Monday, 25 February 2013

World Superbikes – Phillip Island 2013

By 10am on Friday, me, Steve, Red Devil (F650GS Twin) and our two king sized chairs were waiting at Gate 1 for a slice of the action. When we arrived the World Supersport riders were enjoying a free practice session. As soon as we found our first vantage point, at the braking zone for turn 1, we were off the bike and watching; awesome.

Tex & Bundy Charity Fundraisers at the Expo.
When you first arrive at the track it’s hard to know what to do because there seems to be so many options. After a cup of tea, and a gentle reminder that we had all weekend, we headed over to the Australian Motorcycle News (AMCN) Expo. I spent a long time pouring over the merchandising. In the end all I wanted was a stubby holder but when I found Steve he said “you already have a stubby holder” and that was the end of that. Steve liked the MV Augusta track bike, which for $8500 seemed incredibly cheap; I said “no” to that too.

The California Superbike School had a stand at the expo. Steve Brouggy runs the school and when I said “I always read Steve Brouggy’s articles in Two Wheels Magazine,” who should turn around but Steve himself. Steve willingly talked to us about motorcycle skills and techniques and we nearly booked in for two days tuition when the school meets at Queensland Raceway in June; maybe next time around.

Playing at being a media photographer.
After lunch we took advantage of our paddock passes and wandered up and down at the back of the pits. At that time, all the garage doors were down but we still managed to catch a glimpse of Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri. By the time Steve activated the camera they had both slipped behind closed doors.

As Phillip Island is the first World Superbike race of the year, there is always a little extra tension wondering who will be out performing whom. We watched the first qualifying session from the pit roof. It’s fun up there, looking down on the guys riding in and out of their garages. Michel Fabrizio, riding an Aprillia for Red Devils Roma, caught my eye. Fabrizio was the talk of the town on Friday night as he was top of the board when the first qualifying session was over.

Marco Melandri at MG corner.
On Saturday we were down at the track early enough to plonk our chairs in one of the plumb spots at MG, the slowest corner of the track. MG provides the best option if you want to see the bikes up close and personal. We are so lucky that Phillip Island Circuit still has low fences; long may this be so. It was a hot day, at one stage they were reporting a track temperature of 50 degrees. I kept wetting my shirt and that kept me comfortable for at least half an hour.

One of the wonderful things about the WSBK’s at Phillip Island is they allow the bikes to park inside the circuit. We left our lunch in Red Devil’s aluminium panniers and I was the one sent on the mission to retrieve it. Lying there, right beside by bike was an ignition key. There were plenty of bikers taking a breather in the shade but no one had lost their key. We placed the key on an old Akubra hat and laid the hat down in a prominent place. We all thought that if we had lost our key the first thing we would do is retrace our steps.

While I was collecting lunch there was a bit of banter going on between the bikers. One guy asked me “Are you going to upgrade the BMW when Volvo releases their motorcycle?” I just smiled. Surely this was a case of the pot calling the kettle black; this guy was riding a Suzuki V-Strom! When I found a wicked looking Husqvana motorcycle, I said “It could be handy to ride a bike that can sew a patch on your jacket too.” Luckily the owner didn’t hear me.

Superpole was good value and I think it made nearly everyone smile when old favourite Carlos Checa, riding his Ducati Panigale 1199R, took out pole position.

Race day action at Siberia.
On Sunday we sat ourselves high on the hill at Siberia. The day was hot and even Bass Strait failed to deliver a cooling breeze. We slow cooked in our denim jeans but at least we weren’t getting sunburnt. The atmosphere amongst the spectators at Siberia is great. The entire audience clapped for every rider at the conclusion of each race and when a local girl sang the National Anthem some dude called out “You F…… beauty;” everyone cheered.

The racing was spectacular with Aprillia taking out the entire podium in the first superbike race. Unfortunately, our man, Marco Melandri, was taken out of the race by pole sitter Carlos Checa. Race two was a little more democratic and although the Aprillia’s of Eugene Laverty and Sylvain Guintoli were first and second, we were delighted to see Marco Melandri, on his BMW S 1000RR, taking out third place.

