December 31, 2013

Kids! Don't try this at Home

Happy New Year 2014.  Don't blow yourself up

We were exchanging a propane tank that wasn't quite empty and I hated to waste it.  This is how I transferred the extra into our barbeque propane tank.  Quick and easy tutorial on how I filled one propane tank from another:

- make up a ~6' length of hose with a propane tank connector at both ends.  You might have to search a bit to get one with a hose barb.  One of mine did (bought in a Mexican hardware store), one did not and I had to add a pipe thread to hose adapter.  Crank down on the hose clamps quite hard.  This is more pressure than a boat water system for example which may top out at 60 psi.

- use hose with a moderate pressure rating.  Around 250 PSI / 1.6 MPa.  I used clear vinyl reinforced hose, 10mm.  Larger diameters will have LOWER pressure ratings.  Clear hose is great because you can see the propane flowing and also when it stops flowing

- Connect the 2 tanks with your hose

- Hang the full tank upside down in the sun (to help raise it's internal pressure).

- Have the empty tank 6' lower, and in the shade (gravity helps - propane is a liquid under pressure)

- open both tank valves

- open bleed screw on empty tank (not wide open, just a bit). You'll smell a bit of propane but it's normal

- close both valves and bleed screw when propane stops flowing.

- make sure the gas bleeding from the lower tank does not fill a cockpit with cockpit drains that are underwater.  Do it on an open deck.
- no open flames. Make sure the stove is off, and nothing with a pilot light is on.
- do it downwind so propane won't flow back into the boat's interior
- if you want to be extra cautious you won't turn on or off any electrical switches or breakers because of the potential for a spark, but now you're getting paranoid.
- disclaimer: do this at your own risk.  These are how I did it, and you're results may vary.

Clear hose - you might be able to see the propane here.  It's clear

The bleed screw is visible right at the bottom of the valve, right in the center of the image.  
Use a skinny flat head screwdriver to open.

 The setup. 

- Evan

December 18, 2013

Making Fun of Australia

When we first arrived in Australia in November 2011, we were struck by the number of safety signs.  It was worse than the US, where fear of litigation means an abundance of signage. It seemed sometime a little common sense was lacking...

It's hard to see but there is a bright yellow hose where you might walk.

This was on the sidewalk downtown.  Only problem - you couldn't have workers above dropping tools on you because there was an overhead concrete awning...

I am not sure why Nailing Tools need a special sign. Perhaps a construction worker ran amok some day and now you have to have a sign to warn pedestrians to duck if they hear one going off.

The ramp to our dinghy dock. The danger was that 2 of the boards were slightly lower than their neighbors which might be a hazard if you were in say high heels and drunk.

It's important to have these little reminders for those that missed out learning them in childhood.

This was a 2m high little reminder in a busy downtown pedestrian mall.  With no cars.

And of course, if you are a passenger on a ferry and if the captain passes out, here's what to do.

If you can read this sign at the airport, it is likely you probably have seen an escalator before.  If not, won't the lift (elevator) be scarier?  Are you likely to have been on tons of elevators but no escalator?

In case you get umm, overly hot in the hot tub? 
 Not likely because the heat is only on from 4-8 pm.
You have to protect the post.   Mere caution tape is not enough.
And you have to protect your barbed wire fence too:
In Brisbane, certain types of fencing materials are not permitted if the fences adjoin public property such as parks, reserves, roads, footpaths and waterways

Hazardous fencing material

Barbed wire is only permitted in industrial and rural areas. The barbed wired must not endanger people using the adjacent public land.
Razor wire, tiger wire and other materials which could cause harm to people or animals is only permitted in industrial areas. Use of these materials must comply with the Health, Safety and Amenity Local Law 2009.
In industrial areas, the hazardous fencing materials must be:
  • at least two metres above ground level; or
  • separated from publicly accessible areas by a barrier

 So if you have a barbed wire fence to protect your property and it's less than 2m high, you need another fence to protect the criminals from getting to it.  I found this out on a project where I wanted to rent some temporary fencing around a small ship we were working on.


The sidewalk was actually fine.  Just a bit muddy on the adjacent grass. So take up half the sidewalk with safety rope and pylons.

I love rule 2 - can't have the kids running in the park near the dangerous duck pond.

Maybe this is one reason why they need so many safety signs.

