I had a busy couple of months after my return to Victoria, B.C., in September, with a quick trip to England to see family, friends and the Southampton Boat Show and with lots of interviews, speaking requests and emails to respond to, as well as making a start on the many jobs needed on board Nereida as a result of my circumnavigation. It was nice to relax initially, with both the Empress Hotel and Spinnakers kindly giving me time and space to wind down. Sleeping undisturbed for as long as I fancied in a big, comfy, peaceful bed, with a big bathtub close by, followed by a breakfast with fresh fruit, was a totally different experience from the narrow bunk and food I had become used to during my eleven months at sea.
I was honoured when a busy dock in Victoria's Inner Harbour was named after me in November and I was also invited as a keynote speaker shortly afterward to the Canadian Coastguard's West Coast Symposium.
An enduring honour was the later installation of a bronze plaque, commemorating my two nonstop, single-handed, unassisted, world record circumnavigations from Victoria Harbour, on the 'wall of history' overlooking the Causeway Dock, within sight of the newly-named dock.
By December, I was in the warmth of Mexico, where I met up with cruising friends in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, after flying in from Canada for a few weeks. A short trip to San Francisco followed shortly after, and I received a CCA Special Recognition Award at an enjoyable Dinner held at the St Francis Y.C. and later met other Bay friends in Belvedere at the San Francisco Y.C., as well as being interviewed by a local radio station.
I watched the local New Year fireworks from a beach just outside the entrance to the La Cruz marina, fully expecting to be docked there in a refurbished 'Nereida' later in 2020.
Later in January, I flew to London, following an invitation from the Cruising Association who awarded me with their Duchess of Kent Trophy as a result of my 2018-19 circumnavigation. I had a good chat during the Flag Officers' Lunch with Sir Robin Knox-Johnson who presented the award to me - for the second time. Many thanks to the C.A. for honouring me and for their warm hospitality.
It was good to be able to meet up again with more friends and family over the week following, as well as locating a few much-needed boat parts not available in Canada. I took advantage of being in England to give a talk to the Royal Lymington Y.C who just managed to squeeze my talk, at short notice, into a busy week of events. It's a good thing this was well before Covid19 restrictions because the room was full to bursting. (An unexpected surprise after my talk was being given Honorary Life Membership of the Club).
Visiting the new U.S. Embassy to get a visa in a new passport was interesting on several counts, having gone through the initial on-line application while in Mexico. Fortunately, the process was completed within the week so I got my passport back in time to fly out! (I expected to need the U.S. visa later in the year, when sailing over to the USA as I headed south on a planned trip from British Columbia.) I even managed to fit in the January RCC Dinner, also held at the R.Lym.Y.C., where it was great to catch up with more friends not seen for a time. Fortunately, there was a kind member there with his boat at Berthon's nearby dock since I totally missed out on getting to my prebooked Air B&B before a flight next day from Gatwick. I'd had too many glasses of wine to be allowed to drive, so instead, I had a good sleep in his forepeak, rocking gently - very nice!
Next stop was Orlando airport, Florida, to be met by a cruising friend, Robert, last seen face-to-face in Richards Bay, S. Africa in 2008! A week was spent with him and Elyse in Punta Gorda. I'd never visited the west coast of Florida before and Robert determined to show me everything he could on both land and water. We went out from his canal-side house to Port Charlotte and Peace River in his small, fast motorboat and enjoyed fresh seafood. I managed to see some wildlife in the more protected parts of the waterways and was also taken rifle (clay pigeon) shooting - a first for me and I did get a couple of hits (but don't ask how many I missed!) We went for a ride on his BMW motor-bike - riding pillion gets interesting when cornering fast but he was a safe driver. He has done amazing things to his own (steel) sailboat, stripping her down completely and rebuilding everything - mast, rigging and engine included - so we had plenty of boat chat.
Regretfully, my time there was up all too soon and I was driven across Florida back to Orlando to catch a flight to Austin, Texas, for a presentation to Austin Y.C. - lovely to catch up with a few more friends I'd not seen for a time. It was interesting to see the boats moored at the docks so much closer to the Clubhouse than when I was last there in the severe drought conditions of 2014 and I was surprised to see snow in Texas - Austin got a sprinkling one night.
It was a short stay in Austin but I gave another talk, to the Williams County Amateur Radio Club, the evening before I had to fly back to Orlando - a short hop by air. A lot of generous radio friends had clubbed together to enable me to attend their Annual 'hamfest' gathering and I met a lot of people that previously I'd only ever talked to over the air from my boat - thanks to Jim, WB2REM (always a great organiser), and to so many others who made sure I had a great time. It was such a pleasure to match so many welcoming people to the callsigns I knew so well and chat to them in person. Thanks also to Steve & Terri for making me feel at home in their place.
