Monday, July 4, 2016

Australia adventure: sailing the Whitsunday Islands on the Solway Lass

I am back from Australia! Yet still horribly jetlagged, even days after our 30-hour marathon of traveling. (30 hours on planes and in airports and yet it was always Wednesday. Eternally Wednesday.) I always forget how much worse jetlag is when traveling from Australia to the US, as opposed to the other direction. When we go TO Australia, I just feel tired for a day or two and then I'm fine. Coming this direction, I wake up in the middle of the night and no matter how tired I am, I can't get back to sleep until hours later. My seven year old has even worse of a time! Only way I've found to combat the problem is to try for plenty of fresh air and exercise during the day, but that's a tough prescription for an exhausted adult, let alone a cranky kiddo who's ready for a meltdown at the drop of a hat.

Our month spent down under was so worth our current pain, though. As proof, I plan on doing some posts sharing pics from our various adventures--starting with the biggest & best, our multi-day sailing adventure in the Whitsunday Islands.

I've been to northeastern Australia before: my husband and I spent our honeymoon on Bedarra Island, near the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. Yet I'd never been to the Whitsundays, which are a collection of 74 islands and islets off the Queensland coast near the backpacker's town of Airlie Beach. The southern Great Barrier Reef is many miles further offshore (105km from the mainland), but the various Whitsunday islands have plenty of fringing coral and marine life, making for some very nice snorkeling.

I'd heard the area was best seen by sailing, and given how much our son had enjoyed an afternoon cruise on a tallship in Sydney Harbor on a previous Australia trip, we decided to sign on for a multi-day live-aboard trip on another "pirate ship." We chose to sign on with the 2-masted square-rigger Solway Lass, which has a really interesting history, having been captured as a prize of war and sunk twice since she was built in 1902. (Don't worry, the sailing company totally refurbished the boat since the last sinking.)

The trip was absolutely wonderful, despite some less-than-wonderful weather. June is winter in Australia, and is supposed to be the dry season in the tropical regions. We found the dry season to be, well...not so dry. We had an entire week of high winds and rain squalls; but in between the squalls, thankfully we did get some lovely intervals of sun! Check out these pics:

An omen of things to come: a rainbow over Airlie Beach on the day we began our sailing adventure
The passengers: Solway Lass can carry 30+ guests, but we had 21, plus 6 crew. The passengers comprised a whole mix of nationalities: Spanish, German, Canadian, Indonesian, Chinese, American, Australian, and more.

When the sun is out, the water is an incredible shade of blue

The kiddo and I hanging out in our favorite spot at the bow. Strong winds made for an exciting rollercoaster ride when crossing the open sea between islands. A few passengers got badly seasick, but we lucked out and had no issues. Except for the occasional drenching with spray when the bow plunged into a particularly huge wave, wooo! The islands had plenty of sheltered anchorages so we didn't have to worry about wave action at night.

The crew were very kind to our son, who was the only child on the trip. Here, Dan the bosun (on right) has dressed him up as Captain Jack Sparrow, while bartender Steve watches from his stool. (Yes, the ship has a bar. Plus we were fed very well, thanks to Tim the chef, who was great about making meals for our gluten-free kiddo.) 
We snorkeled in sheltered bays and off little islets like this one. I'd heard the Whitsunday reefs aren't as good as the outer reefs, but honestly I thought the snorkeling was incredible at some of the locations, with tons of gorgeous corals and fish. I don't have any pics of those because we didn't bring an underwater camera. In winter, the air temps are still nicely warm but the water is quite chilly. I brought an old 3mm diving wetsuit and was fine, but our son didn't have a wetsuit. On the boat they provided "stinger suits", which are lycra suits meant to protect against irukandji jellyfish stings, but they're too thin for any real insulation/warmth. The poor kiddo could only stay in the water for a few minutes before he was shivering too hard to snorkel. If we go again, I'm bringing wetsuits for all of us!

We got to do a little hiking as well as snorkeling--here we've been dropped off at a beach to do a walk up to an overlook of famously beautiful Whitehaven Beach.

View of Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach. Most of the island beaches have "sand" that's really chunks of broken coral--not so nice to walk on barefoot!--but Whitehaven has soft, powdery silica sand thanks to a quartz-laden ancient volcano caldera out in the bay.

The colors of the water were amazing

Father and son bonding time on Whitehaven Beach

Sand, sky, and waves: a perfect morning

In the shallows left at low tide, you might find rays and little lemon sharks

Our son loved helping with the sails

Sail ho!
The pirate flag flying proud

The ship had a Tarzan-style rope swing that provided much entertainment for all, especially our son.

The drop to the water is enough to fit in a back flip or two...though none of us but the crew managed that without bellyflopping

Sploosh!

