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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Sailing the Solomons

Right now I can 20160816_103004_HDR.jpgthink of nowhere I’d rather be. A bit of sun’d be nice, and those showers can go elsewhere, but motoring down the Diamond Narrows between New Georgia and Kohinggo Island takes some beating.

The barge hauls off to somewhere else, and we’re passed by a local ferry as the narrows open up into a huge lagoon area dotted with islands and reefs.

The dull sky tries, but can’t hide the beauty.  We pass a canoe with fishing detail – how many can they fit in one of those things? A lunch stop near the fishermen, and feeling pleased we have an enclosed cockpit and bridge deck as rain showers pass through.

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20160816_113717_HDRWe work southwards along the eastern side of Rendova Island, heading for an anchorage at Egholo. If a sailor wanted to design the perfect anchorage, this is what he’d come up with. Deep water, plenty of protection, reef across the front, friendly villagers, laughing kids. Heaven on a stick.

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Drumbeat at Egholo

We drop anchor right where shown on the map. Not because of the map, but because the village chief met us in his canoe as we came through the narrows and guided us to that spot. Completely enclosed by jungle, except for the entrance – and a transverse reef guards that. The anchorage is watched over by a mountain shrouded in cloud. Misty rain falls on glassed off water. We mightn’t see the near full moon coming up due to cloud, but we’ll get a good night’s sleep on this calm water. How could we not nickname this delightful place “the egghole?”

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The village chief – a great man

The headman, Gnana, welcomes us to his village, and we become the centre of attention for the village kids in their canoes. Shy, polite and gentle, with flashing smiles they are born to canoes. Little ones 4 years old, even.

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Overcast and rainy, the forecast is  not excellent. 25kts ESE blowing harder outside, and weather seems to be deteriorating. We decide a few days here might be nice, as we close up for the night.

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Not exciting weather

A break in the rain and it’s all kids and canoes.

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these kids – the true King Solomon’s Treasure

 

 

 

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Life to the beat of a different drum

The beauty of this place isn’t diminished by the overcast sky and misty showers. We join Brian and Linda on Drumbeat off Noro, on the island of New Georgia, anchored inside a shallow reef separating us from the channel. I eye off the pass through the reef, and automatically compare the width of our boat. Hmmm…

A visitor drops in by canoe for a bit of “story”.  And maybe a bit of bartering.

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Soon it’s  dusk and the sun shows momentarily below cloud as it waves goodbye for the night.

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Tomorrow is another day, and the local market calls.

20160816_080638_HDR.jpg20160816_080558_HDR.jpgOur last chance for fresh stuff, so we stock up. Jakfruit? Yes. Coconuts, pawpaws, bananas, all types of fruit and veg.

Market bartering done, we dinghy out past a line of big fishing boats that supply the local tuna cannery, and back to Drumbeat after clearing customs and immigration. That took a while, lik lik longtaim, but hey – who cares? They certainly don’t and that’s a contagious attitude.

20160816_082648_HDR.jpgWe swing out past Noro houses, slide through the narrow gap in the reef and turn to follow the barge that just left the Noro wharf. It seems to disappear into the jungle as it turns into Diamond Narrows. On my last trip through here in a Beneteau 44, maybe ten years ago, it seemed too tight for boats to pass. Not so – deep water to the banks, and sufficient room as it twists and turns westwards. Overcast and windless, we motor on calm water.

Trying to pictur20160816_095137_HDR.jpge racing down this channel on a stormy night with a squadron of wartime US Navy torpedo boats. It was much easier to fictionalize in Payback than it could ever be in real life.

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These pics don’t do the narrows justice.

Check ’em out some time on Google Earth, it’s Diamond Narrows in the Solomon Islands, near New Georgia.

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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.

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