A long interview on Growing Bolder TV was followed by an enjoyable live presentation and a Q& A session in front of a large audience at the Winterpark Centre. Two days later, my flight to Sydney, Australia, took off from Orlando on 12th Feb and arrived around dawn on Valentine's Day, NSW time. A long, tiring journey was pleasantly ended by being met by a car which took me through the morning rush-hour to my cousin's place in Artarmon.
Unbelievably, I've been 'trapped' here in Australia ever since.... I'd planned a four-month 'circumnavigation of Oz by land yacht' (a hired camper van!) to explore Australia and end back in Sydney, ready to fly out mid-June back to B.C., expecting to work hard on a lot of much-needed work on Nereida..... but the original booking and a subsequent flight booking back to Canada were both cancelled by the airlines. I've had to get another tourist visa, which was eventually granted until mid-August this year, after a three month wait. As I write this on 1st March, there's a total lack of clarity regarding the timing of a possible return to Nereida in Canada due to no flights and ongoing Covid19 border restrictions.
I was able to explore some of Sydney and was shown around the impressively scenic Blue Mountains. I met Australian ham radio friends, gave a presentation at the annual Wyong hamfest, had a lovely evening sail around Sydney Harbour while taking part in a 'Twilight Race' out of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron (which lies close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge), met with fellow solo-sailor Lisa Blair for lunch and a look over her boat, enjoyed 'Don Giovanni' at the Sydney Opera House and walked up North Head to get an excellent view over Sydney Harbour, visualising the start of the 2019 Sydney-Hobart yacht race that I'd not long watched live on T.V.
I then took off around Australia in my camper van - with a SSB radio kindly fixed in place by radio friends Kim VK6TQ and Tony VK2RI to keep me connected and safe in remote places (via the Austravel Safety Net) as I travelled around. It's usual for mobile phone coverage in Australia to be mostly non-existent away from the scattered towns, including over long, lonely stretches of main roads as well, so having reliable radio contact was great.
I stayed with Tex, VK1TX, near Canberra and explored the many impressive buildings of Australia's capital city before driving over the worn, rounded, Kosciusko Mts and on to the flat landscape of the Riverina with its many sheep stations. The terrain en route was surprisingly varied. I was unexpectedly and very generously invited to stay overnight by the present owners when I visited my father's house on the Riverina sheep station at Widgiewa/Boonoke North where he grew up. That was an amazing and wonderful stop with fascinating insight into the daily routine on the station, as well as talk about its history. (Deepest thanks to John & Susan Graham for their very kind hospitality)
While staying in Deniliquin, hosted by another radio friend: John, VK2MOP, and in between exploring the town, I gave talks - one at a charity event funding students and another at the High School. I was shown around two other sheep stations, Boonoke and Tuppal, that had belonged to my (Falkiner) family (including the famous 72-stand Tuppal woolshed). I've become familiar now with the history of the Riverina - the people, its sheep stations, the different types of sheep bred for the conditions here and the challenge of overcoming the frequent, often severe, droughts faced by the stations in order to survive.
A breakdown tow to Bendigo gave rise to an unexpected new experience - seeing pony-trap racers practising at the nearby course where I stayed overnight. I began to realise just how many people here in Australia own horses! With a new start battery installed, I drove on to Kyneton, to visit Ian, VK3MO (to whom I spoke daily for several months when in the Indian and Pacific Oceans) then to Geelong to visit the lovely old buildings of the Grammar School that my father had known so well and to take part in the Wooden Boat Festival at the Royal Geelong Y.C., where I gave another talk - my last of the many planned. After a tour around the shores of the Bellarine Peninsula, with views across often shallow Port Phillip Bay to the distant city, I stayed with family in Melbourne, explored both city and surrounding countryside and met other family while there. I met for a chat with fellow-sailor Jessica Watson and dined with other sailors as well as 'hams' ..... But by now, Covid19 was becoming more prevalent - shops were running out of basic items and everyone was learning to sanitise their hands and keep their distance.
I travelled the length of the wonderful Great Ocean Road from Torquay to Port Fairy, stopping at the long sandy crescent beach of Apollo Bay and nearby rugged Cape Otway and its light house, on through tall forests to reach a dramatic, often rocky coast-line, interspersed with fine sandy beaches backed by high sand dunes. I had a worthwhile walk to see the rocky outcrops of the Twelve Apostles, explored occasional old volcanic areas inland and made an overnight detour to the craggy Grampians with spectacular Mackenzie Waterfall and high viewpoints.
