About JohnBellBooks

John Bell was born in Kavieng, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Now retired, he and wife Carol call Airlie Beach, North Queensland, Australia home. John’s early years were spent New Guinea, and from there he has lived in Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia, Europe and S.E. Asia and, with Carol, has travelled widely both nationally and internationally. His life has been as varied and as challenging as some of his characters: having grown Macadamias, run cattle, been a restaurateur, wildlife park owner, property developer, storage operator, senior public servant, practising solicitor, Justice of the Peace and tax agent, as well as growing tropical fruit commercially. In his earlier years he worked as a paper boy, a surveyor's chainman, brushed scrub, worked in a timber mill, was a prelim. boy in the old Brisbane Stadium, cut cane both burnt and plants, picked tobacco and picked fruit along the Murray River! During the heady early ‘70s he became a part-owner/manager of ships, both charter and tramp, working from Europe and around the S.W. Pacific into Kieta, Bougainville on a regular basis, and Amamapare in West Irian. A keen sailor, water skier, pilot and spear fisherman, he completed National Service in the Royal Australian Navy. Naturally, he has a great affinity with, and an inherent love of the ocean and its reefs, boating of any kind, his wife, family and good friends. John was first published in an Australian magazine as a short story writer when in his twenties. However, it’s only now in his retirement that he can truly enjoy and pursue his dream.

Don Bell – Recruiter and Schooner Master

IMG_5213Seventy five years. A life time for many.

A life time denied to 1053 – mostly Australian – soldiers and civilians,  locked below decks on the Japanese ship Montevideo Maru, torpedoed and sunk on 1 July 1942 by the US submarine Sturgeon.

The Papua New Guinea Association of Australia (PNGAA) team have published a superb book, When the War Came which addresses the personal issues of loss in a collection of stories by relatives and friends, humanising this important piece of Australia’s history.

I am proud to have several personal stories included in this publication.

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Don Bell

The first of these I’d like to share with you commemorates my uncle, Don Bell, whose name appears on the manifest of the sunken ship Montevideo Maru.  Please click on the link to be directed to John Bell Books – Don Bell

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society, and the PNGAA have worked tirelessly to have this bit of Australian history included in the nation’s education syllabus.

The Japanese freighter, en route Rabaul to Hainan, bore no markings to indicate its cargo. Just another enemy vessel. A legitimate target.

Wartime censorship and perhaps a government – successive governments – wanting to not publicize the sinking has clouded Australia’s worst maritime disaster.

MONTEVIDEOweb1Largely excluded from school history curricula, that sinking and the Australian planning for and response to the Japanese invasion of New Guinea don’t reflect well on the government of the day. Successive governments appeared similarly reluctant to admit to the poor and inadequate planning, the atrocious decision making that sent an inadequate force of ill equipped military personnel to face a massive invasion force, and left civilians stranded in a hot zone.

Even when the Administrator in Rabaul tried to organize emergency evacuation using a ship then in harbour, permission was refused. The ship had to stay and load copra!

And was bombed and sunk.

John - - Don

The author with Elizabeth and Don Bell, 1941

If you would like a copy of the PNGAA’s publication “When the War Came” (with over 460 photographs and 540 large format pages)  go to … admin@pngaa.net—www.pngaa.org/site—www.memorial.org.au.

 

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my readers and followers.

As the sun set on 2016 and another magical Whitsunday evening brought the year to a suitable close, I sat ruminating on the current project, Book 4 in my Williams series which is occupying much time.

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So it was a great thrill, and a confidence-boosting start to 2017 that on flicking through a weekend  paper I read a pleasing review by prominent Townsville journalist and reviewer, Mary Vernon, of Book 3 MELTED WAX.

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Thank you Mary for taking the time to read and review this work with a positive and pleasing review (and of course stimulating sales!)

The three books I’ve  published to date – PAYBACK, PURI PURI and MELTED WAX – are available in printed copy directly from me via my website www.johnbellbooks.com or by download to your digital reader from Amazon www.amazon.com/author/johnbellbooks.

Print-on-demand copies are also available from Amazon.

And Home!

We enjoy a whale and calf near Square Reef, then a 15 knot bobsled ride inside the reef towards Mackay and the setting sun.20160824_175510_hdr

By nightfall the wind swings from north westerly to a cold 20 knot south easterly, bringing with it rain, sometimes heavy. We push through the sharp chop in the shallow water approaches to Mackay from the north, finally getting into the marina just after midnight.

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Next morning, we clear back into Australia through immigration and customs, and take on fuel.

Then out through the entrance and head north for the Whitsundays.

Hardly any wind at all, calm all the way.

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20160825_172936_hdrOff Cape Conway another whale with calf.

Overcast conditions, the light fades quickly and we work through passing showers.

Too dark to locate the mooring, we anchor overnight in Funnel Bay … and home!

Brian delivers us by dinghy to our doorstep – literally – and disappears into the rain to Drumbeat and Linda.

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Blue Water at its best

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Don’t get me wrong …  blue water sailing is mostly enjoyable.

Now out of the storms and in the sou’east trades, Drumbeat skips along, eating up the sea miles.

20160822_180139_HDR.jpgWe enter the shipping lanes between east coast Australia and east of New Guinea. A lot of ships traverse this bit of ocean. At one stage we have seven ships on our AIS screen. On sunset we pass the Chang Wah, 900 feet long. We’d been on collision course, until he turned to port and we did the same to our port.

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You can see why they call it blue water when you check the escape hatch out in the hull below waterline … this really is a loo with a view!

 

 

Brian plots our course through the Reef to our new clearance port of Mackay.

