|On the hardstand in New Caledonia, having the antifoul sprayed on.|
|Shanti, looking all presentable for Australia|
On Monday, 22nd July, I caught the early morning bus to Port Moselle to run around to the various authorities to clear out of New Caledonia. That finished, I had the option of taking Shanti back round to the marina to fill up with duty free fuel and water, but decided against it. The more pressing issue of timing my departure through the reef with the outgoing tide made me set off immediately, trusting that I had enough fuel and water on board to get back to Australia. As it turned out, water did become a bit of an issue, but I got by with what was stored in jerry cans, and the reduction in weight, plus the new bottom paint, made for much greater speeds.
The first two days were the usual battle with lumpy seas and seasickness, but that then settled into some glorious sunny weather with an 8 knot SE giving a very pleasant broad reach, and all was well in my little world.
|Still eating well.|
On Day 6, I was totally becalmed, which seems to have become something of a habit, and something to just accept, sitting and waiting. So long as I can drop any expectations of an arrival date, this works well. Generally, the wind will return. There are still those niggly little thoughts in the back of the mind about being a sitting duck, immobile in the face of potential disasters, like being run over by a ship, or hit by a newly formed storm, that make me want to move. It’s an eerie feeling just drifting without sails through a pitch black night. Which is best ignored, because the reality is that moving is just as dangerous. As always, it is the mind causing trouble.
Each country has its own distinctive smell. Western Samoa was sweet – not in a heavy, cloying way, but a delicate filigree, like the sweet nectar we children sucked from the trumpet heart of flowers. Australia smells like smoke – the coal-burning fumes of industry.
I had just rounded Breaksea Spit at the top of Fraser Island, motoring finally to close the last 40 nautical miles, with tiny puffs of wind just starting to ruffle the glassy sea, and then! Dolphins, leaping, spinning, flipping, turning somersaults high in the air in such an exciting display, as if to say Welcome Home!
After shrieking in delight as each new performance outdid the last, I quelled my excitement and crept quietly back to the cockpit. These magnificent creatures do seem to be attuned to our reactions, almost showing off like young children. A few years ago, a woman in NZ, similarly enthralled, died of a heart-attack when one crashed through the boat’s windscreen and landed in her lap. I’m not sure what happened to the dolphin.
I had just returned to the cockpit, when glancing forward, I saw the most enormous humpback whale right in front of Shanti. That was a heart-stopper! Luckily it had the good sense to dive out of the way, and surfaced again nearby, waving a fluke as if to say, I’m fine thanks. I watched in silent amazement as several others of these unbelievable giants leapt as miraculously as a jumbo jet getting airborne and breached all around me. An awe-inspiring sight worth sailing round the world for!
Seeing Australia on the clear and sunny horizon, there was no doubt about it – there was definitely a strong sense of coming home. (I still call Australia Home). I was glad to have chosen Bundaberg as the port of entry rather than Brisbane, with its busy shipping channels and shallow waters; just a straight and easy entry, and the sense of completion, of closing the circle where I began the solo part of my circumnavigation.
Arriving mid-afternoon on 30th July, with a gentle 5 knot breeze gave me plenty of time to savour the moment and feel a few twinges of emotion. The predominant feeling is of gratitude. There are so many things to be grateful for. Luck is probably the biggest. I have seen so many others on the wrong side of it, with engine failure, a broken mast, grounding on a reef, or with major health issues.
I’m grateful that my health held together, that Shanti held together, both of us through some very testing times. Not everyone with this same dream gets the opportunity to pursue it. Not everyone gets to complete it. I was definitely one of the lucky ones.
|Son-in-law, Dr Andrew Watkins, has been keeping records of my track.|
And so it’s done! Now, I’m back.
There was no grand finale when I arrived, no brass band, no flag waving, no cheering crowds, no cameras, in fact, no-one at all to welcome me back to Australia, which I was glad of. There were plenty of virtual congratulations on social media and a few phone calls, which was more than enough. I had lunch up at the local pub with good friends from Melbourne, Ray and Di, who just happened to be camping nearby.
My achievement was embarrassingly announced at the regular Friday night cruisers’ BBQ, a toast was raised by a bunch of strangers, and then forgotten. Where I have been in the past three and a half years is incomprehensible to most people, myself included.
It’s interesting how quickly thoughts of my journey fade into the shadowy past to join the storehouse of memories, which, like photos, can be visited from time to time, but no longer have any reality. Now, it’s just another day, and I am here, the only place I can ever be.
|The kangaroos are still here, as encountered on the "Walk to Wateva", only "Wateva", like most others, is up North.|
A few days after my father’s 100th birthday celebration, my sister asked him if he had enjoyed it, to which he replied, “to be honest, I have forgotten it.” This may have been the common amnesia of age, or perhaps his second childhood has him more centred in the present moment, a place, or rather, a state of being, which I actively cultivated at sea.
So what next? Tomorrow, I fly down to Melbourne to see family and friends and to attend to the various things that have been ignored. Shanti will rest quietly here in Bundaberg Marina and await my return. After that I will take advantage of the changing winds to sail slowly south, taking more time this time, to smell the roses.