Check the Friday PM and Saturday hours.  Don't want to interfere with your weekend too much. (this is a paint store)

Our daughter's school has it's own wine for school dances and similar events.  Another contributing factor?


October 31, 2013

The Great Pumpkin in Oz

If you asked Maia, she’d tell you Halloween is the hardest holiday to be away from home for. It’s the one night of the year (plus the week or two leading up to it) where you can delve into your imagination and become anything you like. Then, with your alternate persona firmly in place, you head out into the spooky streets en mass and find what’s out there beyond your normal boundaries. The discoveries are quite splendid: I recall learning things like where that cute boy at school lived, that a favourite teacher had just moved down the road (and she had a husband!), and that the forbidding lady on the corner was actually really nice.
The first pumpkin the kids had ever carved.

Last year's pumpkin came with a safety briefing.This year we got printed directions.

Here, Halloween isn’t quite like that. The celebration is occurring, but on a smaller level, despite Aussies holding a few misconceptions about the day. The belief that it’s an American day of excess and commercialization, which is rooted in evil and gore, is hard to shake. And it’s kind of hard to sell an evening where kids dress in black and go begging lollies off strangers.
Getting ready is the same in any country.
It’s not surprising, I guess. If my only exposure to Halloween was through movies and TV I’d know nothing of the feeling of the holiday. It’s kind of hard to describe to people what’s it’s like to take to the streets of your neighbourhood in disguise; the excitement of passing each other in the dark, trying to sort out who you’re seeing while being disoriented by fireworks and scary displays; the fun of being warmly welcomed by neighbours you normally only see at a distance and getting to peak in through their front doors…
Memories of home.

An effort to bring the fun here: witches fingers and a pumpkin cheese ball.

So for my Aussie friends who asked: Halloween’s roots are found in the Gaelic harvest festival of Samhaim and the Christian festival of All Hallow’s Eve. The traditions, like everything in North America, are a mash-up of cultures and ideas (Maia used to get treats that ran the gamut from Japanese rice sweets, to Turkish delights to Latin American sugared skulls). Trick-or-treating is reminiscent of souling (where kids went door to door for soul cakes) and the symbols (carved pumpkins, apples, spooky skeletons) reflect the season’s transition to the darker months of the year. After that, it’s refining the details. Costumes can be spooky or aspirational (Halloween isn’t a theme…) and the more creative the better. Socializing is important but spending a fortune is not.

Our Halloweens in Oz have been spoockacularly charming small-scale versions of the holiday at home. The stores aren’t filled with elaborate costumes (they’re overflowing with Christmas stuff instead…) so most kids wear simple DIY efforts. Pumpkins are imported and very expensive, so decorations are DIY as well. Urban myths of poisoned Halloween treats (which never actually happened) have never reached Oz, so kids happily accept unwrapped lollies, or eat a chunk of chocolate offered at the door (less plastic waste). And because only a handful of people participate—the kids do a lot of walking to earn their treats.

But the feeling? It turns out that’s the same. The kids dress too soon and then jitter with anticipation while they wait for it to get dark so they can head out. And once they’re out it’s just pure fun.

October 29, 2013

The Great Aussie Road Trip

Riverfire then the roadtrip
   Okay—so as epic journeys go 2000 km (round trip) isn’t that epic. And we didn’t even get that far off the beaten path. Though when we told a few Aussies that we were headed toward the outback they seemed more than a little surprised. It seems most people go to the beach, or a city or the mountains for holidays. But Ev’s mum Gail was with us and she was keen for an adventure. So we set off with the goal of seeing (and doing) a bit of everything.

Not all 80-year-olds would have embraced the adventure (and discomfort) the way Ev's mum did)
Our first stop was the NSW surf town of Ballina (which turns out is pronounced Bal-lin-na not Bah-leen-ah, or even Bah-een-ah.) I guess the Spanish/French influence is a bit diminished here… Every time we do something new in Australia it seems like it comes with a whole new vocabulary. And as we passed turnoffs for towns like Mummelgum, Dingadee and Dirranbandi we decided on a new rule: if we couldn’t (sort of) pronounce a name without assistance, we weren’t going there.