By the time we reach the Reef, the wind has eased, and we ghost along between the reefs. Flying fish and seabirds – one booby hitched a full night time lift with us, perched on a rail.

We stream a couple of lures, but no success.

 

 

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Ah, yes – the best laid plans …

20160820_055321_HDR.jpgSetting moon below the clouds of an early morning departure. Glassed off water farewells us, sky looks much better than yesterday. But at 2 a.m. the rain bucketed down, must’ve been a passing squall, with wind across the deck of 25 knots plus for about half an hour. Just to let us know there’s still some weather about.

20160820_061614_hdrWe cross fingers as we skirt the reef guarding the entrance. A hundred or more metres off our starboard bow a big marlin tail walks across the water, leaving us behind as he falls back into his element. I’m not quick enough to get a pic of this fitting farewell.

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We swing to port to run down the western side of Rendova Island, leaving Kolambangara off astern to starboard. Kolambangara, part of the scene of the naval battle in “Payback.”

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Blue sky above, but the horizon not promising, we sail fast in the protected lee of Rendova.

20160820_065825_hdrAn hour later, Kolambangara has disappeared into the base of a storm that comes chasing us.

Drumbeat slips along in light winds under full main and heads’l.

Instruments show 7.3 knots wind speed 8.6 knots boat speed. We continue like this, sailing faster than the wind, which is coming from just ahead of our port beam, slowly strengthening.

Now we’re parting company with the southern end of Rendova, 8 miles to port, lifting to the ocean swell. The sea is still relatively calm, nice fast sailing.

20160821_115806_hdrLunch on the run, puffy clouds over the slowly disappearing islands. The horizon ahead gives cause for concern, by mid afternoon we know why – a line of storms the full width of our horizon.

Soon conditions deteriorate.

We reduce the main to the third reef, and small heads’l as the wind quickly picks up – 25 knots, then 30, then 35 knots, worsening  While still daylight we take the decision to run from the storms. This means instead of heading south west to Gladstone, we go northwest towards PNG. It’s a wild trip for many hours until we get behind the limited shelter of a 30 mile long reef, Pocklington Ridge. By now a combination of distance between us and the storms and the reef shelter made conditions easier.

Well after midnight we reach the northwestern end of the reef, about 80 miles from the Louisiades, and gingerly turn again to the south west. The reef drops away to the Pocklington Trough, some 3000 metres deep. Serious water.

Daylight sees us in much calmer conditions, now heading for Mackay.

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Lukim Yu Bihain, Egholo

Easy to say, “see you later” in Pidgin. Not so easy to do. But – who knows what the future holds.

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The low has weakened, but widened. There seems to be a bit of a gap coming up weather wise. Reasonable wind for a short while, then a section of stronger stuff (25 kts) easing off (15/20 kts) as we head west. Our plans became the best laid of mice and men, you will see.

OK, decision made. We are leaving Egholo. But the memories will always stay with us.

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Including watching youngsters at sunset shoot the tiny point break in their canoes. One on a home made board. Much laughter and lots of happy.

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Lots of waving, and 0600hrs we are out of Egholo harbour. Already we can feel the breeze, a bit more than expected, and it’s only early.

By late morning we’re well down Blanche Channel heading S.E. along the eastern side of Rendova under heads’l and main. My first sail in a big cat – my experience has been in monohulls. And does this thing move! 60 ft of boat weighing less than my 13 tonne flybridge cat. The secret is in its construction – balsa cored kevlar. Even the lifeline stanchions are kevlar, and the sails. No wonder it performs well, with tall mast and large sail area. Headsail, drifter, two spinnakers to go with the main. The motion is SO different from a monohull.

We leave Tetepare to starboard and head for the exit past Vanganau from Blanche Channel, where we are farewelled by two Spinner dolphins, smaller than ours.

Away from land, we’re lifting to the ocean swell and the press of a breeze stronger than anticipated.

All overcast sky, squalls and storms well ahead and to port. Will they do the right thing and pass by us?

Of course not. By midday we are in storms, wind way too strong, seas rough. Brian takes the sensible decision to go back.  20160819_113645_HDR.jpg … pics don’t do it justice!20160819_115458_HDR.jpg

That in itself is an experience, going about in this strength of wind. Brian, calm and purposeful, methodically turn us around, and we head back to Rendova. Easier motion, with wind three quarters astern.

We scoot along, touching 23 knots at one stage. Yes. Faster than I could push Scorpion with 2 x 315 hp diesels! 23 knots under sail. Exhilarating, if a little other-worldly. Skippering Drumbeat is more like driving Starship Enterprise. Immense bridge deck, instruments and screens everywhere. Sailing by instruments, a whole new experience. Noise is overpowering –  sound of the wind, and the water slamming into the hulls.

We head back, this time along the western side of Rendova where Brian knows of an anchorage, although he’s not been into it before.
20160819_162509_HDR.jpgNot just an anchorage, this is a cyclone hole. Even more protected than Egholo, deep water, good holding bottom, jungle to the water, twists and turns to get in, after going around a long reef that lies right across the entrance. Raining steadily now, the calm water a blessing. No people, no canoes, we motor and anchor in 18m over sand, in behind Kenelo Point near Nusa Laeni.

I fillet a bunch of little fish from Egholo while Brian sets up the rain catching systems  to replenish our tanks. This place is silent, primeval, as the vertical rain showers pattern the dark water and brooding jungle. Gives a whole new meaning to calm water. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex or something shove through the leaves.

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We go to bed wondering what tomorrow’s weather will bring.

 

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