My turn on the swing

Hanging out in the bow net. You aren't allowed to climb in the nets while the ship is moving, but while anchored, they are fair game

Robert enjoying the view from the sun deck

Whitsunday sunset


The rope swing wasn't the only excitement at anchor. More fun was had by jumping off the bowsprit (which is a loooooong way above the water!). Even the captain came out to watch our kiddo take the leap.

Map of the Whitsundays in the ship saloon with our route and anchorages marked. Blue Pearl Bay and the Maureen Cove area had some of the best snorkeling. 

Our son the pirate captain. He can't wait to go sailing again. Neither can we, actually...we're signing up for sailing classes on our local reservoir to learn the basics. Maybe one day we'll rent & sail a ship ourselves to explore more of the Whitsundays! Although we'd also be very happy to go on the Solway Lass again.

We took the sting out of saying goodbye to our sailing adventure by splurging for a night afterward at the Coral Sea Resort in Airlie Beach. Our room had a terrific view and a very comfy hammock on the balcony.
Playing mega-chess at the marina

Our final Airlie Beach sunset
So yeah, one of our favorite adventures ever. If you ever have the chance to sail on the Solway Lass, don't hesitate. But that's not the only fun we had in the Whitsundays! Next post, I'll share some pics from Hamilton Island (and maybe the Barrier Reef, where I did have an underwater camera).

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Evil is a Matter of Perspective Anthology is sooo close to funding (which will mean a Lizaveta story!)

I just spent an incredible week sailing & snorkeling Australia's Whitsunday Islands--lots of pics to come when I get a chance. (I posted a few teaser shots on Facebook; oh goodness the area is gorgeous and we had so much fun.) While I was off sailing, the Kickstarter for Grimdark Magazine's "Evil is a Matter of Perspective" anthology went live. This is a nifty project where a bunch of authors (including me, woo!) will write stories from the perspective of one of our antagonists. In my case, the antagonist will be Lizaveta, since I've already promised a Ruslan story through Labyrinth of Flame's kickstarter. (The Ruslan story is outlined and next on the block once I finish revising the Cara novella.) I've got Lizaveta's story plotted out and my fingers crossed that the anthology will fund--it's getting quite close now, so if you haven't already, please consider backing!





Thursday, June 9, 2016

Australia week 1: Blue Mountains, Galaxy Books, Epic & Grimdark Friends, and the Vivid City

We've been in Australia a whole week now and I'm finally over my jetlag. Or at least, I'm no longer drooping and exhausted at only 8pm! This is why we always visit for at least 3 weeks, so we can have a proper set of adventures after we've adjusted to the time zone. But jetlag hasn't stopped us from having plenty of fun with family and friends this past week. After an initial two days of intense rain and wind--which was amazing to see, as this type of weather never happens in Boulder!--we enjoyed a lovely day in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney:

The iconic Three Sisters. Rock climbing is no longer allowed on them, but years ago before the ban, my husband and I climbed the Second Sister. These days we have to be content with just admiring them from the various trails around them, but that's still pretty cool.

Blue Mountains vista
Katoomba Falls in fine flow after the recent winter rains
Next we headed into the city for a real treat: meeting New Zealand fantasy author Helen Lowe in person for the first time! I love Helen's Wall of Night series, which is grand-scale epic fantasy with a really neat sf-nal twist to the backstory. I just finished the 3rd novel, Daughter of Blood, and am already counting down the days until she publishes the fourth and final book. Helen and I have been "internet friends" for a while now, so I was delighted that she was able to fly over to Sydney for a brief visit during our stay here.

Helen and I after a lovely lunch beside the Opera House in Sydney
Two epic fantasy authors and an epic fantasy tree...couldn't you see this tree in Lord of the Rings? 
Then Helen and I headed over to the excellent Galaxy Bookshop--oh Sydney-siders, you are so lucky to have a bookstore like this in your city! Immense SFF selection combined with friendly and knowledgeable staff...it is reader heaven. Helen and I signed Galaxy's stock of our books, and I provided them with two precious print copies of The Labyrinth of Flame, so now Galaxy is the only bookstore in all of Australia (or probably even the entire eastern hemisphere) that has two full signed Shattered Sigil trilogy sets.


Helen and I with Craig and Allison, the awesome Galaxy Books staff
That night, Helen and I met up with local (and awesome!) epic fantasy author Ben Peek, Adrian Collins of Grimdark Magazine, and reviewer/writer Durand Welsh at the infamous Spooning Goats bar. That was really fun too, as Ben, Adrian, and Durand are all fascinating people and it was great talking with them about books and publishing and all kinds of other adventures. Adrian is gearing up for running his Kickstarter for the Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology (which I have a story in, yay!)--the launch is June 15, so stay tuned.