After a dip in the ocean we continued on, mispronouncing our way across the Great Dividing Range to Girraween National Park. Happily Girraween is easy to say because the huge granite outcroppings and lovely wineries would have been unfortunate to miss! Then it was on to Moree (go ahead, give it a go) where we soaked off the bumpy miles in the bore baths, aka hot springs.

a town along the way
I think we’ve mentioned that Australia is expensive and our disposable income is already spoken for. So our road trip wasn’t luxurious. In fact, I may have rented us the cheapest campervan in the country. And with a few hundred thousand kilometers on Big Red, a door that alternatively fell off or got stuck while open (or closed), and a sad lack of shock absorbers it was a pretty uncomfortable excuse for transportation.

But after the second long soak we crammed Gail and Maia into the way back and continued toward our goal: the opal mining town of Lighting Ridge. Honestly? I’m not sure why this was the goal. Maia wanted to go to Coober Pedy, Ev wanted to see the outback, Gail wanted to see a bit of the country and I like shiny things. So Lightning Ridge seemed the logical choice.
baby emus!
There are a lot of dead kangaroos between Brisbane and Lightning Ridge. Recently there was a local headline, “Kangaroo Kills Girl”. The tragic story went on to describe a kangaroo bounding across the road, through the front windscreen and then out the back window; as though it was intentional. The truth is the bitumen (fancy Aussie word for road) holds heat at night which attracts animals and if you drive at night: bamm! Big Red wasn’t insured to be on the road after dusk, and considering the slaughter (we went through sections where there were dead kangaroos, emus and foxes every few meters) this was a good thing.

Despite containing our driving to daylight hours, we eventually made it to the Ridge and secured a campsite at the Crocodile (that’s local speak). From there we headed out to explore. With thousands of miners each inhabiting 50 meter square plots, the Ridge looks a bit like a moonscape. The really fascinating bit is when you take a tour underground. We chose to visit the Walk-in Mine (there was a particularly touristy mine that had been turned into an art gallery—but it seemed a bit too weird for us…) Down in the mine the tunnel was larger than I expected, at least for an opal mine I was told was dug by hand and once entered through a drainage tube. When I brushed my fingers along the seam, where the chunky red rocks might hide gems, I joked about accidentally knocking free an opal and pocketing it. The comment brought a dirty look and a lecture from Maia, “That would make you a ratter.”  Ratter is the name of a person who steals from another miner.

After seeing the mine and learning how to identify opal we had a go at fossicking (see what I mean? It’s a whole new language…).  Noodling through the scrap heap  we kept an eye out for potch: a grey form of opal that indicates some of the colourful stuff might be near.

in the mine

fossicking for opals
Maia did a great job of searching and found a few pretty pieces and then she and Gail befriended an opal cutter who gave Maia a big bag of rough opal to polish up herself. It turns out my only opal skills occurred in the shops—where I discovered how to trade money for them.

Aussies camp differently than us. Our tent is on the right. We thought it was pretty big until we saw a proper family-sized tent. Gail slept in the van.
A miner's castle in the Ridge
After a couple of days broken up by cool interactions with locals and a wonderful night time soak in a bore bath (nothing like looking up at the stars from a hot spring while kangaroos nibble the grass around its edges) it was back into Big Red and back on the road for the return voyage.

October 16, 2013

A Cruiser's Guide to Brisbane

Minor Updates April 2014
We arrived here in November 2011, to live and work and go to school.  This is what we know.

Mooring / Marinas / Docks / Anchoring

The city of Brisbane is about 12 nautical miles upstream from the mouth of the Brisbane River. The channel is well marked and easy to enter at night if you have to. The current is quite significant, running about 3 knots either direction at times.  So go with the tidal flow. The current seems to lag slack tide by about 1 hour. (Notes to which bank of the river something is located on will always assume you are facing upstream)

As you head upstream you will pass the container terminal and coal docks.  We’ve anchored at the side of the channel just upstream of the coal docks (across from the tugboat docks) when the current is not right to get upstream. It’s a bit noisy from the coal loading operation but better than fighting a current. It has also been a useful staging area to stop when heading out during shorter winter days when the tide hasn’t been right for an early departure

Marinas: Rivergate Marina is just downstream of the Gateway Bridge. It has a customs dock if you are arriving directly from overseas.  Not well serviced by any public transit.  It’s a long way from the city proper but could be useful if you’re storing your boat and going for a visit overseas or inland. Dockside Marina is located on Kangaroo Point, left side of the river just before the Story Bridge. It has space for transients but limits liveaboards.  Friends paid ~$1000/month for a 47’ mono with liveaboard fees in 2012.

