Monthly Archives: March 2010

Classic Boats and Putt Putts Grace the Georges River

Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion

At some point in every sailor or “boating enthusiasts'”  life an appreciation for classic, hand built vessels will eventually creep into your psyche. The young guns are always going to be wowed by the speed and technological brilliance that modern boat building can produce. The modern day Sydney to Hobart super maxis and the gin palaces of the rich and famous all have their place in the rich and vibrant tapestry of the yachting world. I’m the first to admit the usefulness of modern navigation tools and the maintenance time savings that can be achieved from carbon fibre versus timber. However you just have to agree that a wooden classic boat is a far more beautiful thing to behold and sail upon. In the words of the poet Robert N. Rose:  “Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made, for somewhere deep in their oaken hearts the soul of a song is laid.

So being a sailor who has come to appreciate the beauty of a classic we launched (the very unclassic but utilitarian) tinny at Tom Ugly’s bridge and set off across Georges River to the Variety Club’s  6th Annual  Classic Boat and Putt Putt Fundraising Regatta. Whilst the quantity of entrants was slightly disappointing with approximately 15 or so entries the quality of the vessels more than made up for it. On shore at the St George Motor Yacht Club the Hubertus Model Boat Club put on a display of lovingly crafted model boats and the Vintage Speed Car Association brought along a collection of cute little racing cars and motorbikes. In attendance were the usual candy floss, sausage sizzle , face painting, marine market place and big band crowd pleasers for young and old.

The main event saw the classic boats and putt putts do a couple of parades past the clubhouse before heading off on several laps of a course around Kangaroo Point and back. We got back on the water in the tinny and captured some of the action. Trying to snap moving vessels from my own bobbing boat certainly gave me a new appreciation for the skills of the professional marine photographer! We hope you enjoy the gallery and put it in your diary for next year!

Beyond the Shore: Sailing, Seafood, Wine…East Coast Australia

Beyond the Shore...

I want to share with you a book that I have had for a few years now and every time I pull it out from the shelf under the coffee table, it never fails to deliver a serving of pure escapism (dished up with equal portions of lifestyle envy).

Beyond the Shore encapsulates two of my greatest loves, and if you’re reading this blog, probably yours too; seafood and sailing. Until I came to Australia I had never really seen the point of cruising. But a sailing trip up the East coast of Tasmania, armed with a box of scallop pies and a case of Cascade, stopping at numerous small coastal towns all the way back to Sydney, soon changed my view on this topic.

Anyway, back to the book. If you’re not yet a convert to cruising, or indeed sailing in any shape or form, but like your seafood and wine then you might just find enlightenment in the pages of this book. Rosemary and Rob Peterswald pay homage to the beautiful east coast of Australia by sailing their yacht Oceania from Hobart to Cape York over a period of two years. In this time they share with us their sailing experiences and the food they (sometimes catch) and prepare on board as well as the culinary highlights of visits to great restaurants along the way. Recipes vary from the simple galley cooked Spicy Seafood Stew prepared at Ulladulla, to the Rosti Fillet of Beef with Moreton Bay Bugs served up by “Micheles” at Townsville Marina. All the food is matched with wines and the authors bring a touch of the sommelier in their tasting notes that accompany each recipe and meal.

Beautiful Photography and Design

Snapshots from Tropical Climes

What really makes this book endearing to me is the beautiful photography and presentation, and the combination of cookbook, travelogue and family journal. The back pages include a collage of black and white photos of all the friends, family and people met along the way. My favourite of course is the photo of the author’s family Labrador sporting sailing cap and looking very distinguished and “salty seadog” sitting beside the cockpit.  That was the clincher.

Here’s Rob and Rosemary’s recipe for Spicy Seafood Stew:

Heat 3/4 of a cup of olive oil, 4 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 2 chopped onions, 2 chopped chillies, 4 peeled tomatoes, diced octopus pieces, available fish heads. Simmer for 15 minutes, remove fish heads and discard. Add 1-2 cups of white wine, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, sufficient small potatoes in their jackets, and simmer for a further 10 minutes, add fish chunks, peas or beans and simmer for a further 6-7 minutes. Add cooked mussels, crayfish chunks, salt and pepper to taste and simmer for a minute or so until they are reheated. Serve in deep bowls with crusty bread and full bodied wine.