On Monday morning, still high on our latest motor racing fix, we rode away from Phillip Island in a heavy sea mist. I noticed I had a lump in my throat and I felt certain that one day we’d be back for more.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Motorcycle Tasmania – South and West

We left the caravan park in Cambridge, Hobart, just in time to join the rush of cars trying to get their drivers to work on time. We detoured to the shopping centre, to restock the esky and the food box, while the traffic on the Tasman Bridge had time to clear.

Soon we were on our way, Dover bound. I wondered many times, while we walked the jetties at the Australian Wooden Boat Festival, “why are there so many boats in Hobart?” Then I laid eyes on the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the reason became clear. This wonderful waterway, flanked by Bruny Island on the east, and the mainland on the west, is full of bays and beaches. The scenery was spectacular and as we rode south along the Channel Highway we had to remind ourselves about the importance of keeping our eyes on the road. Salmon farms do exist but not enough to spoil the view.

Mouth of the Huon River with
D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Bruny Island in the background.
We stopped for a cup-a-soup and a homemade ham sandwich at a lookout near Garden Island Creek. A shower of rain around the hills to the south kept us looking over our left shoulder. Steve picked blackberries and willingly shared them with me. At the visitor information centre in Hobart we asked, “Where should we stay Cygnet or Dover?” Without hesitation the guy said “Dover, there isn’t much going on in Cygnet.” Unfortunately we believed him and we rode on through the sophisticated little town, with its boutique wares and interesting port, before we realised we had missed something.

Although there wasn’t much happening in Dover, it was a true sanctuary away from the madding crowd and we took the opportunity to cook all our own meals and relax for a while.

This Houn Pine is 450 years old,
they live for up to 3,000 years.
We hopped on the tourist band wagon and paid $25 each to enjoy the Tahune Forest Airwalk. We learned a little more about the famous Huon Pine. On the huon trail we were introduced to a 450 year old tree. They call these trees the “old folk” of the forest. Apparently they only grow in the wettest areas of the state so I have stopped looking out for them on the hills and in the valleys as we ride along the many scenic roads.

A good day on the road is worth more than a good day at camp so when we saw that the weather looked clear we decided to ride for two days all the way from Dover to Ulverstone. The big tent was packed up and we were back on the road by 8am. We shopped at Huonville and then settled in for the ride through the city. Steve likes to take all the back roads and we had soon turned left and were winding our way along the lower slopes of Mt Wellington. This is one of those roads that probably should say “local traffic only,” but Tasmanians are kind to motorcycle riders and they allow you to ride everywhere. You have to settle in and ride at your own pace along these lanes because the consequence of trying to keep up with someone else doesn’t bare thinking about.

We have fallen in love with Tasmania’s Valhalla ice cream and it was no surprise that after lunch we were devouring a two scooper on the pavement in New Norfolk. Then we were back on the road again, trundling long the Lyell Highway. I don’t think there is a single straight road in Tasmania. Sometimes the corner speeds are indicated as a warning shot, but mostly you are left to your own devices regarding entry speeds. As I was riding along towards Tarraleah, it occurred to me that if you could get a giant rolling pin and iron out all of Tasmania’s hills and mountains, so that the apple isle was flat like Western Australia, I think the footprint would be quite large.

We pulled into Tarraleah late in the afternoon. There were two types of powered camp sites available. The grassy sites were covered in possum poop. I picked the poopless site, and Steve picked the grassy site, so we drew straws and Steve won. Next thing I know I’m down on my hands and knees picking up possum turds! Timing is everything and Steve happened to open the tent just as I swept up one of the drier pieces of poop. Unfortunately a gust of wind caught the dustpan and blew at least half a turd inside the tent. I’m still laughing about it now.

The ride from Tarraleah to Queenstown is simply stunning. The Red Devil and I looked after each other and the purr of her engine, as we wound our way along some of the steep mountain passes, was music to my ears. I only heard the word “crikey” once inside my helmet, now and again I heard myself cackling away; it’s just so much fun. On these roads you have to participate in the ride – constantly making decisions and changing up and down through the gears tires you out. I think four hours on the road here in Tasmania is more like riding for six hours on a conventional pavement.

The road into Queenstown (which you can see at the bottom of the valley).
Yes, the Red Devil and I are in the picture.