By the time I arrived at Mt Gambier, in South Australia, my talk both there and at the S.A. Yacht Squadron in Adelaide, as well as to the annual WWSA 'Gathering on the Bay' in Port Stephens, had all been cancelled due to Covid19. I stayed with ham friend Andrew, VK5MAS, and his family, who showed me the Blue Lake near the local wildlife reserve and possums playing in town at night. We visited the World Heritage Naracoorte Caves, with their many beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations and fossil remains of a short-faced kangaroo, giant snake and pygmy hippo from 530,000 years ago.
Borders were beginning to close and restrictions threatened as Covid19 cases multiplied. I drove on, taking in the unspoilt lagoons and coastal wilderness that is the Coorong, meeting the wide Murray River at Tailem Bend, near the end of its journey to the sea from the Riverina, crossing it soon after at Murray Bridge. I had to skirt around Adelaide in my hurry to beat a deadline for getting over the West Australia (WA) State border. It took several days from Port Augusta to drive the 1,030ml long, mostly flat, Eyre Highway across the arid Nullarbor Plain, where I was lucky enough to catch sight of a large group of wild camels! Its spectacular coastal cliffs border the Great Australian Bight that I had sailed across in rough conditions several times. Finally crossing into WA, I had to quarantine but was allowed to continue on my way via the coastal route, avoiding towns, to reach radio friends in Yarloop, S of Perth to complete it… So I continued due W across the Nullarbor Plain, past intriguingly-named Cocklebiddy to Norseman, where I headed S to the coast at Esperance.
I then drove on west past a long sequence of off-lying islands and beautiful surf beaches interspersed with more rugged coastline, often with high sand dunes by the beach, backed by sandy hills. Eventually, I reached the wonderful Southern Forest - towering karri, jarrah and many other trees, often hundreds of years old - leading to Cape Leeuwin which was a highpoint of my journey and is where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean - to the S is Antarctica and W is Africa. I had no idea what it would look like, never having seen any photos, but I'd sailed well south of it four times. Cape Leeuwin definitely needs its tall light house, the area being rocky and shallow, with disturbed sea and many breakers for quite a distance offshore. I met Kim at Cape Leeuwin on 31st March and, after exploring the area around the Cape itself, he led me N through more of the tall Southern forest to see weatherworn, rough Canal Rocks as the sun was setting, where a local newspaper interviewed me, before we stopped overnight at Busselton in Geographe Bay. From there, it didn't take long, next morning, to drive on to reach Kim's 100 acre block of forested land, adjacent to radio friend Colin's block where I stayed in my camper van.
One lesson I learned very quickly in my tour of Australia, often repeated by many different people, was to stop driving just before sunset - kangaroos become a real threat then, as they are active at night - and they have no traffic sense, if anything, often seeming to leap towards an oncoming vehicle, rather than avoid it!! The other warning was that in avoiding one, I'd probably collide with the inevitable one or two following… and they're heavyweights. I was frequently saddened by the sight of 'roadkill' and soon noticed the sturdy 'roo bars' protecting the front of cars and trucks, especially when in less populated areas.
Originally, my plan was to stay , high on the escarpment overlooking Yarloop town, S of Perth, for 1-2 weeks but that time stretched to 3 months - until the end of June. Australia went into a hard lockdown for several weeks and WA closed both its State and, soon after, its internal/regional borders - they were determined to beat the virus - and they did!
I had a book and other writing I wanted to work on, so had plenty to keep me occupied, and the area I was staying in was wild and peaceful - a mix of tall forest, grassland and scrub, with plenty of wildlife - parrots, other birds and kangaroos. The Indian Ocean was often a distant band of red/gold at sunset through a high clump of trees. In fact, amazing sunsets were seen frequently. I was made very welcome and thoroughly enjoyed my stay - Colin made sure I experienced as much of Aussie farm life as possible - I took walks, drove a Bobcat and sit-on mower, was taken up in a visiting helicopter to see the lagoons and long sandy beaches of the coast, was shown the inside working of their beehives (producing delicious red gum honey), befriended a semi-feral cat (which had possibly been made homeless by the big Yarloop fire 4 years ago that destroyed the town), got to know the horses in the field, had several great barbecues with their visiting friends, visited the neighbouring winery, got on air using Kim's rig to chat to radio 'hams' all over Australia, as well as the USA. I even learned to 'cure' freshly picked black olives - another 'first'! Amusingly, I was also coached in 'Aussie speak' - I frequently heard commonplace words I just didn't understand and had to deduce (or ask) their meanings - ute, donga, dunny, duna, arvo ….. If an Aussie can find an abbreviation for something, they'll use it….! (spagbol = spaghetti Bolognese!) Friends complain my British accent hasn't yet become 'Aussified' - not so easy for that to happen here in Queensland, as opposed to WA which has far fewer ex-Brits around, but my ears have become attuned.
