Our Diary News from Brisbane (Part 1)

Category C Storm hits Poco Andante

There was little respite from the strong winds and storms that hit Brisbane and then tracked across the Pacific so we hunkered down for a week at the Amedee lighthouse - a day trippers island just inside the fringing reef of New Caledonia. The island's claim to fame is its tall iron lighthouse designed by Eiffel, manufactured in France and shipped over. Amedee's other secret treasure is its hordes of sea snakes - when the last tourist boat left at 4 pm, the place was deserted and the snakes came out to play! These intriguing black and yellow amphibious snakes (harmless, but with a nasty bite) loved the shade of the vegetation close to the beach.

Eventually the weather settled and we set off for Brisbane. We had been in radio contact with Ishani a 50 ft catamaran, which left a few hours after us. The first three days gave us fair winds and we beam reached in SE 10-15kts - great sailing conditions with flat seas. The wind then dropped and we motored all the next day, but soon more blustery weather came from the north and sped us on our way. Night time found us off the coast of Australia, negotiating a large fleet of fishing vessels - which was no fun. At mid-morning we finally arrived at the Brisbane River and started the extended (and expensive) check in formalities after 6 days and 2 hrs at sea. Ishani arrived just a few hours ahead of us!

We decided to move the 17 miles up river to Brisbane city - the other moorings all seemed to be a long way from anywhere and our plan was to try to get work, so the city was a

good place to start. The trip up river was fascinating - the old warehouse buildings have been retained and restored in a lot of places, while other land is occupied by modern architect-designed mansions! The skyline of the city is full of skyscrapers of different and colourful styles - right on the river. There are free moorings within half a mile of downtown so we tied up and set off to explore. We're thoroughly enjoying Brisbane - everything is within walking distance or a short ferry ride - and the people seem to enjoy life and the warm climate.

One of our first calls was to the Immigration Department to find out how Keith could apply for a work visa - an hour or two later we were armed with a load of forms and a long list of paperwork we would have to provide. It turns out that Keith can apply for the visa on the basis of being my partner, since I have an Australian passport. But we would have to send to England and New Zealand for copies of our birth, marriage and divorce certificates, clearance by Police Departments, proof of our long-term relationship, etc. What a load of bureaucracy! We decided we would need an address to have all this stuff sent to us - so we moved around to Dockside Marina, about 1 mile from downtown.

After sending off for all our paperwork, we decided to spend Christmas in Brisbane and Keith's birthday (New Year's Eve) in Sydney so we could experience the fireworks off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. (We had been disappointed last Australia Day in Sydney to discover that the magnificent fireworks that day were held in Darling Harbour, not the Bridge.) Pippa, my niece, told us about www.standbyrelocs.com where you could hire rental cars for about $1 per day! We found one for the trip from Brisbane to Sydney and had two days to get there - we stopped overnight at Nambucca Heads on the way down and negotiated our way through Sydney to Pippa's apartment where we were staying. We were advised to start queuing early to get a spot at Mrs Macquarie's Point (one of the best viewing points in Sydney Harbour) - only 20,000 would be allowed in - and no alcohol to be brought in (although it was for sale once inside)! We packed a picnic (including a special bottle of 'Fiji Water') and at 10am joined the early crowd in an orderly line on the grassy park outside the entrance. There were already about 2,000 people ahead of us and new arrivals rapidly piling in. The atmosphere was friendly and fun - impromptu picnics, cricket matches and Mexican waves! We heard there were only 2 security guards checking everyone's luggage for drugs and alcohol - the wait would be endless! Eventually (at about 2pm) we reached the front of the queue and successfully cleared through to the Point. We picked our spot and spread out our rug and tried not to get too sunburnt while we waited. More and more people were crowding in and generally the mood was tolerant, however some tempers were getting frayed when a group of about 15 Taiwanese were subsequently joined by about another 50 - queue-jumping and trying to mark out their territory. When the 'family' fireworks began at 9pm, the previously quiet, reasonably orderly crowd surged forward and all hope of our retaining our viewing point was gone - so much for crowd control! By midnight, some of the revellers were a lot worse for wear and becoming abusive and aggressive. Although we enjoyed the fireworks, the crowds were awful - and we won't be doing that again!

After a few more relaxing days in Sydney we collected our standby campervan and drove back to Brisbane via the New England Highway - the inland route - which was picturesque and pleasant. By now, some of our post was arriving from all over the place and I began job hunting. We made an appointment with the Immigration Department for 29th January to present our case together with completed paperwork. Next on the list was for Keith to pass his medical examination - chest X-ray OK, blood and urine tests OK, everything else going well - except the doctor felt that Keith's spleen was enlarged. He told Keith to get it checked out by a GP who would then report back to the Immigration Department doctor. We were absolutely shocked - neither of us had thought the medical would be a problem! With my knowledge of the Australian health system, we first headed off to the Medicare Office to enquire about getting free medical treatment as visiting UK citizens. We owe a huge thank you to the lady who issued us a 'Reciprocal Health Care' card on the basis of our passports and honest faces - because we didn't have with us proof of our National Insurance Contributions.

Armed with the Medicare Card, we found a GP who referred Keith for blood tests and an ultrasound - which we managed to organise for the very next day (a Saturday!). The GP visit cost $61 but you then take the receipt to the Medicare Office and they refund $33.55! On the Monday morning at 9am, the GP rang to say he had the results of the tests (talk about impressive!) and we should go back in to see him that day. The results were alarming - he told us Keith probably has a form of leukaemia and referred him to a specialist and more blood tests. We were gob-smacked… talk about a bolt from the blue…

By Wednesday, we saw the specialist who diagnosed a type of lymphoma and talked to us about ongoing treatment. Since we don't have private health insurance he referred Keith to his colleague at the Princess Alexandra Hospital - Brisbane's specialist oncology unit - and arranged more specific blood tests. The next day we made our first of many visits to the hospital and they said Keith was so anaemic he needed a blood transfusion, which was organised for the Friday. We spent an anxious weekend trying to come to terms with what was happening - what would the prognosis be, should we fly back to England, what would we do with the boat??? And, we had to tell Keith's children and our families…

The next week we got a diagnosis - a rare form of lymphoma - incurable (but then, Keith's always been an incurable romantic!), but hopefully manageable (which would be wonderful, since Keith's never been manageable!). We went through a whole range of emotions whilst trying to come to terms with things and work out what we should do. In the end we have decided to stay in Australia while Keith undergoes a course of chemotherapy which hopefully will bring his lymphoma under control. We hope the condition responds well to treatment…

We are lucky to have some good friends here in Australia to support us - already we have seen Rob & Gemma (Orinoco Flow) and Brett & Debbie (Interlude III) and, of course, Pippa & Xavier in Sydney. I have some relatives here in Queensland and family close by in New Zealand. And our friends Doug & Shirley from England are visiting next month! We hope Keith's children will also visit while we are here.

So, Poco Andante may have come to an abrupt and premature end to her circumnavigation - we will live on board here in Brisbane in the meantime and pray we can resume cruising in a year or two…