Except for the locals and the super talented bikers, I don’t think the steep descent into Queenstown could really be described as a great motorcycle road. It’s just about survival as you negotiate the change in elevation from high to low. Queenstown is a wonderful historic town and if you stop for a moment you can almost hear the clatter and chatter from the time when the town was living its heyday. I just hope the West Coast Wilderness Railway train to Strahan keeps running so the tourists keep turning up.

If you have the opportunity to ride Tasmania, include Anthony Road (B28) which runs from Henty Glacial Moraine in the south to Tullah in the north. On the day, as we rode on easy, admiring the breathtaking scenery that is part of the world heritage Cradle Mountain – Lake St Clair National Park, it occurred to me that this was probably the most beautiful road I had ever cruised along.

Steve wasn’t finished with the back roads yet and although we were enjoying a good lick of speed along the Murchison Highway, Steve soon found the B18 and then a couple of “C” roads. These roads slowed us down as we navigated our way through the farming communities of Upper Natone and South Riana.

We ended our “Ride Tasmania” in Ulverstone. While we were resting in our big camp chairs and musing over three weeks of wonderful riding, a bird flew past and pooped right on my foot. “That’s supposed to be lucky” said Steve, “perhaps we should buy a lottery ticket?” to which I replied “perhaps we have been lucky enough!”

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Australian Wooden Boat Festival 2013

You don’t have to be a wooden boat enthusiast to enjoy the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. The Tasmanian government have seen the wood through the trees and cleverly made the festival a free event. This concept lifts the attendance levels and gives the festival a wonderful atmosphere.

Couta boat in the pavilion.
There were over 600 boats on display and the festival is a true celebration of both new and old wooden boats. Boats of a similar design are displayed together, this makes it easy to wander the jetties and pavilions and enjoy the eclectic mix of vessels on display. Each vessel has an information board which tells you her name, designer, year launched and the construction material. I’m particularly in love with Huon Pine and vessels built out of this material received a big tick from me. I couldn’t help spare a thought for the large number of boats that remained on the waiting list and couldn’t exhibit at the festival; there was simply no more room.

Landfall and Sirocco.
The festival is a four day event. When we arrived and saw the boats and the display pavilions before us I said to Steve “where do we start?” We wandered along the jetties of the Kings Pier Marina and Constitution Dock and it was a little overwhelming to gaze upon the selection of wooden boats. Landfall (1935) and Sirocco (1939), two historic Sparkman and Stephens design yachts, nearly brought tears to my eyes they looked so grand. These boats are lovely to look at, but it sends a shiver down my spine when I imagine the hours of work that are spent to keep them in such immaculate condition.

I was thrilled to catch up with Cartella; this old ferry is now a centenarian. I remember being onboard her in 1975 after the Tasman Bridge collapsed. Cartella helped move commuters back and forth across the Derwent River.

I particularly enjoyed the colourful display of Fazackerley Dinghies. It is estimated that Reg Fazackerley built over 100 of these dinghies and about 40 of them are known to be in existence because of the quality of their build and their collectability. One of the defining characteristics of the clinker Fazackerley dinghies is there are no ribs forward of the front seat.

The owners of Notorious, a full size replica of a 15th century Portuguese caravel (the type of ship that carried the early European explores to the Far East), were enterprising with their fund raising and for $5 you could climb aboard and take a look around. However the replica Viking ship Russich which had sailed all the way from Russia, had only a donation box on the dock and would have collected only a fraction of the amount.

We noticed that Sea Shepherd was also in port. Sea Shepherd belongs to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) which is a marine wildlife conservation organisation. Looking down at her from the dock Sea Shepherd has a mighty presence. A film crew were conducting an interview with Bob Brown (former Australian Greens leader). Bob is now actively involved with Sea Shepherd activities and he looked much younger and fitter than he looks on TV. I over heard him say “I am 67 years old.”

Over the four festival days we wandered along the jetties and through the exhibition halls and learnt about model boats, wooden canoes and boat building. Everywhere we went there was an unpretentious volunteer ready and willing to answer all of our questions. Whenever we needed to rest for a while it was easy to find somewhere to sit down and something delicious to eat. From Persian fair to a good Tasmanian scallop pie, everyone’s taste was catered for.

There was a good mix of talks and presentations to choose from and we particularly enjoyed Lynn and Larry Pardey’s presentation on storm tactics – how to hove to. Lynn is an expert presenter and she gained our full attention. I learned so much from her presentation.