Me, Ben Peek, Adrian Collins, Durand Welsh, Helen Lowe
And after spending a fun-packed day taking the kiddo to the Maritime Museum (he LOVES going on the WWII-era ships there) and the Darling Quarter playground, we saw some of Sydney's Vivid festival. This is a 2-week night-time extravaganza in Sydney's central business district where all kinds of light shows and light-based art installations are available for free viewing. The projection shows on the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Opera House were particularly stunning:

For the full effect, you'd need a video...the flow of "paint" on the building is constantly changing
The projections on the Opera House "sails" constantly change, too...it's really beautiful
The Harbor Bridge, alight
Overall a terrific week, and this weekend we head off to the Whitsundays for snorkeling and a 3-day sailing adventure on a tallship. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather!


Saturday, May 28, 2016

An excellent SFF adventure: a day with Janny Wurts and Don Maitz

I didn't want to leave for Australia without sharing pics from another recent adventure. These last months I've been enjoying the hell out of Janny Wurts's Wars of Light and Shadow series, which is a masterwork of epic fantasy--one of the best combinations of grand scope and tight plotting I've ever read. Plus, the Empire trilogy Janny co-wrote with Raymond Feist is my husband's favorite SFF series of all time! So I was beyond delighted when Janny invited me to visit her home in Florida after I finished a business trip last week in Orlando.

Hanging out with one of my heroes: veteran author Janny Wurts
Not only is Janny an amazing writer, she's also an immensely talented artist, as is her husband Don Maitz. They've been doing cover art for the big SFF publishers for decades, along with their own personal paintings, and every wall of their home is covered in absolutely stunning examples of their work. It was like being in a museum of fine art--I tell you, I could have spent hours admiring all the paintings on display. Just look at this:

Some of Janny's gorgeous art for her Wars of Light and Shadow series
Don Maitz in his & Janny's studio
Janny in her art workspace
Don with some of his recent work
What you can see in the above pics is only the smallest sampling! Check out the art catalog on their website for a whole lot more.

Janny and Don were wonderful hosts, and after their decades working in art and publishing, they have a wealth of fascinating (and sometimes heartwrenching) stories to share. I knew about the changes in the publishing industry that have been squeezing out the midlist, but I had not realized a similar sea-change happened in the art world, as publishers turned to photoshop/stock-art covers and stopped commissioning many original paintings. It's a hard thing to see income streams vanish and have to reinvent yourself at a time when you should be enjoying the fruits of a long career. But Janny and Don are not the sort to bemoan changes they can't reverse; instead they are seeking out new ways to reach readers and art patrons alike, and continue doing the creative work they love.

Janny with her Paravia sketchbook, full of beautifully realized scenes from the Wars of Light and Shadow. Seeing this was a huge treat for a fan of the series like me!
Janny's also a horsewoman, a skilled bagpiper, a search-and-rescue volunteer, and she's passionate about conservation and wildlife. She and I spent a lovely few hours hiking together in Myakka River State Park, one of her favorite local haunts. The Florida forest is quite a different experience from anything we have in Colorado! I got to see alligators, black vultures, blue herons, egrets, and some beautiful spring flowers. I only wish I'd remembered to bring my real camera! I had to make do with my cell phone, but I still got a few decent shots:

Oaks adorned with spanish moss
Black vultures sunning themselves

Hiking through native forest
We don't get green like this in Colorado!
Janny at Clay Gully: watch out for the alligators!


Janny with her favorite tree, a truly massive oak
Myakka Park has a "canopy walk" that was pretty neat: a swinging bridge high in the forest canopy that leads to an observation tower with a 360-degree view of Florida forest (and building thunderstorms!).

Enjoying the view from the tower
They just need to add a Faraday cage to the tower and it'd be the best place ever for thunderstorm viewing
Looking down at a forest clearing
After hiking, the fun was just starting. Janny's husband Don loves all things piratical and has participated in quite a few pirate re-enactments. I got to see a real flintlock pistol and fire off a (small) black powder cannon, a.k.a. swivel gun.

Don's swivel gun; Janny had a wonderfully funny story about how she got him the cannon as a present, and how hard she had to work to keep the gift a surprise
Don getting ready to fire. (Note he's wearing earplugs. The cannon is seriously loud. The first time we fired it, Janny's horses spooked and ran. But the 2nd time, the horses were all, "Oh yeah, that's just the crazy humans doing their crazy things again. We're over it.")
We finished off the day with a quick trip to Siesta Key to watch the sunset. The beach has really interesting sand--it's 99% pure quartz, crushed very fine, so it's blindingly white and has the consistency of powdered sugar. The sky was overcast so we thought we might miss seeing the sun actually set into the water, but just at the last minute, the sun peeked out beneath the cloud layer in a blaze of pink.

A perfect ending to a perfect day
Can't thank Janny and Don enough for opening their home and lives to me. The best part of publishing has been the amazing people I've met that I might never have otherwise. If you're not familiar with Janny and Don's art and novels, you really, really should check them out. As for me, it's time to get back to packing for Australia...