Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Learning the Ropes

Sailing ships like "James Craig" are very complicated machines. The "engine" is a batch of sails that are controlled by an absolute jungle of ropes. Each rope has a specific purpose and sailors have to know what they are all called and what they do. Scruffy and I always like to find out how things work, so we spent a lot of time investigating the 19 Km of rope on the boat, and trying to work out what each rope did. The black things we are sitting on are called deadeyes. They are where the ropes from the mast (called shrouds) attach to the sides of the ship. You can see how the shrouds go through holes in the deadeyes; you can adjust the tension on the shrouds to keep the masts straight and tight. Scruff and I got confused by all the things the bosun was calling out as the sails were set and the ship got underway, so we gave up trying to remember names and went off exploring.

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A Ship From a Different Era

Just over a month ago we were on the biggest ocean liner in the world, the "Queen Mary 2". Last weekend we were on a very different ship, the "James Craig". She is a barque belonging to the Sydney Heritage Fleet. She was launched at Sutherland in England in 1874. Her original name was "Clan Macleod". After 26 years carrying cargoes all around the world she was bought by James Craig of Auckland, named after him, and put on the trans-Tasman route. By 1911, steam ships made her uneconomical to run so she was taken out of service and stripped of her masts and running gear. She was used as a cargo hulk in New Guinea and was eventually beached and abandoned in Tasmania in 1932. Volunteers from the Heritage Fleet recovered her in 1972 and restored her. We just had to go for a trip on her. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong day. It was rainy, windy and rough. Outside Sydney Heads the swells were around 4 metres. There were sea-sick passengers everywhere; even Dad disgraced himself by getting sea-sick for the first time in his life. It was a scarey and exhilarating sail and it really made me appreciate the problems that our ancestors must have had coming out from the UK back in the days when ships like this were the ocean liners of the day.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011


Where Are The Whales ??

It is great having a cabin (sorry, stateroom) with a balcony. Our one on the Queen Mary 2 wasn't a very big balcony, but it was big enough for the 5 of us to sit and watch the waves. The 3 of us small critters specially liked to sit here, just inside the open window lip, and watch for whales. We were cruising across the Great Australian Bight, which is a breeding ground for Southern Right Whales, so we thought that there would be a fair chance of spotting a few. Well, we knew they should be there but somebody forgot to tell the whales. We saw lots of sea-birds and some fish jumping, but not a single whale. Maybe they were scared by the noise of the ship's engines. Actually, the scaredest thing of all was Mum when she found out where our favourite spot was. There was no way that we were going to be blown or tumbled overboard, we knew that, but somebody forgot to tell Mum. We got hauled back inboard and had the riot act read to us.

I will be away for the next few days, doing something special at Sydney. It is a bit like our QM2 trip, but very, very different. Watch this space next week.....

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Looking For The Lost Bit

There is nothing quite as annoying as working for hours on a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle and finding that there is one piece missing. Scruffy, Milkshake and I had this happen to us one afternoon on the Queen Mary 2. Down on deck 3 near the front of the ship there is a long corridor with game tables near windows. It is a great place to play a board game or do a puzzle while watching the ocean. The only trouble here was that whoever put the bits back in the box last managed to drop, lose or walk off with the final bit that we needed to complete the picture. You can see how annoyed we were. Scruff checked the box out many times and I looked all over the place for something the right size and colour. We even lifted Milky up to make sure she wasn't sitting on it, put we never did find it. Somewhere on the world's biggest ocean liner there is a small bit of coloured card looking for a puzzle box to return to.

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Monday, March 21, 2011


Never Lost at Sea

We always knew where the ship was while we were on the Queen Mary 2. The ship's GPS navigation system played information on a special TV channel in all of the cabins. You could always see where we were on a map of Australia and get the position, sea conditions, weather, distance to the next port, distance from the last port, local time, and the program of events for the day. When this photo was taken we had left Adelaide and were going through Backstairs Passage between Kangaroo Island (KI) and the mainland. We saw three of the lighthouses that we visited on our road trips, one near Adelaide and two on the coast of KI. It was still afternoon when we passed KI, so we didn't see those two shining, but we did see the Marino Rocks one flashing on our way into Adelaide before dawn that morning. It's great knowing just where the ship is, because this part of the southern coast of Australia is called the "shipwreck coast" and lots of ships came to grief here in the days before modern navigation aids.