I found the book available for sale at Dymocks online for $59.95 and via a number of online bookshops when I googled the title. The publisher is not quoted in the book.

ISBN 0-646-43561-2

Aquarium in Miniature

Where's Mr Pincy?

I’ve always been fascinated by rock pools, especially as  a child. I think its because they are small and close up enough for a child to relate to, like a little microcosm of the under sea world. They also have that mystical feel about them. A world in miniature where you might find mermaids or monsters in the dark corners and crannys. Most of all they have an appeal because kids simply like poking  around in places that seem forbidden, curious as to what might lurk within. On the weekend I was dropped off on some rocks at a special picnic spot in the Royal while the tinny went back to fetch the rest of the family. This gave me fifteen minutes of blissful solitude, fossicking around on the shore looking for something interesting. I came across these perfectlly square little pot holes, obviously carved out by man a long time ago as footings for some kind of mooring or wharf side structure, now long rotten away. Since then marine life has moved in and I was delighted to see that a number of little crabs, of different colours and sizes had made these potholes their home. I was as excited at this gorgeous little “mini aquarium” as I would have been twenty years ago as a child. How many crabs can you see?

Smiling Assasin?

After this I scrambled up the rocks and had a wander into the bush where I saw a few more less obvious signs of life. Any chance of mammalian sightings probably blown away by the weekend river boating traffic or passing bushwalkers. However, what I did see will bring me back at a quieter time to try my luck at meeting the animal responsible for the cube shaped droppings pictured below. Answers on a postcard for a trip in the tinny!

An Animal With a Funny Shaped Bottom?

Where There's Bees There's Bears?

Can Adventure and Motherhood Co-exist?

Taking The Plunge

A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that perhaps motherhood really has changed me profoundly in more ways than one. I think the usual clichés of being less selfish and not sweating the little things are not unique to parenthood and perhaps could result from a number of life changing experiences. However, when out on the tinny a few weeks ago I wondered whether parenthood may have significantly altered my propensity to take risks and seek out adventure.

It was a calm, sunny afternoon, very close to shore on the closed waters of Port Hacking. We ventured into some really shallow water to get a look at a potential camping spot. All of a sudden I started fussing over whether we had checked the tides properly, how much daylight we had etc. I didn’t want to be stranded with a two year old and a dog and have to be rescued by the volunteer coastguard. The reality was we had checked the tides, there was plenty of daylight left and we had in fact purchased a tinny for the very purpose of getting into shallow inaccessible spots. Rewind three years ago and even if we had been cut off by the tide we would have simply dragged the tinny back across the sand, pushed it into the water and put putted home.

I quickly snapped out of it and resumed enjoying the afternoon but it got me thinking about whether becoming a parent does something fundamental to your previous tendency to take risks and look for adventure. Once motherhood is upon us can we continue to participate completely and wholeheartedly in pursuits that require a certain level of risk taking?

I know I will definitely return to competitive sailing in the not too distant future, but the sailing I have done since having a baby has been less frequent and not at the same level as before. Reg and I have agreed that until the kids are older neither of us will do the same blue water (Category 1) ocean race at the same time. Is this rational when we’re probably more likely to be run over by a bus when walking across the road?

Take It All In

I’m optimistic that the answer to the question “can motherhood and adventure coexist?” is a resounding yes. That your sense of adventure and appetite for adrenalin is just sitting dormant until the kids are big enough to take part with you. I believe that the best way to protect your kids from danger is sometimes to give them some cautious exposure to it and equip them with the knowledge and skills to embrace adventure by setting a good example.

I take some inspiration from the likes of tennis player Kim Clijsters, who has discovered her killer instinct after the birth of her first child, mother and daughter duo Cheryl and Nicky Clarke who conquered Everest together, and closer to home some good friends who regularly take their two year old and dog on short coastal passage races in their twenty five foot yacht.