Manly: A ~1 hr. train ride away from Brisbane is the big marina in Manly.  Popular with folks passing through or looking to sell their boats.  There is also a small marina in Redcliff, about a ¾ hr drive from Brisbane to the North.

Just upstream of the Gateway Bridge is an anchorage on the right hand side of the river. Usually 4 – 6 boats there.  There is a nearby Citycat terminal adjacent to Northshore Riverside Park with a beach but as it is the last terminal in the system it does not get as regular service to the city.  Good option if you don’t want to be in the heart of the city.  There is Colmslie Recreation Reserve park on the left bank with a dinghy dock.

People do seem to anchor in many places, outside of the main channel as you head further upstream, but you’re sort of in the suburbs and there is less point to doing so.

The CBD (Central Business District): You can anchor upstream or downstream of the pile moorings on the right hand side of the river. You can also anchor on the left hand side of the river opposite the CBD. Some rental moorings are located there but we don’t know who owns them. Most seem to be occupied with long term boats.  Don’t anchor in the channel as you will get told to move by the Police or ferries will come quite close to “encourage” you move closer to shore.  There is a large shoal upstream of the pile moorings, close to the Captain Cook Bridge. Holding is ‘adequate’ because the bottom is soupy mud. I would not say it’s great and would definitely try to be on the boat if strong summer thunderstorms are forecast. I would not plan to leave the boat for an extended trip away from Brisbane anchored here.   

Avoid power cable crossing just downstream of pile moorings. Signs on shore are partly obscured

Garden Point Pile Moorings: these are operated by Brisbane City Council. 4 parallel rows of about 60 moorings are available for short or long term stay. Minimum stay is 1 week. A mooring is free if no boat is between the piles.  A rope tied between 2 adjacent piles indicates that spot is taken; just the boat occupying it is away for awhile. People do leave the moorings for short sailing cruises and then return.  Dinghy dock, showers, and coin laundry ashore. You’ll need a $20 key fob purchased from a city employee mid – day Wednesdays to get access to shower and laundry. Otherwise just get other residents to let you in until you get a key fob. $70/week; $280/month.  These are popular and tend to fill up as transient cruisers start arriving in October; though spaces do open up mid summer as people come and go.  Lots of permanent residents.  Right in the CBD so a great location!  Ferry wakes used to be worse but now the City Cats reduce speed to 12 knots as they pass.  And they stop running just after 11:30 pm.

Important: pick a time of slack water to enter the moorings and secure yourself.  High slack is easier than low slack because the mooring rings will be more easily reached.  Have a dinghy handy to help act as a tugboat if there is any wind. 

Slack tide current in the CBD is usually about ½ hr – 1 hr after “Brisbane Port Office” high tide (except if there is an active flood of course) 

City Orientation

The winding bends of the river can make it slightly confusing to know which way you’re going until you’ve explored the city a bit.  The CBD is on a narrow triangular peninsula that is only about 6 blocks wide at some spots.  The Botanic Garden forms the S end of the Peninsula.  Numerous bridges link the city to the surrounding suburbs on the south side of the river.

One bridge (the Go Between) is a toll bridge and the others are all free.  There a few toll tunnels around and under the city but you don’t save much time using them except at the busiest rush hour times – so most people avoid them. 

The Story Bridge is the old steel truss bridge you will pass under as you enter the CBD.  The Captain Cook Bridge is next, linking the Botanic gardens with the Gabba – and it’s too low for most sailboat masts. The pedestrian bridge immediately upstream is even lower at 11.4m.

Suburbs – are small, confusingly named and numerous.  There are something like 190 mini suburbs that make up greater Brisbane, all managed by the Brisbane Council.  So someone may say they’re from Yeronga but not know where Hemmant is, about 10 km away. 

Fuel / Propane / Kerosene:

Rivergate Marina has the only fuel dock on the river (reasonable petrol / gasoline, but expensive diesel when compared to land based petrol stations).  There are 2 petrol stations in Fortitude Valley (Shell/Matilda) that are about a 10 minute bus/bike ride from the CBD or 20 minute walk.  

update:  Just downstream of Dockside Marina is Mobray park.  It has small dock which has a 5 minute time limit.  Walk through the park and across the street to the BP station. Easiest place to get fuel by dinghy.

There is also a petrol station on the right hand side of the river near the West End Market (see Food) You tie your dinghy up to the abandoned restaurant dock, walk under the underpass or over the busy 6 lane road and get fuel from the station there.  All petrol stations seem to sell diesel.