The AWBF is a great place to hang out and we turned up every day. At times you would find us in the Wooden Boat Tavern listening to folk music and at other times we’d be in the pavilions again learning a little more about wooden boats.

In 1975, when I was just a child living in Hobart, my dad started to build a Hartley 17ft cabin cruiser. I can see him now using a hand saw to cut the ribs out of King Billy Pine. After attending the festival, dad’s boat project means so much more.

The festival was far and beyond any expectations we may have had. It is estimated that over 200,000 people attended the four day event which must have put a smile on the faces of the entire organising committee. I will never forget the sight of hundreds of dressed ships in the harbour and when the curtain finally closed on the 2013 Australian Wooden Boat Festival, I felt certain that one day the festival would lure us back to Hobart again.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Motorcycle Tasmania - North East

We are heading up there.
When we stepped out of our big tent, on our first morning in Launceston, Steve looked up at the clear sky and exclaimed “we’ve got to ride the mountain today.” As soon as the flasks were filled with hot water, and the esky was packed with cheese, biscuits, nuts and fresh fruit we were off on our first Tasmanian ride.

We rode on easy through the little village of Longford and then up we went past Poatina. The road was quiet and the views spectacular as we looked across at the Great Lake. We stopped for morning tea at Flintstone, to take in the wonderful views over Arthurs Lake, and then we lunched at Miena. I placed a chunk of cheese on a dozen crackers and then tried to protect our fair from the savage wind that was blowing across the lake. While we quizzed a local about the condition of the gravel road on the western side of the lake, he said, “We’re expecting a drop of rain this afternoon.” Any mention of rain when I’m at altitude with my motorcycle and I start hopping around all over the place and I said “gotta go, gotta go.” Five minutes later we were packed up and heading down the mountain as quickly as we could.

The Great Lakes - Western Tiers - 1300m, getting use to the gravel.
The gravel section was upon us in no time but the road was flat and the going was easy. Steve had done most of the map reading for the day and I was unaware that there was a second section of gravel. When we arrived at gravel road number two my heart sank, especially when the sign said 19km. Onwards and upwards we went. Dark clouds were gathering around the hills and a few spots of rain collected on my visor. I wanted to wave my fist at Steve but I needed both hands on the handle bars. With the weather closing in and some steep hair pin bends to negotiate, I wanted to turn back but we were past the point of no return. Luckily the 19km sign had been a joke all along and we were soon riding on bitumen again.
I can cope with a little light rain, but then the fog rolled in. I was in front and it was some comfort that I could see the dim glow of Steve’s headlight as we started the steep descent, with only the white lines on the edge of the road to guide us. Thankfully we were soon out of the fog but I was a little spooked by the gravel, and the rain, and I descended that mountain like a hairy dog; luckily only Steve was around as witness.

Cataract Gorge, Launceston.
We stopped to rest at the bakery in Deloraine. It was wonderful to watch our host make us an iced coffee with so much care and attention, even piping fresh cream on top. Riding in the mountains lived up to its expectations – four seasons in one day.
Be careful what you wish for. Our big tent was dusty and Steve was overheard to have said “a shower of rain will clean her up.” When we arrived back at camp, the rain arrived too and we settled in for a night and a day of continuous drizzle. The locals said it hadn’t rained for weeks. That’s what they always say and we didn’t believe them. The rain gave us the opportunity to enjoy the streets of Launceston which made a change from motorcycle riding.
Convict built bridge, Campbell Town.
When the sun decided to shine once more, we took the bikes on an easy run to the historic towns of Campbell Town and Ross. Of the 200,000 convicts sent to Australia, Tasmania received an incredible 70,000 prisoners. These guys were so resourceful that the bridge they built in Campbell Town is able to withstand modern heavy vehicles and is now part of the main highway connecting Launceston and Hobart.
I remembered enjoying the Ross Rodeo when I was a child. It seemed like poetry in motion that the day I rode into town on my motorcycle, the rodeo was actually taking place in the little village. While we ate our lunch I could hear the rodeo’s PA system in the distance and it took me back to a time long ago.
On Sunday 3rd February we moved our camp to St Helens. The road twists and turns all the way to Scottsdale and beyond. It’s easy to forget that although the distances are short, the ride time is long.
You learn something every day. Getting two motorcycles through a caravan park boom gate, with only one access key, used to seem like a circus trick. Steve would operate the key. As soon as the gate opened I would shoot through, leaving Steve to perform the hero’s part which was to try and sneak past the gate before the boom came down and knocked him of his bike. What we hadn’t realised is that as soon as I went through the gate, the gate sensors said “vehicle through, close gate.” All you have to do is line up and ride through together; it’s as easy as pie even though the warning sign on the gate says “No bicycles or motorcycles.”
Great fish and chips, afloat at St Helens.