Once internal WA restrictions had eased a little, I was able to visit Perth, making good use of its free central buses, and I loved its splendid Kings Park & Botanic Gardens so much that I returned to them for a second day's visit. I took a train to explore the old harbour area of Fremantle and Kim showed me more of the lovely coastal area to the south of Perth, from Bunbury & Busselton in Geographe Bay, on due W to Dunsborough, with lots of sailing yachts moored just off the long beach and its normally lively yacht club (but not now - it was deserted & closed up, my talk there long since cancelled). I was taken to see the light house on Cape Naturaliste and its rocky shore before heading S to visit the ancient, worn, rocky headland at Canal Rocks, near Yallingup (lots of place-names in WA end in …up!), the world-famous surfers spots around Margaret River, historic Hamelin Bay, with its old jetty from the days of the timber trade, sending logs to England to pave city streets with blocks of Karri and Jarrah wood, and several more pleasurable trips into the fabulous tall Karri forest close by.
By the end of June, with travel restrictions eased further, I was on my way again in the camper van, sad to leave my kind WA friends but eager to explore WA north of Perth. WA is an enormous State with a truly magnificent variety of inland and coastal landscapes, flowering plants, bushes and trees, wildlife - and many valuable ores to be found. After a few days in the outback near Mt Magnet with gold-prospectors Ian & Barb, hearing Ian's many fascinating tales of gold-prospecting in the region over the usual evening camp-fire, I went on up the coast, often diverting inland as well, to some very special places - Kalbarri (saw a fascinating copy of a 'thorny devil' and a live echidna close up, birds galore, the spectacular, winding Murchison River gorge & the new 'Skywalk'), toured around the Peron peninsula (with its dolphins that come inshore daily to be fed, amazing terrain and a wonderful long beach solely made up of small, pure white shells), amazing Hamelin Pool to its SE, (with its marine stromatolites dating back 3.5 billion years - 'living fossils' showing how life on Earth started!). On to snorkel in the lovely Ningaloo Reef area which stretches from Coral Bay to Exmouth, to the vivid red Kennedy Range Mts (great walks with fascinating geology and a spectacular sight at sunrise), Mt Augustus, Karijini - full of a great variety of flowering plants, home to red kangaroos and euros, rock-wallabies, echidnas ( echidnas and the platypus are the only living mammals that lay eggs) and several bat species (lots of big bats were hanging in daytime treetops). I learned about geckos, lizards, pythons and snakes.
Google managed to get me totally lost in the Pilbara outback for several very worrying hours, only saved by my navigation skills using the sun and a vague idea of the general direction that I needed to head in to get to the place I was aiming for on the other side of some high hills. I was eventually rescued by a pair of Rio Tinto surveyors who happened to come along by chance just after my van's sump pan cracked, causing the engine oil to leak out, with an immediate stop being needed to prevent any further engine damage. My 'saviours' called for help from the mine and along came a rescue vehicle - many thanks to all those helpful guys (Hayden & Richie especially) and to Rio Tinto who generously put me up for several days at the Paraburdoo mineworkers' site - another interesting experience, learning a little about WA's massive mining industry.
I was made welcome by Colin's aunt Betty at Indee station where I arrived just as their annual cattle 'muster' was taking place - I was surprised to find a helicopter was helping with that and it was interesting to see the branding & sorting that followed. The cattle hands and anyone else involved in the muster all joined together around an enormously long dinner table for a good meal each night - and for breakfast early the next morning…. A lot of cooking was involved! Then to the coast again: old Cossack (first port on W. coast), Port Hedland, Broome, Dampier Peninsula and pearl farms, a short float-plane trip from Derby to the impressive Horizontal Falls set in the island-studded, highly indented, wild Kimberley coast, the amazingly-striped, rounded Bungles and on, via Kununurra, to Lake Argyle, formed by a dam across the river Ord, which is effectively an enormous inland freshwater sea, with freshwater crocodiles ('freshies') at the water's edge and 'archer' fish that squirt a vertical jet of water - normally to dislodge insects from overhanging twigs but we dropped breadcrumbs to them as they squirted up at our out-stretched hands. I got to know all too well the vivid fine red dust of WA - it got into absolutely everything not sealed well enough - and my van definitely was not!
