Yes - it's true, I've been home for a couple of months now. Regina made a successful return home from deployment on August 19th.
6 1/2 months was a long time to be away, and I was ecstatic to be home, so I've spent the last two months with my wife and adorable little boy, and it's been fantastic. They went through a lot together while I was away - he learned to walk, is talking up a storm - I don't want to miss any more of these milestones, but with my sailing career nearing a close, I shouldn't miss any more, and having experienced so many firsts since I've been home, I look forward to enjoying my front row seat to him growing up now. With all my time spent with them since being back, I've had no time for cigars or anything else - but to be honest, I barely noticed! That said, now that we're enjoying a bit of stability, I'm finding an opportunity here and there to enjoy a cigar, and this '14 SLR Serie A I'm smoking now reminds me that cigar is like a great friend - you can spend some time apart, but when you have a chance to meet and catch up, it's still a wonderful thing
Before I returned home - I enjoyed what was probably my favourite Port Visit of all time, and one I'll always remember - Regina sailed up the Brisbane River and spent 4 days alongside Brisbane, Australia....and I finally visited somewhere that's been atop my travel list for a long time - the Czar Deck!
It was a busy port visit for us. The Royal Australian Navy had sent a maintenance team (led by a former RCN Commander friend of mine who had transferred to the RAN a couple years back) to conduct some routine maintenance on our ship, to demonstrate our RAN-RCN partnership and interoperability, so although we got alongside just after lunch on the Friday, I had to meet that team, conduct a tour and do some photo-ops before i could get free. As a result I didn't get to the Czar deck until the early evening that night, and I missed many of the local FOH luminaries that I hoped to meet - but there were plenty of people still up there once I stepped up to the deck. It was an absolute pleasure to meet @WarriorPrincess, @First Lady, @Warren, @asmith and the gang, and to see @El Presidente in his element at last - Thank you for staying back and for your hospitality that evening! The Deck was all that I thought it would be - a beautiful spot, with a great spirit of camaraderie. We only had time for a one cigar, but a memorable Cohiba among friends was an excellent way to kick off the weekend! After that, we enjoyed some delicious Greek Food in the heart of Brisbane's South Bank, as Rob and Di introduced me to their city - and what a city it is! Brisbane is a remarkably vibrant place - i fell in love with it immediately. It felt like a more approachable and enjoyable Vancouver - with winter weather that puts anywhere in Canada to shame!
Saturday morning was even better - Rob picked me up for the drive out to Ken's humble abode, where we filmed the two Video Reviews posted up in early August - the Diplomaticos Nortenos and my blind Cigar that Ken managed to pick out quite easily....almost too easily . I've always wanted to join Ken and Rob for a video review, and it was truly as awesome as I hoped it would be. For all that we see in the final cut, the conversation, the banter, the one-of-a-kind location - it's so much more compelling in person. The cigars I brought were well received as you've seen, but the company makes the experience, and despite Rob's friendly warnings I enjoyed it more than I ever could have imagined. Ken - thank you once again for your hospitality. I look forward to seeing again to renew our discussions - hopefully I can repeat the experience with another worthy Canadian (or Japanese!) Whisky next chance I can make it down again!
But our Saturday was just getting started - Rob and Di took me another fantastic restaurant, Moda, where we enjoyed some delicious dinner before experiencing another Australian tradition - a Wallabies rugby match! Now, I've only been to a few matches before this, so I had to be reminded of some of the finer points of Rugby, but I enjoyed the match and the atmosphere very much. Well, the atmosphere of the crowd in the early going, it wasn't a strong match for the Wallabies and though they won, they didn't play up to their abilities and the crowd got taken out of the match a little - but hell, I enjoyed it! How often do you get to see the national team play in a World Cup tune up! They are holding their own in the World Cup now, which is more than I can say for Canada's absymal showing haha!