Fuel Discounts: Grocery stores offer discount fuel savings on your receipt with your purchases ($0.04/litre for $30 purchase up to sometimes $0.30/litre for $200 purchases). But only at selected Shell/Coles or Caltex/Safeway Woolworth branded petrol stations. Useful if you’re buying lots of fuel i.e. a car rental. Not all Shell or Caltex stations honour supermarket coupons and this will be marked on the pumps.

Propane can be obtained at Bunnings (see Hardware) but only on a bottle exchange basis. OK if you use steel cylinders, not so useful if you use aluminium or composite. About $20 for a 20 lb / 9 kg exchange. 

Bottles can be filled at Barbeques Galore in the Woolangaba (“the Gabba”) neighbourhood. Australia uses North American connectors, however they use the bleed screw on the side of the bottle to slowly fill a tank from a larger tank without actively pumping it into a cylinder.  So it will take longer than you expect.   

They have a frequent filler card – after 5 fills you get 1 free.  However price for a 20 lb bottle fill is about $30 – so it made more sense for us to get 1 cheap steel cylinder and keep exchanging it while we are here. 
update: BBQ Galore lowered prices for a fill to about $20 but no frequent filler discount.

Kerosene can be purchased from Bunnings for those still in the dark ages of marine cooking and lighting.

Getting Around:

Translink is the Brisbane area integrated bus/train/ferry system.  It extends out quite far – easily 1+ hour train journey north / south.  Get a $10 (refundable) plastic “GoCard” from 7-11 stores.  Get a “concession” card if you’re a kid or “senior” card if you’re old. Kids under 5 are free. Top up the card with cash  at 7-11’s, main train stations, or online with a credit card automatically.  Using cash on buses is about 30% more expensive so it makes sense to get a card. If you register your card, you can transfer the balance to a new card should you lose your old card. So register your card online.

Fares are based on time of day and distance travelled.  Unfortunately Brisbane has the distinction of having one of the most expensive transit systems anywhere.  A single zone (basically within the CBD and nearby outskirts) peak hour fare is $3.28 / off peak $2.63.  $3.53 / $2.83.  This is a short bus journey.

Transfers are automatic with your GoCard. Just remember to swipe on and OFF each bus or train or ferry.  If you forget to swipe off the system will charge you a much larger amount.  You can call them and plead your case if your card is registered.  They seem pretty good about refunds if you spot an error.

If you do a round trip within a 1 hour limit you will only be charged one fare.
Other fare rules:
  • You can transfer up to 3 times across all zones.
  • You have 6 hours to complete your journey.
  • The final trip of the journey must start within 3.5 hours of when you started the first trip.
  • There is a 1 hour time limit between transfers.
  • Make 9 trips in a 1 week period (M-Sun) and further trips are free. Useful for commuters. Dept of Unintended Consequences: Smart commuters that have long distance expensive fares to get into the city will hop a cheap fare city bus for 1 stop on M/T/W lunch break and so have free rides on Th/F J
Ferries are all part of the system.  The smaller slower monohull ferries operate close to the CBD and a few cross river routes.  Some of these monohulls are painted red and are known as CityHoppers – and they are free!  Useful for crossing the river from the CBD to Kangaroo Point or getting to various parks.  They run every ½ hour.  The Citycats are much faster and go further up and down the river.  A nice river tour for yourself or visitors is to take a Citycat downstream and return to the same CBD dock – you only are charged for a 1 zone fare.  There are sometimes pamphlets on the ferries which give a history of Brisbane’s river sights.

Local Trains
Can be useful to get further away – Manly, Redcliffe, the Brisbane Entertainment Center

Rental Cars
Rental cars are found in the CBD, Airport and Fortitude Valley. Fortitude Valley have a few ‘no name’ outfits that are cheaper than the big Avis/Thrifty/Europcar.  We’ve found the best deals with either East Coast Car Rentals or Alpha. Book online in advance for better rates.  Book well in advance if you are planning to rent a 7 passenger mini van around school holidays. They sell out as we found when we wanted to share a van with cruising friends

Parking is very expensive in the CBD except after 10pm evenings when it’s free or weekend rates in the parking garages. Smart and thrifty cruisers park in Kangaroo Point where it is free after 5 pm and on weekends and take their dinghy or free ferry to the Thorton St ferry dock to get the rental car.