Are you worried that motherhood has stolen your mojo or are you confident it will return when the nest is empty? Perhaps its never left you? Do dad’s and mums feel effected in the same way? What are your thoughts and experiences?

“Proper Job” Damper: Cornish Style

Cream Always Goes on Top

Last weekend’s camping trip gave me the opportunity to test out a recipe for an Australian classic that has been on my to do list for a long time; damper in the camp oven. What better way to enjoy it than Cornish style with some home made strawberry jam and double cream? Well actually if I could have got hold of some real clotted cream that would have been even better, but for some reason its rather hard to come by in Australia. The next best things is King Island Dairy’s thickest double cream, or as in this case just some of the usual thick double cream you can get from the supermarket. If anyone knows of a “proper” clotted cream producer in NSW or Australia, do let me know.

For the benefit of non-Aussie readers, here follows a brief background on the origins of damper.  The basic ingredients for damper being plain flour and water meant that it was the perfect camp food for Australia’s first European settlers and explorers, who often had to survive on little more than this, some salted meat and bush tea from the billy (not being experienced in the art of gathering bush tucker).  In the absence of a camp oven the dough was simply prepared, shaped into a small flat circle and placed in a hollow in the camp fire embers, with some more ash piled on top to stop it burning. The damper was cooked if a tap on the base made a hollow sound. Lots of other ingredients have been added over the years, depending on what was available or to spice it up a bit. In our case we added a little sugar to provide the sweet effect for the Cornish Cream Tea.

Ready to go into the fire

A Little Crispy on the Outside

The Perfect Filler Until Supper

I referred to my newly purchased book “Australian Bush Cooking” published by Boiling Billy  for the basic quantities and instructions:

  • 3 Cups of self raising flour
  • 1 cup of milk or water (I used milk)
  • pinch of salt

I also added about 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Mix ingredients together until all the flour has been incorporated. Shape dough and lightly dust with flour. Place in a greased camp oven and cover. Cook in medium coals and check after 30 minutes. Damper is cooked when it has a golden crust and a skewer inserted comes out clean. We probably should have waited a little longer for a deeper bed of embers as flames licking the sides did result in a little charring, but it can’t have been too bad as people came back for seconds. Do also remember to turn the camp oven half way through if the oven is not placed centrally in the heat.

For the Cornish cream tea effect serve with jam and then cream on top, accompanied with a steaming hot cup of tea.

Full credit must go to Carmen for her food styling advice and assistance.

Teapot from QueenB candles

Enamel mugs; authors own

Tablecloth; authors own

Camping at Colo: The Last “Pristine” River in NSW

The Pristine Colo River

The planning and preparation that preceded our weekend camping expedition to the Colo River led me to the conclusion that camping with kids is all about the destination and not the journey. Of course we must try our best to escape the trappings of modern life and leave the kitchen sink at home, but my advice on camping with toddlers is be prepared and take what you need to have a comfortable and relaxing time. We can wait until they are least six or seven before we make them carry their own pack and eat rehydrated food.  If this means the adults must succumb to lamb curry (Saag Gosht), blueberry and honey porridge, damper (Cornish style), pot roasted chicken and lemon sponge pudding in the camp oven then so be it.

Having spent so much time focusing on equipment and provisioning, I ran out of time to properly read the directions which resulted in a slight detour in the direction of Lithgow. This didn’t matter as it was a pleasant drive and a stop to consult a local near the end of our journey to see if we were on the right track, meant we could meet Bony the retired Stockton Beach camel (who, please be warned, can’t distinguish between carrots and the fingers of small children) and pat some cows.

Bony The Camel, Retired to the Hawkesbury from Stockton Beach

We chose to camp at the Upper Colo Reserve because its less than two hours drive from Sydney (about 30 minutes from Windsor) so quite feasible to do on the average weekend during daylight saving. More significantly the Colo Wilderness has been recognised as one of the twenty remaining real wilderness areas left in New South Wales and one of the last “pristine” rivers, granting it special protection from the effects of development.  It is adjacent to the Wollemi National Park, where the now famous prehistoric Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) was discovered by a bushwalker called David Noble in 1994, testament to the area’s isolation, despite its proximity to Sydney.