On into the Northern Territory - almost up to Darwin to enjoy a boat trip up Katherine Gorge and then a 2-day drive down to Alice Springs, with a wonderful birthday walk on the way around the Devil's Marbles. These are lots of enormous (3-4m/10-13ft high) rounded boulders lying on flat ground (or on another rock) high above a nearby creek bed. I just reached Uluru (Ayers Rock) in time to enjoy the sunset lighting up the rock the next day. Impressive how it rises up so high and steep from the flat plain around. More driving through the mainly flat, arid 'red centre' to reach the mining region around hilly Mt Isa, on past thousands of tall spired and short rounded termite mounds to a spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria at Karumba before heading to Queensland's east coast. On reaching the high coastal mountain range at Ravenshoe, dry landscape, big termite mounds and small stunted trees suddenly gave way first to bright green fields and then, as I headed on down to Babinda on the coast, to lush tropical rainforest and jungle with stranglers and lianas on the high trees and palms. The air was no longer dry but humid.
Sadly, near the end of August, my exploring was over and I had to return the camper van in Cairns - my key to freedom and roving was gone….
13th October - I had been invited to join a Zoom meeting for the 'Amplifon Awards for Brave Britons 2020' event in London whose timing, fortunately, wasn't too bad for me to take part in, their lunchtime event equating to 11pm here in Queensland. Ironically, for someone who consistently refuses to 'do age', I had been nominated for the 'Active Agers' award. Looking at the other nominees, I doubted I'd get it - but, to my surprise, I did! I'm still looking forward to my glass of wine and the cream tea that I'd have got by way of celebration had I been in the UK for the event.….
I did take time out from my writing later in October to hire a car to spend a week exploring the incredible Daintree National Park with its river full of birdlife, ancient rainforest (180 million years old!), waterfalls, mangroves, beaches and very special wildlife (including plenty of dangerous saltwater crocodiles - 'salties'). First I drove north to see the Quinkan rock art high in the hills near remote Laura which is at the start of the unsealed, 4WD-only, road north to the tip of Cape York, and then I drove east to historic Cooktown with its wonderful museum full of fascinating memories of Capt Cook and his officers and crew of the Endeavour, his men effecting urgent repairs after an argument with the Gt Barrier Reef, lucky to have come across this safe anchorage so they could eventually sail away. I was able to snorkel on the Gt Barrier Reef, with its turtles and a wonderful variety of coloured corals and reef fish, just a short boat trip out from a Daintree beach - two magnificent National Parks adjacent to each other.
In November, I was taken on a short boat trip from Cairns with Tex & Lyn, VK4SWE - over from Sweers Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria for a break. I enjoyed being on the water for most of the day! We anchored beside Low Island on the Gt Barrier Reef, off Port Douglas, and I learned to make sushi for lunch! Dinghying over to Low Island and its light house enabled us to see lots of Silver Gulls and many juvenile Bridled Terns on the ground, waiting to be fed by their parents.
I've settled in the north of (tropical) Queensland for the duration. (It's known as FNQ here - Far North Queensland.) It seems I'll be stuck here, unable to fly out, for several more months, hoping that vaccine availability will eventually change things as Covid19 numbers elsewhere, hopefully, come right down. It's quite hot (day:30-35C) and humid here, especially over the southern summer (now nearly finished) - and I might yet get to experience a cyclone (buildings here are built to withstand them and the 'season' lasts for another month). I'm not inclined to move south until I can see that a return to Nereida in Canada is feasible, since the NSW/Sydney area seems to have occasional but regular outbreaks of Covid19 (escaping from returned, infected Aussies in quarantine hotels) that they have to stamp out, whereas QLD, like WA, has been virtually free of the virus for some time. So I'm working on my book and other writing, with occasional Zoom meetings and talks, in a rented holiday apartment overlooking the sea, partly hidden by a line of trees behind a wild beach in Yorkeys Knob, just north of Cairns - very pleasant and quiet - ideal for work! Once an hour, a bus runs to a good shopping centre, when I want to provision, and from there, frequent buses will take me into Cairns city centre.
In the meantime, Nereida, still berthed in Victoria's Inner Harbour, is being kept an eye on by some kind friends - she's still afloat, but I worry about all the work that needed doing and that I had hoped to have completed long ago….
A link to a few of the photos illustrating the many sights seen on my journeying over last year is here.