Recently we rented a 4 pax camper van to explore the outback.  It was not new and the engine was tired but for $63/day it was a good deal.  Burned about 11 L/100 km of fuel.  

Are expensive if you’re used to 3rd world taxis!  A CBD – Airport fare is around $45. It costs more to go from Airport – to CBD because drivers add their $3 airport toll to your fare.  Before 7 am and after 7 pm taxi fares increase further. If you phone for a cab there is yet another extra charge. There are many taxi stands around the CBD, probably because the fares are high enough to justify taxi drivers spending a lot of time waiting around for fares!

UPDATE:  We found out that a taxi from nearby Fortitude Valley with 2 adults and 2 kids was cheaper than bus fare for all of us.  About $7-8 before 7 pm.

The Airtrain runs from the CBD and other stations to the airport and takes 20-25 minutes. Relatively convenient but it doesn’t run after 10 pm. It’s also more expensive than the regular train, about $16 each way but drops you right to the terminals (International and Domestic – they are different stops)

Brisbane airport only has 1 runway so it’s common to have delays in mid-late afternoon flights when it gets busy.

Flights to Sydney are often around $100 one way if booked well enough in advance. About 1-1/2 hours.

Long Distance Trains
If you have a large family it may be cheaper to take a train to Sydney than fly because sometimes children are just $1 each.  Adults are ~$90. Duration is about 14 hours however.

Food & Drink
Food is expensive in Australia – especially things that North Americans would expect to be cheap.  Blame it on the high cost of farm labour as almost all produce is grown in the country.
Supermarkets: Right in the CBD are the 2 giants of Ozzie groceries - Woolworths (Edward and Queen Street) “Woolies” and Coles (Queen Street Pedestrian Mall).  This particular Woolies is a bit bigger but they are fierce competitors. If you’re going to stay in Australia awhile check out their rewards program to get airline miles.  

Aldi is a cut price grocery store chain with limited selections and off brand canned/dry goods.  Not found in the CBD but you’ll save a bunch of money if you’re provisioning to head offshore again.  One is found in the nearby suburb of Newstead on Anne St.

Costco is supposed to be building near Brisbane sometime in mid-2014.

Farmers Markets:  Wed in the Square beside the Library (George and Queen St) there is a farmers market.  Produce is cheaper than the grocery stores ESPECIALLY if you show up around 5 pm when the market is shutting down and they want to sell it rather than pack it up.  Suddenly everything is $2/kg or $2/bunch...

The other big market that is relatively easy to get to is the bigger West End Market.  Food, clothing, crafts, food, music and alternative lifestyle people and stuff.  It’s more funky and more fun.  Further upstream from the CBD (about 10-15 minutes by planing dinghy) or a 10 minute bike/bus ride away.  Held in Davies Park every Saturday.  Closes down starting around 1:00 pm.  We park our dinghy at the left bank rowing club docks and nobody seems to mind; get there early and you won’t have to climb around the locked gates to get to the dock.  Across from these docks is the abandoned restaurant where you are near a petrol station (see Fuel)

Specialty food stores – Fortitude Valley has Indian/Mexican/mini Chinatown, the CBD has some Chinese/Korean stores, etc.  You’ll have to explore!

BWS (Beer Wine Spirits) is one of the bigger chains with several outlets in the CBD including one beside right beside Woolies.  Better deals can be found slightly further away at Dan Murphy’s.  The closest one is in Woolangaba (the Gabba) over the Captain Cook Bridge.

Cheapest are all the streetside sushi places where you can get 2 big sushi rolls about $4-4.50. Scattered through the CBD

Next cheapest are fast food joints like MacDonalds (“Maccas”) and Hungry Jacks (aka Burger King but an Aussie company had already trademarked the name here so they had to change the name).  Maccas on Albert St and Hungry Jack on Queen St. Mall.

Pizzas – Eagle Boys in Fortitude Valley will deliver for about an $8 fee. Cheap Tuesdays are the day to save money on your pizza cravings.  Gluten free crusts available.

Regular restaurants – sigh. We don’t frequent these too often because they are so pricey, and frankly Australia service is somewhere between indifferent and incompetent. We sometimes get a Groupon coupon to save some money.  Fortitude Valley has more interesting ethnic food choices, but the CBD does have some cheaper Asian restaurants and a surprising number of Korean BBQ joints.