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Bear at the B-1

This sleek aircraft is a Rockwell B-1 Lancer. The B-1 has been in service with the USAF since 1986. It is a swing-wing, supersonic low-altitude bomber. I have seen a B-1 flying at previous Avalon airshows, and it is very impressive. They aren't allowed to go supersonic at the airshow, but they get pretty close to it and with the wings swept back they are low, loud and very fast. With the wings fully extended they are not much faster than an airliner at landing speed, but they are still very loud. I love the noise they make, specially when it comes way behind the aircraft. There is always a crowd near the B-1 on static display and sometimes it can be hard for a small bear to get a good look at it, but not this time. Just look closely at the crew ladder and you will see me with my new American friend, coming down after a look inside. No other visitor at Avalon was able to do this; small bears are special.

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Friday, March 18, 2011


Ye Gods !!

There are all sorts of interesting things on the "Queen Mary 2". One of them is the Illuminations theatre, the world's first ocean-going planetarium. Outside the entry to the planetarium there are a group of statues of ancient gods that some of the planets are named after. I had a good climb on these statues so that I could see the great work that the sculptor had done. Surprisingly, I ended up in positions that had everybody there taking photos of me and the gods. The top one on the left is Mercury. He is the fast-moving messenger of the gods (Dad says Mercury is the patron of postmen) and I found myself sitting on the message he was delivering. The cute lass on the bottom left is Diana the huntress, the goddess of the Moon. The only sensible thing for a small bear to do was to give her a big smooch. The big guy is Jupiter, the father of the gods. He has a batch of eagles that let him know what is going on on Earth and a fist full of thunderbolts to zap naughty people. For a few minutes I was his bolt-aimer and if anybody in the foyer had been on the wrong side of Jupiter they would have been in real trouble. With a little imagination life can be real fun.

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Monday, March 14, 2011



This is the Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor, possibly the best all-round fighter in the world today. There were 2 of them at the Avalon airshow and I just had to see them. I have read about the F-22 and Dad and I have made a model of it, but it is different seeing them for real. As soon as we were past the airshow gate I steered the Oldies toward where I figured the Raptors would be. You couldn't see them from any great distance because they were parked between a C-17 and a B-1, both much bigger 'planes. The Raptor has been around for a while. The first one flew in September 1990 and it went into service with the USAF in 2005, but these were the first to come to Australia. I was a bit disappointed because they didn't fly on the day we were there, but I did get a really close look at them. Just check out the bottom photo. The pilot took me inside the barrier and showed me just about everything possible without getting into the secret bits. Small bears really do get everywhere.

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Huge and Comfortable

Did I say that the "Queen Mary 2" is big? Well it's really big, huge in fact. Just look how it makes the tug look like a toy boat. Our cabin was on this side of the ship. It is one of the ones in the top row of the white strip that runs around the ship just above the black part of the hull, and is 24 windows in from the stern. Our cabin had an enclosed balcony, the "window" is always open. You could sit out on the balcony and watch the ocean, but there are 19 bars on the ship and the Oldies wanted to check them all out. Our favourite one was called "The Chart Room". Here I am in the chart room, sitting on one of the tables, just the right height for a small bear to watch waves and possibly whales. View, fruit cocktail and a bowl of chips - what more is needed to keep anyone happy for a while. The Oldies had comfortable lounge chairs next to the table and they paid the bar bill, so I spent a lot of time here during our cruise.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011


Airshow Time Again

Last weekend we went down to Melbourne again, and on Saturday we went out to the Avalon airshow. This one was commemorating the 90th birthday of the RAAF, so it had examples of most of the aircraft that have flown with our air force. Most of them flew during the day. I have shown you lots of these aircraft in previous posts, so will only have a few from this time around. These pictures are of an FA-18 Hornet with special 90th tail markings. The problem with military aircraft markings these days is that everything is in various shades of grey, so it is a bit hard to see them at times. A good example is the fuselage stripe and squadron badge on this 'plane; in earlier times they were emerald green. Anyhow, the thing that most of the onlookers found fascinating about this aircraft at the time the photos were taken was what was happening in the cockpit. Just look closely at the bottom picture (click on it for a bigger image) and you will see somebody that you should recognize. Small bears can get anywhere.

