Sunday, 28 April 2019

Karen's MasterChef Australia Experience

MasterChef Australia is one of the highest rating television programs in the country. It pitches amateur cooks against each other in a competition that is far more a developmental culinary journey than confrontational beat up based on artificial personalities found in many ‘reality’ programs.

Given her passion for cooking, it’s not surprising that Master Chef is Karen’s favourite television show by far. Each season thousands of hopefuls apply for a place on the show. These are whittled down to just sixty or so in each State who get to actually cook for the producers as part of the audition process. In 2019 Karen was one of those select few. Below is her account of the adventure.

Karen's cooking is normally done in Our Dreamtime's small but efficient galley.

Wow wow wow! ... I never thought I would be standing in front of a bench in a commercial kitchen eyes riveted on a MasterChef Mystery Box but here I was. The day had started extremely early with a trip to my local Farmers Market to ensure I had everything ready for my audition cook, and now, at 5pm, I was one of thirty hopefuls who stood waiting to hear those words, "Your time starts now".

After completing the intensive application process I had waited for the notification to see if I had made it through the 1st screening test. With your personal life history laid out for the scrutiny of the show’s producers, you hope that you showed a great enough love of cooking and commitment to your future food ambitions. I feared my listed future ambitions may have been my weak point. I didn't have grandiose dreams of opening my own restaurant or pop-up, I simply wanted to learn more, and be able to continue to blog and vlog about my food experience as we sail the world to remote places. I want to bring the new diverse food experiences we enjoy into other people's lives. Thousands of hopefuls apply but only a few are chosen. So when the brief email appeared in my inbox inviting me to actually audition to appear on Master Chef Australia I was excited to say the least. The date and venue were set and then a further detailed email arrived giving very precise instructions on what I was in for.

Audition #1 would be a Mystery Box with a 1 hour cooking time. Your food and suitability for the show would be judged. If successful you would be invited back the following day for Audition #2 to cook your signature dish. "Signature Dish", what signature dish? It's not like I run a restaurant and am known for one outstanding dish. Rob is lucky to have the same dish twice as I am always experimenting and utilising whatever fresh ingredients available in season at whatever place we are in at the time. Problem number one, what to cook.

I had two weeks from the time of being notified to the audition date. Now the pressure was on. I finally decided on making Thai style stuffed squid my new, and first, signature dish. I chose it as, firstly, Moreton Bay was teeming with them at the time. Secondly, it would showcase our lifestyle of living on board, and thirdly, I was confident in producing a flavoursome dish in the one hour time frame.

Each night for a fortnight Rob would call “Your time starts now” and I’d launch into producing a Masterchef worthy masterpiece before he shouted “Time’s up” sixty minutes later. We’d then sit down to diner, critically picking apart everything from presentation on the plate to every nuance of the dish. By the end of the two weeks of experimenting and tweaking the recipe, Rob and I were wondering if we would ever want to eat squid again, specially Thai stuffed squid. At the time I really didn't want to see another squid in my life let alone cook one under the pressure of television cameras in your face while producers fired questions. 

This is TV right. So you have to be honest. Not only were your cooking skills going to be scrutinised but how you presented, spoke and your knowledge and love of food had to shine. So for the first time in 8 months I went to the hairdresser, cut, colour, and blow dry. Then I had to choose an outfit to comply with the instructions of long pants and closed in shoes, practicality and safety first.

So back to audition day.  After my trip to the market, I carefully went through the ingredients I would require for my "Signature Dish" and packed them ready for transportation. Next came the equipment I would require. Nothing but knives and hard fixed appliances would be provided. I had to bring everything else I needed to cook and plate my dish. This is of course if I got through Audition #1, As we were not going to find out if we were through to Audition #2 until early evening on the Saturday night and would need to be back the following morning, I felt forward planning was essential for my piece of mind. It also kept me busy thinking about Day 2 and not what I was going to face in a couple of hours. The nerves were building regardless.

Arriving a bit early at the venue, there was one other person waiting. With my instant thought being ‘thank goodness I'm not the first’,  we fell into easy conversation and found our love of food a great uniter. As time drew closer the crowd grew with many bringing family and friends for support. Chloe and Ben, top ten and runner up of the 2018 season, arrived to chat to us. This eased the nerves as it gave us a great opportunity to ask questions about the 2018 show and the living arrangements in the MasterChef House. At this point I discovered that four of the people auditioning in my group had also auditioned in previous years. Wow! It can't be that traumatic if they are willing to do it a 2nd or 3rd time.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the "Mystery Box" and the words "Your time starts now" echoed in my head. The first peak at the produce was both exhilarating and terrifying. Provided was a selection of protein, and an array of product and produce that could send you in either a savoury or sweet way. However usual combinations weren't so obvious and you had to improvise. I immediately looked to my comfort zone, savoury and started planning my dish. Seafood of course. The hour did go by quickly with the production team coming up and constantly asking what your dish was, where did the influence come from, how were you going to plate up, and asking you questions about yourself etc.... the final ten second countdown began with everyone joining in and then the hooter sounded. “Step away from your plate!”

One by one our dishes were tasted with us waiting eagerly for the judges to make their decision. This is where the self-doubt sets in. Did I do enough? Is it cooked correctly? Are the flavours coherent? Are the flavours exciting? Is my dish a winner? Do I fit what they’re looking for? While quite complimentary of my efforts, unfortunately that’s where my Master Chef journey ended.

