Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Port Fairy

12/3/16 to 24/3/16

For us, rounding the port buoy and following the navigation leads into the Moyne River, around which Port Fairy nestles, was like coming home, and felt like slipping on an old pair of sneakers, before a comfortable night at home. We adore Port Fairy and on our Voyage to PNG in 2010/2011, it was one of our favourite destinations (see blogs / April 2010, January 2011). Happily, little has changed. We doused sails and puttered into the embrace of the Moyne, with Griffiths Island, Haldane’s Landing and the fabulous lighthouse away to port. The Norfolk Island pines that lord over the river precinct, planted aeons ago by head lighthouse keeper, Hugh Haldane (grandfather to good friend Andy Haldane of Port Lincoln) still lean their arboreal shoulders into equinoctial gales and reduce them to zephyrs on the Moyne. As the river curved to starboard and the portside buildings came into view, it was clear that Port Fairy still had all of its charms intact, just waiting for us to enjoy.
View from the footbridge down the Moyne River,  Port Fairy

Max Dumsney is Port Manager, Port Fairy, and has been an iconic connection for marine visitors for years. We called Max to alert him to our arrival, and after extending us a warm “welcome back” he informed us that the town was far too busy, what with the Folk Festival on, for him to drive in to oversee our berthing and that we would catch up, in the fullness of time, in this timeless of places.
Location... Location..... Location!

You would think that after the sleep deprivation of a night at sea we would be looking for an early night, but not on your Nellie we thought, not with the Festival in full swing, and a party to be enjoyed. In no time we were at the Information Centre, looking to somehow use the “bona-fide marine arrivals” lever to get tickets to the big show. No hope was the word. Sold out months ago was the sad news for us to digest. Yes there were 40,000 (!!) folk in town, with every bed taken, every camping space maxed out, and yes every town brimming for miles around. But there was good news that turned out to be great news for wharf-side visitors like us. For starters, lots of Festival goers were having to drive in from the Port Fairy hinterland, pay a ransom for accommodation in town or set up camp, cheek by jowl, in one of the caravan parks, while we tied up to the pier on the Moyne, only a stroll across the footbridge from the epicentre of the festivities. Last to arrive. Front row seats!
Joining the action in the Town centre

The Festival grounds, abeam of the harbor entrance on the Moyne were staggering to behold. Just one of the performance marquees seated 3,500 people, although not that many of them stayed seated for long, and there were 5 main performance arenas, just for starters. Too much to comprehend, we thought after a solitary voyage out on the lonely sea. Our great news was, however, that the Port Fairy Folk Festival has a tradition of a vibrant Festival Fringe, where many of the main acts could be seen in local halls, on reserves, at the Surf Club and on the central Fiddlers Green for FREE! This is a case of circuses for the people on a grand scale, and…there was more! Central Port Fairy was alive with all the fun of the Fairy - buskers, talent shows, street parades, stalls, eateries, drinkeries (?), on and on it went, in an overload of music, food and good times.

The only locals not in a festive mood it seemed were the enormous stingrays that hovered around the launch ramp for morsels, a seal that had set up shop below the filleting table in direct competition with the rays and a pair of Nankeen Night Herons who were so tame that they could be fed by hand if you offered a sliver of fresh tuna in their discerning direction. Home to these creatures was just metres from where we lay alongside the pier on the Moyne.

At the festival Cookie was delighted to find that Nepal, a Nepalese clothier was here with his glorious outfits from the great Himalaya. In January 2011 she met Nepal and bought her ‘coloured pants” which have become her all-time favourites both at sea and on land. Nepal recalled their meeting – never forgets a pretty face - and was delighted to reprovision her with some upgrades for the ship’s wardrobe. It was great to see Nepal again. Cookie was in eighth heaven.
Nepal & Tarli at his " Yak Yak Yak " clothing stall.