Other Shopping

Mitre 10 Hardware – 165 Elizabeth Street in the CBD.  Small but packed.  Expensive but convenient if you run out of something and don’t fancy a visit to Bunnings

Big W – department store like Kmart, upstairs in Macarthur Center at Edward and Queen St.

Meyer Center – big shopping mall in Queen St. pedestrian mall.  Lots of stores including a big fabric store and the odd Japanese store where everything is $2.80 (like a US dollar store but of course with slightly inflated prices because it’s Australia)

Bunnings – Hudson St in Albion.  Pretty close to Albion train station and a few bus lines.  Bunnings are similar to Home Depot or other large US hardware stores.

Electronics – JB HiFi, Dick Smith, and Harvey Norman all compete.  Officeworks also sometimes has better deals than these guys too.

Amazon – if you need a 120V power tool, it’s often fast and cheap to order from Amazon.  Most of their affiliates won’t ship to Australia but Amazon themselves will for many goods.

Online shopping – due to the high cost of Australian goods (software, cameras, shoes, books, marine hardware) it is often cheaper to buy mail order from the US or Hong Kong.  If you keep the value of the order < $1000 Aus, you won’t be charged any GST.  We were not charged any duties / brokerage fee from Amazon purchases and shipping was cheap.  If the online company does not have a direct path to Australia shipping will be costly

Op Shops – Salvos or Vinnies (we would call them the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul) thrift stores in Fortitude Valley have good selections of used clothing. 

IKEA – our favourite Swedish retailer of meatballs and housewares is found in Logan, a good ½ hour or so to the south by car, but reachable by train and 1 km walk.

Marine Chandlery

Whitworths – is the biggest fish in a small pond of online and retail store marine chandleries in Australia.  They’re the closest to Brisbane CBD on Sandgate Road near the Bunnings store. Bus is easiest but you can take your fast dinghy down the river and up Breakfast Creek and tie on the right bank at higher tides.  It’s about a ½ hr ride away.

Bias Boating – another online and retail chain we’ve used.  None of these chandlers dominate the market or have as big a selection as West or Defender.  Marine gear in Australia is often 2x the price of North American goods with the exception of some safety equipment like EPIRBs and inflatable lifejackets which can be good deals

Bitter experience lesson:  If you buy a replacement Australian EPIRB make sure it can be coded to your country.

Sailmakers / Riggers – are mostly found some ways from town.  Haven’t had need to use them so no further comment.

Scuba Compressors - Divetek.  Service, compressor oil, parts.

Oil Filters - cheapest I found were through these guys.
I bought a case of 12 in anticipation of lots of motoring in SE Asia.


If you have an unlocked GSM phone just buy a SIM card from the many providers.  Cheap unlocked phones at lots of electronic stores. 

Telstra truly does have the best national network and they know it so their rates are considerably higher.  If you’re sticking to the settled parts of the country you can think about skipping them and choose somebody else. 

We use Amaysim for pay as you go ($0.15 min / talk $0.12 / text) phone service. Optus, Virgin, and Vodafone are the other big 3 – all have stores in the Queen St. Mall.  Some have free calling to 1 or more other phones so this might be useful if you mostly call another family member. Get recharge vouchers at 7-11 or Woolies or phone stores.

Free Wifi– available in Brisbane State Library (a 20 min walk from CBD), in a hot spot in the Botanic Gardens, at a few Maccas, and the CBD Public Library (but you’ll need a library card – see below).  Also Judith Wright arts center in Fortitude Valley.

3G data – all the phone companies sell 3G dongles with pay as you go plans.  We are heavy internet users (Diane is often on the computer many hours a day working on Facebook) and up until recently we on a $79 Telstra “casual plan” with 12 GB of data / month.  This is a lot of data IF you are not streaming movies, doing big downloads etc.

We recently switched to a different system – it uses “WiMax” technology.  Its coverage supposedly includes the river beside the CBD but it varies a lot between spots in the moorings.  The high river bank might block some of the signal. We get great speed and a boat 2 spaces away gets good but not great speed.  The advantage is that is much cheaper - $79 for UNLIMITED data each month (we have watched a lot of videos and haven’t hit any caps yet).  $39 / 10 GB for those not so greedy as us.

The other drawback is that is only available in some portions of major cities – so if you’re travelling around a lot it won’t work; you might think of going with a pay as you go with one of the other 3G phone companies.

Brisbane State Library is a reference library not a borrowing library so not much fun for borrowing books but a nice place to get internet or spend a rainy afternoon.