As I sat chronicling my fantastic experience the following day, the six talented Master Chef hopefuls chosen from our audition were cooking their "Signature Dish". Good luck to each of them. I’m sure they cooked their hearts out.  I for one will be watching the 2019 MasterChef Australian edition knowing it's a tough road to get to the top 50 let alone the top 10. I hope I see some familiar faces.

There was one final challenge though.  Rob and I had to eat our way through my "Signature Dish". More squid.  Such is life in Our Galley.


Check out Karen's "Dreamtime Sail - Our Galley" blog for much more food and cooking.


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Thursday, 11 April 2019

In Search of the Perfect Yacht Tender

Since we began cruising we’ve worked our way through most of the tender options sailors have to choose from. The first boat we crewed on had very old Avon inflatable that was well past its use by date and required constant pumping. In short it was awful. The second boat had a sailing dinghy as a tender which was a lot of fun but storing the sail and mast would be an issue on many boats. Our boat in the Mediterranean, Alcheringa came with a small, soft bottomed roll up inflatable. Nice and light, reasonably inexpensive but limited in performance. 

Alcheringa's dinghy was light and compact but limited.

When we returned to Australia and purchased Our Dreamtime, she came with an aged Aquapro aluminum hulled rib. Rather than spend money on a new tender, we elected to do a refurb job on it. See Breathing new life into our aging dinghy. It then served us well until it suffered terminal damage when we misjudged the current in the Burnett River and squashed her against a pylon while on the davits bursting an air chamber. She did a good job of protecting the stern of the yacht so didn’t give her life in vain.

After an extensive refurb, our Aquapro RIB sacrificed itself on the davits when wedged between a pylon and the stern as the river current caught us by surprise in Port of Bundaberg marina.

Subsequently, we found ourselves in urgent need of a new tender and headed to ebay from where we purchased a Chinese PVC 3 metre, air hull, inflatable with aluminum floor inserts. At $800 it was the cheapest thing we could find. Initially it was great apart from actually being surprisingly heavy. However, just 12 months in Australian tropical conditions and every seam began to come unglued and, despite our best efforts at repairs, we gave up and dumped it.

Our Chinese PVC replacement was cheap but only lasted one season before falling to bits. It was also surprisingly heavy.

We were on the dinghy hunt again but were determined to come up with a more permanent solution. The price of new, hypalon ribs was enough to scare the pants of us so we began searching the second hand market. That’s where we spotted a 3 metre tinnie (Australian slang for aluminum dinghy) complete with 8HP Yamaha outboard for just $400. We can’t resist a bargain and snapped it up. The Yamaha was a long shaft version which had been mounted with a transom extension. It was pretty awkward so we sold it for $300 which means our tinnie actually only cost us $100.

Our $400 bargain dinghy. Note the long shaft Yamaha with transom extension. 
We soon discovered a couple of downsides to a tinnie as a yacht tender. Firstly they are hard and, even after running some plastic tubing round the gunnels, we were constantly worried about damaging Our Dreamtime’s painted hull every time they nudged each other. Another issue is the tinnie had no inbuilt buoyancy so if filled with water would sink. Add in that its stability was so bad you virtually had to part your hair in the middle or risk listing or even capsizing.

That’s when we discovered a thing called a Kapten Boat Collar on Google. Everything we read and the Youtube videos we watched convinced us the boat collar might be our answer. They are manufactured by a small family company in the town of Nambour about 100 kilometres or so north of Brisbane. Check them out .HERE As the dinghy itself owed us so little, we decided to cough up the money and try one of these collars on it. One for our size dinghy costs under $900 plus fitting.  However, we were assured installation is reasonably simple with over 70% being done by customers rather than company so we decided to save money and do it ourselves.

Here’s how its done.
Click on the image to watch the video on YouTube on how we installed our Kapten Boat Collar.

Our second hand dinghy with boat collar is the best yacht tender we have had so far and all for under $1,000.

We had intended to trim the overhang at the stern but changed our minds and decided to leave it to provide both additional flotation and extra bumper factor to protect our yachts hull. 

We added a new 9.9hp Mercury to complete what we have found to be an excellent tender combo.

What about the results. The difference is unbelievable. The dinghy is now completely stable in all conditions and unsinkable. You can literally stand on its gunnel without a problem. It’s now also possible to climb into the dinghy from the water which will be fantastic when snorkeling. The dinghy planes very easily and really gets along with it's new 9.9hp outboard. In fact it easily matches the performance we managed in our inflatables with a 15hp engine. The collar is also a brilliant alround fender when the dinghy is alongside the yacht. We are convinced we have now found the perfect yacht tender set up to suit our needs at last. It might not be for everyone but we love it.

We'd love to hear from you in the comments what type of tender you've found suits your needs.


We love to receive comments on our blog from readers. If you do leave a comment and you also have a blog, please leave a link as well. We'd like to click over for a visit and leave you a comment too.

To stay right up to date with what we’re up to and see lots more photos, also check out and 'like' our Dreamtime Sail Facebook page at DreamtimeSail
If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.
You can also find a full list of all our blogs by clicking on the Contents tab above.