The Fringe Program itself read like a menu at an extensive restaurant, where you have no hope of trying all the dishes at a sitting. So…for two days we gorged ourselves on this cultural extravaganza, trying to cram in all that we could, dragging ourselves back to our ship after the late night shows at the Reardon Theatre, with revellers in our wake. Even Cobb’s Bakery, not far from the Reardon got into the swing. We could not remember walking past a bakery just on midnight, to find it open and doing a roaring trade.  Patrons from the nearby Star of the West Hotel, finding themselves awash with cheer and suffering from the munchies, were easy pickings for the Cobb crew who fed the masses and baked on into the night. A licence to print pies we thought (east of the SA border, the making of pasties is a skill still in its infancy).

The old adage of a picture surpassing a thousand words might easily apply to the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and we hope that the following images of Port Fairy in Festival mode will have you heading there in 2017. You had better be quick though if you want to get into the Festival proper as remember, it books out months in advance. Then you could be like we were and have the time of your life at the Festival Fringe, for FREE!


Think he should stay away from the Hookah!

It is fair to say that not much of the Festival applied to our voyage, either where we had been or we were planning to go.  That is perhaps for one drawcard, one special visitor in town, a Fortune Teller, no less. She was a gaudy gypsy, complete with a clairvoyant’s caravan, crystal balls, tealeaves, tarot cards, veils, bangles and incense. We have been plagued by foretelling the weather. Could this mistress of prediction outshine the Bureau? We were tempted to see what she was like at forecasting the weather….but shy about entering her inner sanctum, the world of hocus-pocus and swirling ether. What about the declining El Nino? Would we encounter any of the notorious East Coast Lows off the NSW coast? When would the first of the hard winter fronts arrive to dust Tasmania in snow? Did she specialise in short or long term forecasts or was medium her speciality? We were spooked by her aura and her ethereal visage and slunk away to the cappuccino van instead.

For us the festival finished with a rollicking performance, on Fiddlers Green, by The BordererS, a favourite with Port Fairy locals and with the crew of Calista. What a way to bring down the curtain. As the hordes headed out of town the weather and some on-board challenges would see that we could not leave with them. But then again, if you were to pick a place to be stuck for a few days you’d pick Port Fairy, every time.

The BordererS last gig at Fiddlers Green

Couple of old rockers doing a selfie at the last concert at Fiddlers Green!

The ever probing Devil Wind was back again, and if it weakened for a moment, there was not enough time to get to King Island before it filled in again. It was tempting us to enter its Bass Strait lair, but we were having none of it. It was easy to feel timid when one awoke to a mirror on the Moyne, and it took a later check of the wind strengths at places like Cape Otway, Wilson’s Promontory and the formidable Cape Grim on the NW coast of Tasmania, to reassure us that patience, and more patience would be needed before we headed into Bass Strait. In any case we could not leave, because there were some crucial things to attend to on board.

The Devil Wind is coming !

Our spluttering gas supply for example simply had to be fixed. Eventually we called a local Plumber and Gasfitter who sent down “one of his boys” to diagnose the problem. He checked our fittings, and the new regulator that I had installed at Wirrina, and could not find a problem. This concerned his boss who did some searching on line and diagnosed a simple error in our gas detector. He called us with the solution then refused to be paid for his time because as he put it, “we didn’t fix anything”. Can you believe it? When in Port Fairy, call Allen Plumbing if you have a gas problem. We can vouch for these fine tradies!

Whilst in port, we felt it imperative to make some headway with the challenge of connecting our Satellite Phone to our computer to access weather forecasting and emails when were beyond the reach of Telstra. Previously we had used a program called Sail Mail, but now this was considered out dated and there were supposed to be smarter ways to go to stay tuned to the world when at arm’s length from it. The problem for us was that our Sat Phone, an Iridium 9255, refused to “talk” to Windows 10 on our new laptop. Frustratingly our Sat Phone store in Western Australia eventually admitted that they knew all along that Windows 10 and the 9555 were not on speaking terms. Fine time to tell us! Their solutions gave us no solace and ultimately we were forced to contact Jason a local IT guru to find a way forward for us. Jason took our computers and to his great credit did an immense amount of work, online and on forums, to find a solution. Ultimately we found a US program Xgate, that, if we subscribed to it, would see us staying connected while at sea. With Jason’s help, this crucial problem now had a “doable” way forward.