Sunday was something a bit different - I set out that morning on a hunt for Bonds Wondersuits, collecting a massive order in the north end of the city, and shopping at several Bonds shops throughout the city. In short - Bonds Wondersuits are in essence, high-quality infant/toddler zippy suits that are quite the rage here in Canada, and come in a massive and ever-growing variety of patterns, and my wife has been quite taken by them, so our little boy is very well-clothed, and I was happy to oblige by picking some up at the source. Lisa can attest to Bonds Wondersuits and their awesomeness, so at least I'm not alone in that haha! And yes @Fuzz, I picked up some Chestys for me too! With the Bonds search done, I promptly got lost driving to meet Rob and Di for a lunch, so it was bit of a late lunch along the riverfront at an delicious Chinese place, but I hopefully made up for it by taking Rob and Di on a tour of Regina nearby. I've given many tours of ships in my time, but I particularly enjoyed this one - Having had Rob and Di share their world of Brisbane with me the last few days, it was an honour to show them my little warship world for a couple hours. We may not be a big new Destroyer or Carrier, but we're damn proud of our Frigate all the same. I managed to convince Di not the press the Action Alarm, which was a minor victory in itself, and saved me some interesting questions from the Captain afterward haha!
Monday was my last day, and after a final morning dash to one more Bonds store (which was a jackpot for the wondersuits - next time i'll just go right to Indooroopily, dammit!), I promptly got lost again driving back on my way to Czar's to meet Rob for one more experience - the Gold Coast. I really need to just use GPS and stop trusting in a quick look at a map before driving in a city i've never been in before.......Rob and I drove down to visit his Surfing club for a tasty Fish and Chips, and he introduced me to the quiet magnificence of the Gold Coast. The beach is endless, but amongst the dull roar of the waves, i felt the peace and tranquility of it, and I could see the allure immediately. I dare say this is Rob's happy place, somewhere you can toss a rod to fish, enjoy a cigar and lose yourself in your own thoughts. I felt privileged to share it with him, as we found a nice spot on the beach to spark up a cigar, have a sip of Santiago and contemplate a simple, perfect life. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement.
It was a glorious weekend, but it was the people, the company that I enjoyed over all else. Rob and Di are phenomenal hosts, they brought me into their life for a brief moment and I remain touched by their generosity and companionship. What I'll remember most of all were the conversations. Rob and I spent a fair bit of time talking, and although we've met and spent time together before in London and Havana, I really feel like we got to know each other that weekend. You really can't know someone fully until you see them in their element, where they are comfortable and truly themselves. FOH is a great community, and it brings people together through the enjoyment of cigars - but this was an opportunity to get to know someone I've respected and enjoyed corresponding with for a long time, and I've come away honoured to have been welcomed as I was. Rob - thank you again for sharing a glimpse into your life, I can't properly express my gratitude with words, all I can say was that our visit was the highlight of my deployment, and something I'll treasure for a long time to come.
Inevitably, all good things must come to an end, and we sailed from Brisbane on our way towards home. We took a quick fuel stop in Fiji, but timed it right so that we could see another Rugby Match, Canada vs Fiji, another World Cup tune-up. The Canadians came out strong, but were quickly buried by the bigger, stronger Fijians and we were soundly trounced. The Canadian national rugby team actually trains just down the street from here in Langford, so it was pretty cool to see your hometown team take on another country even though we were trounced, and the team welcomed us on the pitch for a group photo afterward. Unfortunately, the rain afterward quashed any hope of a post-match cigar, so we returned for the ship and sailed the next day.
After another stop in Pearl Harbour for fuel, we set course for home. The day before we arrived home, I celebrated my Birthday with an SLR DC from my '08 Cab, a great cigar to finish a great deployment.
This deployment was pretty much my last hurrah as an at-sea Engineer. As the Engineering Officer, it has been my privilege to lead a 50-odd person team of professional, dedicated stokers, hull technicians and electricians aboard Regina for the last year, and my time aboard runs out at the end of this year after a few quick weeks at sea for trials and training, as I'm set for a promotion and a desk job ashore. I've enjoyed every moment of my years at sea, and although I look forward to new challenges ashore, nothing compares to being out at sea in the ocean, with no land around you, and only yourself and 240 of your closest friends to depend on. I will miss it immensely. To top off the deployment with my visit to Brisbane seemed fitting - one of my last Port Visits was the best I ever experienced. At least I have one cool thing left on ship to look forward to - showing off our new WWII-era paint job to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII!
Thank you Rob, Di, everyone - you made it one to remember!