Brisbane City Library (on George St) is pretty easy going about giving out library cards – if you have an address.  They accepted a marina receipt from Dockside Marina as proof of residence. 

Australians have government Medicare and also usually have 3rd party health insurance to help cover more than the basics.  We are required to have medical insurance for our 457 working visa but we pay up front and get reimbursed. Our family rate is about $260/month. So was our friends on Totem with 3 kids but they paid more for a higher coverage type of plan.  Ours covers hospital visits, Drs visits, but no prescriptions unless associated with hospital stays.  This is typical of what we have been paying for some basic services:

Dr. Visit - $65-70 for short consultation (15 mins).  Insurance remimburses us $36
Dermatologist very thorough skin cancer check - $135
Blood tests - $100 - $140.  Insurance came up with $120 reimbursement
Chest X ray - $70. Insurance reimbursement was $65 or so.

It’s super easy and fast to get appointments as well. Doctors are pretty good about keeping some space in their schedules for same day urgent appointments we have found. We go to Tenerife Family Doctors (#60 City Glider bus route, 76 Skyring Terrace in Gasworks complex)

Dentists – are expensive.  The only cheap option we have found is the Queensland School of Dentistry near the CBD.  For uncomplicated cleaning and exams these are much cheaper than the full doctors – and they are supervised pretty carefully.  We’d recommend them after several visits.

Eye doctor -

They're expert in contact lenses and took tons of time with me.  I have really odd eyes due to lots of myopia and PRK laser treatment when young.  Got me 20/20 corrected vision for the first time in 25 years.  Highly recommended.

Eyeglasses - we order online from China :) Quite cheap, 3 week delivery, frames tend to fit a bit small but the price can't be beat.

Contacts - we order online from the US because prices are about 2/3 of cheapest Oz online stores.  Here's one but shop around, things change:

Attractions / Things to Do

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – well worth the 45 minute bus ride and the admission fee. Plan to spend a ½ day or so there.  See lots of Australian fauna. Watch Tazzie Devils eat dead baby chicks if you’re luck.  Hand feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas.  Lots of fun.

GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) – Southbank, free

Brisbane City Museum – small but free
Brisbane City Hall – take the manual elevator tour to the clock tower high above Brisbane

Southbank – free sand bottom pool, cheap movies nearby.  5 minute planning dinghy ride to the dinghy dock there (3 hr limit).

Fortitude Valley swimming pool – $5 but heated in winter

Theme parks near Gold Coast: Dreamworld, Movieworld, Seaworld, Monkeyworld (ok I made up that last one)– if you’ve been to Disneyland these might seem overpriced and underwhelming, but if you go mid week when it’s not school holidays they won’t be busy.  Check for deals and coupons

Security – bikes and dinghies go missing from the dinghy dock area with depressing regularity. If you get a bike, use a decent U lock. My beater bike disappeared with a cheap cable lock. Just about anything lockable seems to deter dinghy thieves.

September 25, 2013

Sailing into Spring

I checked the blog the other morning (after a few ‘where are you?’ emails landed in my inbox) and realized it had been a while. I guess that’s what happens when life is just ordinary (in its own extraordinary way). The blooming jacarandas are reminding us we’ve been here almost two years. The crews crossing the Pacific this season are for the most part strangers to us. And the crews we crossed with? Well, their lives have moved on too.
Jacarandas-a sure sign of spring
New and old friends squeezed aboard as Maia turns 12
 September started off at full speed. After arriving back from a three week trip home I was greeted by our friends from Piko and Britannia. Both boats are up for sale and both of the crews are planning to expand their crews and rebuild their kitties stateside then set off on bigger boats again someday.

Buddy boat reunion was sweet as
watching them sail away for the last time was not
Saying goodbye to the friends we meet is the toughest part of cruising. In an ideal world we’d gather up all our favourites, synchronize our budgets and life schedules, and sail the world in company. But we can’t. So we take heart in the fact goodbyes will be followed by reunions.
Cake with schoolmates

Skating with her besties for her b-day

Maia also turned 12 this month, and surrounded by love, I’m reassured that this life is a good one for her. Looking back over her four + years aboard I’m able to let go of some of the fears I had. She’s made friends, she’s found a place for herself, she’s strong and capable and she’s happy…

September is spring for us—a time of beginning and renewal. A time to plan for what’s next.