Beyond this we were plagued with problems with our batteries, and for the first time ever we needed to run our motor at night to keep them charged. More diagnosis and phone advice followed, with eventually us heading to nearby Warrnambool, by bus, to purchase a 21 amp capacity shore-power charger. David, the manager of Battery World, continued the standard of service we had found locally by saying, “you should have no trouble installing the charger…if you do, ring me and if necessary I’ll drive to Port Fairy and help you out”. And this to clients he would most likely not see again. We were impressed but, meanwhile, days were slipping by.

Amazing caldera at Tower Hill near Koroit
Warrnambool Harbour

To take a break from these technical issues, we hired a car. We declared that a break was in order, so we visited the quaint local town of Koroit, where the local Irish Pub was in full swing for St Patrick’s Day. Down the road was the regional hub of Warrnambool where we eschewed the temptations of the prominent retailers – we couldn’t see any logic in sailing this far to go to Harvey or Norman - in favour of a visit to the local wharf facility where we were quick to see an open roadstead where in spite of an immense sea wall, the anchorage lay exposed to…you guessed it…the Devil Wind. It is likely that we will not visit Warrnambool by sea. Having wheels also gave us the chance to drive to Portland where we re-connected with Brian and Maree off Urchin and, before heading to the harbor-side Indian Restaurant, inspecting the recently constructed marina facility for visiting voyagers.

Marina at Portland Harbour

While snugged up in the Moyne, removed from the unflinching sea beyond the harbour, we were careful not to slide into a life of total indolence. We have a belief that it is a good thing to do all one can to maintain a modicum of personal fitness. To be unfit at sea is to be vulnerable at sea, is an unstated dictum of ours. For a couple of days, before the good Max arrived with keys to the showers, we kept ourselves in nick by walking over the narrow isthmus to the bay at Port Fairy, going for a bracing swim and then heading for the public conveniences for a cold wash down. When the Festival finished we set a daily regime of heading for the local 25m heated pool – soft I know – and doing a 50 lap set per day.

The Belfast Aquatic Centre

We are not sure if the regime in the pool gave us an excuse to be a little excessive in exploring Port Fairy’s commendable range of eateries, or whether the laps at the pool were a form of retrospective penance! We soon set upon the Lemongrass Thai as our PF favourite, in a strong field of contenders. When good friend Murray Hird called to say that he was heading for Millicent to see son-in-law Jamie Vearing, it was not long before he agreed to head with Jamie for a ship-board visit, and bring with him our sea-boots from home, which in the frenetic packing to put to sea, we had left in the bottom of our odds ‘n sods cupboard. We would need our sea boots in Tasmania we concluded. Murray and Jamie joined us at the Lemongrass, and it was great to have them stay on board with us for a night before heading back to SA. Then, when Brian and Maree headed into the Moyne with Urchin to join us before heading East, we joined them to dine out at…no three guesses needed…the Lemongrass.
Enjoying another lovely meal at The Lemongrass with Murray & Jamie

Brian and Maree had, like us, been watching the weather trends and prognoses, like raptors fixed upon a lizard, and like us they had been baffled at the changeable nature of forecasts through into Bass Strait. What was one day was not the next. Now, however, it seemed that there was a weather window presenting that we should take. The announcement of our impending departure to the redoubtable Max drew a wry smile and a story about a marine voyager who arrived at Port Fairy, and never left. We could understand how this mariner was seduced by the temptress that is Port Fairy. We, too, would find it hard to leave, but on the morning tide, leave we would. King Island lay unseen but beckoning, some 150mn over the horizon, across western Bass Strait south of Cape Otway.