a day without some kind of fun adventure,” said another.
Two months later, when we said our final farewells to family and friends then began sailing north away from the threat of winter I finally found time to look through the photos I’d snapped during the weeks it took us to navigate from the top of Tasmania, into the Bass Straits, then west to King Island to gain the weathering we needed to lay Western Port Bay. We’d been frustrated by the ever-changing weather plus the strong currents. The moment we made another safe anchorage, we began looking for the next chance of fair weather to move onward. Only when we were stymied by foul winds, did we settle in and relax for few days.
Flinders Island, our reception couldn’t have been kinder. Windswept and barren, vastly under populated, that was my impression. My photos from the 30 hours we lay in Lady Barron Anchorage show a different story. They remind me of the evening we spent at the fisherman’s pub overlooking the myriad of islands and channels south of the quiet main port. There we were offered long hot showers and very fresh fish platers. One of the locals who’d helped take our lines when we sailed in, offered us “a pint” plus an invite to join the local folks for a quiz night – if we were brave enough. Another local pointed out the crudely drawn map, hanging on the bulletin board. It showed half a dozen potential walks to various favorite viewpoints around Lady Barron Island. A second hand drawn chart showed good landing spots on other islands. Now I can imagine we might have found a dozen fine anchorages to explore had we not been so goal oriented.
Then there are the photos from our six-day weather enforced stop on the Derwent River. Since we were delayed, we’d motored 20 miles up the river to Launceston and secured right in the center of this bustily little city. Though the clouds high above us scurried before storm force westerlies, the bluffs along the river sheltered. A leisurely walk along the riverfront board walk led us up through the Gorge, a dramatic jumble of rocks and river, to a Victorian garden wonderland complete with 150-year-old steel fretwork bandstand. To keep from feeling restless we took this chance to rent a car and explore some of the mountains of northern Tasmania. Our reward, a chance to be in a snowstorm in mid-summer, warm hearted people, spectacular English style gardens and a glimpse of a rural lifestyle that is drawing an amazing number of people away from the cities to the north.
When fair weather returned we day hopped along the top of Tasmania, timing our departure to coincide with the west going current, arriving at a new anchorage and settling in for the night, never launching the dinghy, just eating, climbing into the bunk then getting underway again in the morning. Fortunately, after a few day hops, another blow was eminent with winds forecast to go right around the compass. I say fortunately as the nearest fully protected potential spot was Port Stanley.
From the moment we sailed through the 15-meter-wide entrance into the tiny stone rimmed fishing port I knew I’d like it. Well maintained steel fishboats filled many of the wooden pens lining one side of the port. Only two fishboats lay alongside the 300-meter-long shoreside wharf, both obviously undergoing refits. We motored slowly along the length of the harbor towards the quiet fish factory at its head and decided to prepare lines to go into one of the wood lined pens when a call rang out from a bright red trawler, “go alongside that white fishboat on the wharf. You won’t have to put out fenderboards that way. Friend of mine. Not moving for the next week at least. Harbor master? Gone fishing. No charges here, this is our harbor.” Off the beaten path, beautiful walking tracks leading up a steep bluff to a wallaby populated, birdsong filled, community restored native forest, friendly people who truly did want to know where we came from, why we were there, a picturesque and historic tiny downtown where only a few tourists meander other than during the hectic weeks of summer break. Definitely one of those stops that will spring to mind when I think of favorite ports.
We sailed into anchor at Grassy Bay on King Island, just an hour ahead of a westerly blow. Within a few hours a local had offered us the use of his car to get to a launderette in the biggest town on the island. “And while you are at it, better take in a few of the sights,” he’d said as he handed us the keys. On King island, big is truly relative as only about 1400 people live here, farming, fishing. Tourism is a very small fraction of the economy as transport from the mainland is expensive and limited. Yet when we explored further afield, we came across an amazing art gallery set right on the edges of the shore across the bay from the picturesque cray fishing port of Crissy. Large colorful paintings adorned the outside of the building. Big windows revealed a cornucopia of color inside. The door, closed but not locked, had a sign – Bring Your Own Lunch Café. And that is exactly what we found when we opened the door. No proprietor, just a big handsome dining table set amidst art and handcraft work from around the island. Another small sign asked that washing up be done at the outside sink and the table reset as found. “Please put money for art or craft purchases in the box and write down what you took in the guest book.”
In hindsight, I can see why Jan and her family call the Bass Strait a perfect cruising ground. How different our first impression might have been had we approached this area like they did, not as an obstacle in our rush to get somewhere else, but as our destination. Had we settled in and taken our time, we might have found dozens more treasures to savor. Instead of being frustrated by unfavorable winds, we might have used them as an excuse to explore different anchorages. We might have taken long walks ashore to experience the flora and fauna that are unique to this part of the world. And when we had slowed down, we probably would have found, as we did in Baja California or Southern Turkey that the local people invited us into their lives to add spice to our adventures.
Reviewing my photos from the Bass Strait has reminded me once again that perfect cruising grounds are a state of mind. A state of mind that can only be achieved when you set aside the desire to keep moving on and learn to enjoy just being.
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