If you stay at St Helens you’ve got to have fish and chips. Our host talked us into trying travella, claimed to be one of the best table fish on the planet. The travella was soft eating and very good but these days we have developed a taste for flake which is our favourite.

Elephant Pass.

From St Helens we took the bikes on a run to Bicheno. We timed our ride perfectly so we could enjoy the famous Elephant Pass and then have lunch at the Elephant Pancake Kitchen. While I was waiting for my all berry pancake to be served, I decided to inspect the contents of the sugar bowl. Now I should tell you that the dudes that run this establishment have a sense of humour and there are signs around that say things like “don’t even think about blocking this gate…” and “uncontrolled children will be taken care of.” So when I lifted the lid on the sugar bowl and saw a lizard sitting inside I thought it was a joke – until his eyes moved and he slithered onto the table. I gave a controlled yelp, which I felt I was entitled to. All the other patrons laughed and the waitress said, “That’s what you get when you live in the bush.” Then she continued to serve tea and coffee and didn’t even pretend that the sugar bowl would be cleaned out. I can report that the pancakes were excellent but be warned – this restaurant only accepts cash and the pancakes are quite expensive.
By the time we made it back to camp it was time to replace the ice in our esky. We freeze two litre orange juice containers, the square ones are the best as they fit neatly inside the esky. Steve went to the camp kitchen but our container was gone. The manager just happened to wander past our campsite and I mentioned it to him. He said that “the girls" had probably cleaned out the freezer and thrown our bottle away as the park does not tolerate the freezing of plastic bottles; it doesn’t leave any room in the freezer for food. On this occasion the freezer was like the park – empty. I thought about this for a moment and then asked to be shown the sign which indicates that you cannot place bottles of water in the freezer. There was no sign. I told the manager that “the freezer needs a sign” because everyone freezers bottles and how were we to know. I said to Steve “if there isn’t a sign on the freezer by the time we leave the park I’m going to write to the management.” The following day the manager wandered over with the news that our bottle had been found and it was back in the freezer! All was forgiven and no letter was written.
On Thursday 7th February, it was time for a ride to Hobart. There is something magical and exciting about moving our camp from one destination to another. When I look back on our days on the road, one of my favourite moments will be when we ride out of town, both bikes loaded up and the trailer in tow. At that moment we are carrying everything we need and it feels good.

Bikes all packed and on the road, Triabunna.
We picked a warm day for our ride to Hobart and finding a shady picnic spot can seem like an impossible task. The roads are in exceptional condition here in Tasmania and they are a pleasure and a privilege to ride on. We stopped for a break at Bicheno, Swansea and Triabunna. At Triabunna the ferry captain approached us and said he was trying to encourage biker dudes to enjoy a trip to Maria Island by offering secure parking near the ferry terminal. We suggested he should advertise in the Ulysses Club “Riding On” magazine.
The temperature was a humid 30 degrees which made riding a little uncomfortable. As we approached Orford I noticed it felt a little cooler. I looked down at Devil’s LCD and it said 27 degrees. The temperature kept falling, half a degree at a time, until it felt cold at 22 degrees. Then I noticed the wind had picked up and bark was being blown off the trees. As we rode past Prosser Bay I saw a cloud of sand approaching the road. I called out “steady up” and me and Red Devil just managed to pull up in time to watch a willy willy cross the road. Five minutes later it was 30 degrees again!
We were hot and hungry by the time we arrived at Richmond. A scallop pie and a Tasmanian made ice cream calmed us down and made the crew smile again. By 4pm our canvas cabin was up once more and we were on the net, checking out the program for the Australian Wooden Boat Festival. Boat show here we come.