Constructing the "Taj"

Motivated by Marshmallows...

Another bonus was that dogs are allowed on a leash and we were pleased to find that fellow campers were all responsible dog owners resulting in zero canine “incidents”. Sharing a tent with a toddler and a Labrador is an interesting experience, which Rhubarb will elaborate on in a future dog blog.

We took the tinny with the idea of exploring the lower, less shallow reaches of the Colo, but found that we had more than enough river to explore with the kids, and when we returned to the camp later on Saturday, the tinny and its emergency oars became an imaginary pirate ship, keeping three lively little boys under the age of four entertained for over an hour.

Pondering...

Undoubtedly the big draw card of the Upper Colo Reserve campsite is the Colo River itself; a beautiful, clean, slow flowing river with a sandy river bed, ideal for kids to splash around in and for adults to wash off the camp fire smoke and soak up the sound of running water; cleansing in every sense.

The trip home included a stop in Windsor for lunch and purchase of strawberries, strawberry jam and fig preserve from the Windsor Markets, as no trip to the country is complete without collecting some local produce.

Campfire Companion

Getting There:

From Windsor  go over Windsor Bridge, heading to Wilberforce Road, which turns into Putty Road at Wilberforce (do not turn right into King Road). Stay on Putty Road for approximately 15km and then turn left into Upper Colo Road, just before Colo River Bridge. Travel another 13.8km along Upper Colo Road and then follow the signs into the camping ground. Note that Putty Road is also known as Singleton Road.

Highlights

  • The Colo River
  • Low density camping (bookings are only taken for 50% capacity)
  • Beautiful drive into the valley
  • Well behaved dogs (and owners) permitted.

Drawbacks

  • There was some music noise from fellow campers but this was minimal and did not go late into the night.

Booking:

The campsite is managed by Hawkesbury Council and bookings must be made by calling 02 4560 4528 or 02 4560 4647 between 8.30 am and 5.00 pm Monday to Friday

Cost:

  • $6 per night for adults
  • $4 for children 5-12
  • Children under 5 are free.

Important Information:

  • Dogs allowed on leads
  • Firewood cannot be collected inside the reserve so you will need to bring this with you
  • A range of activities including cycling and canoeing can be enjoyed in the area
  • No trail bikes

Links

Hawkesbury Council Camping Information (Upper Colo)

Wollemi Pine

Upper Colo River

Why Dr Google is No Substitute for a Field Guide

Move along now

On our last outing in the tinny we spotted a small flock of cormorants hanging out on the ruins of an old sandstone wharf that would have once belonged to a house at the water’s edge, now long gone. I zoomed in and snapped away with the camera before they decided they’d had enough of the intrusion and took flight. Cormorants are a true amphibious bird, often popping their heads up next to your boat when you least expect, having surfaced from their latest foraging mission, only to spy you and just as quickly disappear again.

People are often unsure of the difference between a cormorant and a shag (the kind of shag that sits on a rock) but in actual fact they belong to the same family (Phalacrocoracidae) of which there are some forty species.  Shag was a name sometimes used by sailors and explorers for those species which had a crest on top of their head.  Cormorants can often be seen with their wings outstretched, drying out their feathers which in some species are less oiled than in other coastal birds.

Anyway, when I got home and started web based research on exactly what species of cormorant we’d seen, I realised I’d be there a long time sifting through pages and pages of amateur commentary on cormorants (perhaps a bit like this blog!). There must be something about the way we work these days, glued to the computer, that instinctively makes us turn to “Dr Google” as our primary source of information, when its not always the most reliable or fastest source of truth. Often it’s a case of information overload which results in our questions going unanswered, as is still the case with my Hawkesbury jellyfish.

Shags on a Rock

A couple of days after returning from our trip,  I borrowed a copy of Simpson and Day’s Field Guide to the Birds of Australia and I had within minutes, confidently identified the photographed birds as the Little Pied Cormorant Phalacrocorax melanoleucos,(let me know if you take a look at my photos and think otherwise).