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Patience? What's Patience?

One thing that small bears are NOT known for is their patience. Why do we always have to wait until somebody else decides it is time to do something. I mean, just look at this. The QM2 is there, just waiting for passengers to board. The Oldies, Scruffy, Milkshake and I are all here at the terminal, just waiting for our group number to be called. Why do we have to wait? They even have this grid gate up to stop me getting on before they think it is time. Actually, I could have climbed through the gate and sneaked on, but Mum told me that there was no use doing that because she had the boarding passes. The Oldies sat around, talked to people they had just met, and soaked up cool drinks, but I stayed out there rattling the gate until we were called to go on board. And guess what, I was hanging onto the wrong gate!!

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Waiting in Fremantle

Here's the "Queen Mary 2" docked in Fremantle harbour. She has just arrived and has a 4 hour wait before the Oldies take me aboard. To give you an idea of the size of her, the dock is over 1.5 km long. There are some interesting craft moored at the dock. The small boat in the foreground is one of the Pilot boats that met the QM2 and put the pilot aboard before she entered harbour. The sailing ship behind the pilot boat is the "Leeuwin II", Australia's largest sail training ship. The warship is USS "Shoup", a guided missile destroyer. Shoup was in Fremantle for a rest break after a period of counter-piracy operations off the coast of Africa. I love harbours, there is always something interesting to see. And it's even more interesting when the biggest ship in port is there to take you cruising.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011


Magnificent Models

One very interesting museum in Fremantle is the Shipwreck Museum. It has lots of stories about the ships that were wrecked along the Western Australian coast, from the time of the first explorers to the present day. There are cannons, coins and cutlery from old wrecks and even a big section of the hull of "Batavia", a sailing ship with a very gruesome history. There are also lots of models. Dad and I make lots of models, mostly aircraft although there is a kit of the QM2 that we will be tackling soon, so we spend a fair bit of time looking at the absolute masterpieces of museum models. This one is a model of a Dutch East Indiaman. I don't know which one it is because I got Dad to write the name down and he lost the bit of paper. It is a superb representation of the first type of European ship to investigate the coast of Australia. Most of them had got too far south on their way across the Indian Ocean and were not sure just where they were and lots of them were wrecked on the reefs and islands along the coast. As far as we know, they never tried to settle here .Their reports of a big unknown land was the start of the exploration of Australia, which they called "New Holland".

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Queen of the Seas

Last week was one of the most exciting ones ever. We flew across to Perf (for new readers, Bart refuses to say Perth) to go on board the "Queen Mary 2" and sail back to Sydney. Because Mum has this thing about luggage getting lost, we went across a day early and stayed overnight in Fremantle, the port for Perf. Freo was very hot and the Oldies didn't like that much. However, there are a few very interesting museums there. One of them is the West Australian Maritime Museum, and it is built right on the water's edge near the entry to the port. The QM2 was supposed to be in port around 7am on the day we were leaving, but it had some engine trouble and arrived at mid-day. That was great for us because we were at the museum and were able to go outside to the boardwalk and watch her come in. What a huge ship! It is 345 metres long and 72 metres high. It dwarfs all the other ships in port and makes the dockyard buildings look tiny. In the background you can see the green lighthouse at the end of the south breakwall; you can see a bigger photo of it in an earlier posting. There were hundreds of people watching the ship arrive but they made space for me to see. As soon as it had docked we hurried back into town for lunch and to get things packed ready to go down to the terminal and board ship. The ship had a full load, so there were 2,620 passengers to sort out; offloading for shore excursions, offloading the ones leaving at Fremantle, getting the excursionists reloaded, and finally getting us new passengers loaded. It looked chaotic but went very smoothly. As for the week at sea, more in following postings.

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