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.

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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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M2MvM – the last of Burma … Rangoon (now Yangon)

Whoever said all good things must come to an end is probably correct, but I wish right now he wasn’t. I don’t want to leave Burma, and hope to return to this wonderful country.

From Heho and the fabulous Inle Lake, we fly to Yangon, founded in 1755, renamed Rangoon when the British annexed the country in 1885. Tree lined avenues, lakes and parks and a bustling city centre. A wealth of Victorian architecture, including the famous Strand Hotel, sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles.

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We visit the must-see Shwedagon Pagoda 2,500 years old, on Singuttara Hill, the most sacred Buddhist site in Burma and one of the wonders of the religious world. Complex geometry and many structures, up to 110m high, the lower stupa claims 8,688 solid gold bars, with another 13,153 in the upper part. The tip of the stupa claims 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, many sapphires and other gems, 1,065 golden bells and at the very top a single 76 carat diamond. It’s like Burma kept the best pagoda for the last.  For us, at any rate.

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Looks like a job for Ocean’s 11!

 

 

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We have lunch on Inya Lake, within 200 metres of Aug San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent 15 years under house arrest.

All too soon, it’s goodbye to fabulous Burma/Myanmar as we fly to Singapore and then home to our own Mandalay.

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M2MvM – Burma even more beautiful! Inle Lake

20160314_075737_HDRA short flight from Bagan puts us into Heho and we transfer to the fabulous Aureum Palace Hotel. This is a stand-out accommodation resort on the shore of Lake Inle. In the restaurant one young waiter learned that my name is John, and he became so excited, calling me “Johnny” because he was Johnny, too. He epitomized the friendliness of the people of Burma. The Aureum Palace would be my favourite Burma resort; if you go to Myanmar, you must stay there.

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We spend a couple of days on the huge lake (116 km2) in high speed long-tails, visiting villages around the shore, marvelling at the floating gardens. These gardens are staked to the lake bottom, replenished continually by boat loads of vegetable matter hauled on those small boats then stacked on top of the garden beds when the previous crop is harvested. Inle provides the bulk of Burma’s tomatoes and many vegetable crops. Reminiscent of the floating island dwellers on Lake Titicaca.

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Some 70,000 people live in these water villages. One small group still follow the ancient practice of rings (actually a long spiral) around the neck and legs of the women. We’re told that it’s not a beauty thing. It’s actually intended to make the women seem ugly to invading marauders. The practice h20160314_103943_HDRas nearly died out. Fascinating.

The fishermen on their long-tail canoes use “leg paddling” to manoeuvre their canoes. The long paddle is held against the body, one leg wrapped around it propels the boat, leaving both arms free to handle their conical fish traps and other gear. Against the setting sun, they look like so many ballet dancers performing an elegant and ancient ritual. I hope this fishing system never dies out.

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The lake is surprisingly shallow. Much of it is about 2m deep in the dry season, and crystal clear. Dense growth on the lake floor, in places reaching to the surface, provides a home for a large fish population, predominantly a species of carp. Boats zip around on it all day dragging rooster tails, people travelling, harvesting lake weed, fishing – a multitude of pursuits all based on this massive water resource.

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Villages around the lake provide homes for craftsmen of all types. We watch silk weaving on handlooms, visit the ringed neck women, have lunch in a restaurant on stilts, see beaten silver ornaments. Surprise, surprise, we acquire a couple of paintings. They’re now on our kitchen wall, a constant reminder of a wonderful month in our lives.

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At the end of another wonderful day we return to our rooms – yes, plural; our unit is probably as large as our own house – hoping that somehow we could stay here for a much longer. But as the man said, tempus fugit, and so must we, tomorrow, to Yangon our departure city.

Book, you say? What book? It’ll have to wait.

John Bell Books

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M2MvM – Beautiful Burma! Bagan

WOW! 

How many times am I going to say that?           WOW!

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Bagan, on the banks of the majestic Irrawaddy, dates back to 849 A.D. The former capital of the first Burma empire, embracing some 42 km2. There are literally thousands – someone said 4,000 – of ancient pagodas, stupas, shrines, ordination halls and monuments.

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

More gold leaf than I could imagine. Is it real? We’re assured that it is. I wonder how it survived the years of Japanese invasion, then political instability and struggles.

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I manage to lose another pair of thongs at the Ananda Temple, a whitewashed masterpiece of Mon architecture, with four standing Buddhas. Fabulous. It deserves another “wow” but I can’t keep saying that.

With my brand new longyi  (Burma laplap) – I think mine was designed to fit a Sumo wrestler – wrapped over a pair of shorts, and bare feet, the locals have reason to stare in bemusement. No pics of me so rigged will be permitted in this blog!

I can’t help but ponder how it is that Australians dress to local custom when travelling, yet some immigrants to Australia refuse to do so in our country. Maybe our politicians need to embrace Swiss immigration legislation, where one of the precursors to citizenship is proof of assimilation into Swiss culture. In all its forms. No assimilation, no citizenship. Simple. Sounds reasonable to me.

By late afternoon we’re pretty much pagoda’d out. At one collection of temple buildings about 2000 years old, and now crumbling, in disrepair, being overtaking by trees and vines, we meet a bunch of young girls selling beautifully colored material, and Carol can’t resist.

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Up early next morning for one of the trip highlights, a dawn flight with Oriental Ballooning Myanmar. Stunning. Several companies operating multiple balloons create a visual feast drifting silently above several thousand pagodas. Breathtaking.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

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I’ve about given up on progressing my next book while in Burma. Too much to see and do, feel and experience. Hopefully all of this wonder will recharge my author batteries for when we get back to ‘our’ Mandalay.

John Bell Books

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