The field guide helped me identify the bird by being able to compare its bill size, colour, plumage, flocking and flying habits and geographic location with that of similar looking cormorant species. It also helped me to eliminate the others by highlighting features it did not have. Although I would have had to observed them for longer to see this for myself,  I also learned that the Little Pied Cormorant “appears to be the only Australian cormorant which soars in thermals.” You may also be interested to know that its cousin the Little Black Cormorant fishes cooperatively with Australian Pelicans; now that I’d love to see in action!

When I was a child I collected the Collins pocket guides to all sorts of things including birds of Britain, farm animals, pond life etc. so in Simpson and Day I have rediscovered an old friend in the field guide, something that does exactly as its name suggests. Field guides provide you with information in the field when you really need it. So Simpson and Day will be accompanying me on my next tinny trip, and hopefully teaching Tess that Google is not the only source of truth! To all those twitchers and wildlife watchers out there, what are your Australian field guide recommendations?

Magic Eye....Taking Flight

Picnic at Swallow Rock

Tea at Swallow Rock

Saturdays for many people are usually pretty busy. Clearing up the debris left over from the working week, taking kids to swimming lessons, school sports or doing the weekly shop. Getting all the boring things out of the way so we can have fun. What often happens is that we get to 3.30pm and decide that “there’s nothing left of the day”. This weekend we decided to not let this be the case and,  mindful of the few remaining weeks of daylight saving, we hitched up the tinny and headed to Port Hacking.

The forecast rain did not eventuate and the ususally busy boatramp at Swallow Rock had a certain “tail end of the season” feel about it. As usual, pushing the boat off the sand and putting down the river past Northwest Arm had its usual calming affect, the business of the week floating away within minutes. I couldn’t do a track on Navionics to share with you as Tessa had wrapped the phone charger round the wheels of the office chair and taken it for spin earlier in the week. So with the Iphone well and truly switched off I surrendered to being completely offline (as one really should) with  the exception of snapping a few photos on the camera.

After ten or 15 minutes of wriggling toddler I’m usually keeping an eye out for a nice patch of sand to land on and pour the tea. But today Chris convinced me of the merits of just finding a shallow spot, switching off the outboard and just floating. What could be more relaxing than listening to the sound of the water lapping on the hull and the cockatoos going through their raucous nesting routine as the sun gradually sinks lower in the sky?

Floating Tea Shoppe

 No time for baking this week so we settled for a premature hot cross bun from Brasserie Bread with our thermos tea. Heaven.  As Henry James said in The Portrait of a Lady; ” There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea”. I think he’s quite right, perhaps with the exception of messing about in boats.

Leg Stretching

Labrador Heaven

Rhubarb in a Reflective Mood

The area where we stopped was just off the corner of South West Arm on Port Hacking,  in some shallow water where the river bed was covered in sea grass (note to self to bring snorkels next time). After a rather quick trip up South West Arm and a brief stop on a sandflat for Rhubarb’s benefit, we headed back to Swallow Rock for barbequed snags and what was left in the thermos. No dinner plates to wash when we got back, all that remained was to tip the sleeping toddler into bed, still a little salty,  but oblivious.

Picnic At Swallow Rock

This little excursion has been one of the best so far and was a good reminder not to call it quits on a Saturday afternoon when actually the tail end of the day is the outdoors at its best.

Twighlight Kyack

Swallow Rock is near Gray’s Point, about a 45 minute drive from Sydney CBD. There are public barbeques, a boat ramp, toilet blocks and open air showers. Its a great spot for a late afternoon picnic even if you don’t have a tinny. There’s a sandy beach perfect for children to swim in, and dogs are allowed on leads.

Here’s the google map link:

Swallow Rock

The Curse of the Aussie Mossie

Citronella Candle

Since I’m a “pom”, mosquitoes seem to have a natural affinity for my blood and I’m always first on their list when I’m sitting among a group in the back garden on a balmy Sydney evening. We’ve had a fair bit of “balmy” weather lately (or “barmy” weather according to its affect on my state of mind!).  Coupled with unusually heavy rainfall this has apparently set prime conditions for unusually high levels of mosquito breeding. I’ve heard it mentioned on the radio and in the local paper during the last couple of days that we are due an explosion of mossies in about three or four days time, when the two week incubation period of the larvae comes to an end.

Of course mossies are an every day part of summer living in Sydney (and all year round elsewhere) so most Sydney Siders wouldn’t blink an eyelid. However, the entomology department at Westmead Hospital (thats the boffins who study insects and insect borne disease) think otherwise. They have been keeping an eye on things over the past twelve months and last summer did detect the presence of Ross River Virus in mossies they trapped in the St George area of Sydney.  The virus has not been detected yet this year and it typically doesnt make it this far south. But it can’t hurt to be a bit prepared, especially if you are heading out after dark, like we will be next weekend when we head to Wollemi National Park to go camping.

We’re all familiar with methods to keep mossies away but here’s a summary of the advice from NSW Health on the topic:

  • Avoid being outside in late afternoon or dusk (tricky one if you’re camping!)
  • Use a repellent every few hours
  • When applying to children avoid the eyes and mouth areas. Some repellents are also not suitable for prolonged use on children (so I am on the look out for one that is chemical free, particularly for children under two).
  • Light mosquito coils (we also use citronella candles)
  • Cover up as much as possible
  • Use mosquito nets and fly screens (especially when camping)
  • Use insect sprays in bedrooms (we used a plant based one)

Here’s a link to the NSW Health fact sheet

http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/pubs/2004/pdf/mosquitohazard.pdf

Here’s the link to the Westmead Entomology Department (if you’re interested the science and more info on mosquito borne disease):

http://medent.usyd.edu.au/

If anyone knows of a good repellent for children, let me know. Just to be on the safe side I’ll also be cooking with lots of garlic!

The Magic of Maps

Lizard to Straight Point

Last week, during my travels in the blogosphere I stumbled upon a beautiful concept; using a map as a journal. The idea is the brainchild of Linda Fairbairn from Journey Jottings,  who have a gorgeous range of map journals, an exquisite collection of Australian travel stationary on which you can “jot your journey”. Linda’s love of maps got me thinking about how important maps and charts are to travellers, explorers and adventurers, not just as a means of finding our way, but also of finding our way back, through our memories.

It also reminded me of a special chart I have under my bed that I have been meaning to get framed for a long time but have never quite got around to. A few years ago we caught up with some friends of Chris’ parents who were restoring an old wooden sailing boat at Palm Beach. It was a labour of a love and a very long work in progress. We were invited aboard one day to have a look around below decks. Amongst cedar shavings, old newspapers, oily rags and spare parts yet to be installed, I came across a well used nautical chart. The sailor in me prompted a closer look. I was really surprised to discover it was the very stretch of coastline on which I grew up and first learned to sail, back in Cornwall in the UK; Lizard to Straight Point. Lizard Point is renowned for its role as a start or finish line in countless transatlantic sailing speed records and the adjacent coastline on both sides is notoriously treacherous at times. The countless shipwrecks marked on the chart bear testament to this.

Admiralty Chart L(D1) 442

Waypoint from way back

 It turned out that the chart had been used by Peter in his round the world sailing adventures back in the 1970s. He must have used hundreds of charts on this trip so what were the chances that the only one on board charted waters that were  so familiar to me? It still had the navigation work penciled in, including marked waypoints and browned moisture marks.  It really struck me that maps and charts can connect strangers in a unique way. Peter and I had not met until this point but were now able to have a chat about the beautiful coastline and our experiences of it. We would never both be in that same place at the same time yet we’d both been there. All seasoned travellers who swap trip notes can relate to this, yet the map or chart somehow enriches that shared experience that little bit more. Peter gave me the chart to take away, a nice reminder of home.  

I think framed maps and charts make beautiful artwork, even more so if they have a personal story to tell. They are also a daily reminder of our often latent adventurous spirit and provide the ever present  seed for your next adventure.

Lat and Long

Falmouth Bay

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