Friday, December 27, 2019

Sydney - Part 1

[Kyle]We had light tailwinds for the sail from Broken Bay to Port Jackson, Sydney’s main harbor. At first, we had barely enough to keep us moving, but by late morning Maryanne had exchanged our spinnaker for the jib.

There was a lot of water traffic in Sydney. Not only were there almost constant ferries crisscrossing the harbour, there was the usual weekend powerboat crowds plus LOTS of sailboats. The Sydney - Hobart race was leaving next week and it seemed all of the crews were out practicing.

First sights - arriving in Sydney Harbour
Lots of sailboats about

It was a little humbling. Our “fast” catamaran seemed like the slowest boat in the whole harbour. The race boats were able to treat us basically as a stationary navigation hazard as they tacked back and forth past us.

We pulled around the corner at Bradley’s Head, where we finally got our first view of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We made it!!

We were actually in Sydney...Australia! It seems unreal to us, even though that had been our plan all along. I keep expecting that we somehow got lost and that we really never made it past North Carolina.

The bridge and the Opera house are pretty distinctive, though, and the ones before us are much too big to have been put up as a prank, so I guess we’re here.

Iconic Sydney waterfront
The Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge, Admiralty House and Luna Park

At that moment, it occurred to me that I have never seen a picture of either from sea level. The shots have always been aerial from 1,500 feet. That messes with the perspective a bit. From the water, the bridge looks smaller than I had expected and the Opera House looks much bigger.

We were planning to anchor in front of the zoo at Athol Bay, which is just inside Bradley’s Head, but we put that on hold for an impromptu harbour cruise. We had to sail under the bridge. That would make our arrival seem more ”official”, like sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

Unlike San Francisco, Sailing in Sydney is all backward, and not just because the water’s surfaces are at 110-degree angle to each other (on a globe!). In San Francisco, a harbor cruise starts with a bash to get under the bridge, then the sheets are eased and it’s an easy, downwind ride back.

In Sydney, the bridge is at the “back” of the harbour, so it’s an easy ride there and a real beating to get back to the anchorages. That, and the actual space under the bridge is much smaller, which makes things a lot more crowded down there. The water there is a sloppy mess of big wakes colliding from all directions.

The Australians seem much better about knowing and observing the right-of-way rules of the road than the Americans are, so every traffic conflict we had was sorted out in advance in a civilized manner. We didn’t encounter anyone who tried to race in front of us or pretended they don’t see us, figuring we would go around because they’re bigger. We had to stop for others to go by a couple of times, but we all knew what to do, so there was almost no drama.

Then we got back to Athol Bay and the zoo. Athol is named after the many nice people who like to anchor there on weekends. It had been relatively calm the first time we passed by, but by the time we made it back, it was chock-a-block full of weekend party people in full Cancun, drunk-off-my-ass party mode.

Sydney boaters certainly seem to know how to use their boats and have fun!

Fifteen stereos were blasting out fifteen different party tracks. All were cranked up high to try to drown out the fourteen others. Then there were the people screaming to be heard over the speakers. Most of them were saying “Dude, I am SOOO drunk right now!!”, which in the universal language of drunken youth, is of course pronounced, “Whooooo!!!” This is announced while standing in the pose of the Statue of Liberty, except that the Torch of Freedom is replaced by a red Solo cup and the statue is made of rubber and there is an earthquake. We had picked the anchorage for the view, but were starting to wonder if we would have the endurance to stay.

Almost none of the boats were anything close to being properly anchored. More than one boat had to start up and leave to keep from hitting us. A particularly obnoxious bunch repeatedly dragged halfway to the Opera House before someone noticed the anchor wasn’t biting. I’m not sure it even reached the bottom.

Then, just before sunset, half of the boats pulled up anchor and left. They clearly had more people on board than could stay the night, so that wasn’t a surprise. The fancier mega-yachts stuck around though. You would think they would be occupied by the older, smooth jazz set, but it was generally just a more spoiled version of the same twenty-somethings, being catered after by uniformed crew. Then something else happened that we had known about that they apparently had not. A cold front came through.

It was a pretty fast transition. The warm offshore breeze stopped completely, which made it unbearably hot. Then a cold wind came roaring over from the far side of the harbour. Within five minutes, the wind was at twenty-five knots and gusting into the high thirties. Bikini weather was over.

Boats started swinging and dragging all over the place. Everyone except us and one other long distance cruising boat high-tailed it and headed for wherever they had come.

For us, it got appreciably choppier, but we’ve seen worse. We knew our anchor was well dug in and that the wind would slowly decrease back into single digits by morning.

And in fact it did. Our wind gauge read 0.8 knots when we got up. The ferries hadn’t started throwing wakes yet and we could feel no hint of motion at all. Before the crowds came back, we used the opportunity to pick up one of the public mooring balls in the bay. That way, we figured we were safe from anyone crossing our chain or pulling up our anchor while we were ashore.

The following morning Athol bay was serene and practically empty

Ashore to explore Bradley's head and Sirius Cove

We did a lap along the nature trail that circles the peninsula and then headed into the center of Mosman, the nearest suburb. This is where we discovered that Sydney is very hilly and very full of very lucky people with very nice homes. The steep hills assured that nearly everyone got an amazing view of the harbour and the skyscrapers beyond. It reminded me very much of the many hills in the San Francisco Bay Area, except that it never gets this hot there.

We got “a few bits” at the store, which Maryanne insisted on carrying in order to save my back. The pack didn’t look that heavy, but when she handed it to me to put in the dinghy at the beach, I realized she could had been carrying a pair of bowling balls instead.

In the morning, we left our ball at Athol and headed across the harbour to pick up some guests for a harbour cruise. There we met up with Tracey, a South African with whom Maryanne worked in the UK back in the ‘90s. Also in town on holiday were David and Birgitte whom we had last seen in La Playita, Panama after we had all gone through the canal five years ago. David & Birgitte had since sailed to Australia, sold their boat and moved back to their home in Scotland.

Reviewing the Sydney harbour sights with visiting friends
A lovely day on the water

Our sail was what we were coming to know as the usual Sydney weather. We started with barely enough wind to move the boat. Again, the race boats were out practicing for Sydney-Hobart. They were going twice as fast as we were - meaning two knots - so we had plenty of time to engage in some sailorly trash talk as they slowly circled us. I guess they need a lot of close quarters, rounding the buoy practice.

Our tacks against the incoming tide were becoming increasingly fruitless, so we decided to pick up a mooring ball for lunch and to wait for the wind to fill in. With everyone’s help and Maryanne’s super strength, we managed to do the whole arrival and departure using only sail power. That pleased our sailing friends, but the people on the ball right behind us looked a little nervous until it was obvious that we were not going to drift into them.

We had plenty of wind in the afternoon for the sail under the bridge and back. Tacking in traffic is so much easier with plenty of crew to help. David is in his eighties, but he was always the first one to jump up and volunteer to crank a winch.

It was getting choppy enough by the time we dropped them off that everybody had to do a hasty, carefully timed step onto the dock. We hardly had time to say a proper goodbye. One second, we were telling stories, the next, they were gone and waving goodbyes at us from shore.

Maryanne and I were planning on going to Manly for the night, which was a few more miles toward the harbour entrance. As soon as we had enough room, we re-hoisted the sails and resumed our tacking, this time without David’s much appreciated help.

Between tacks I was inside doing dishes. On our third tack, Maryanne asked me to come out and give a second opinion on an approaching sailboat. I confirmed her analysis. He was on a collision course. He was on port tack. We were on starboard. We were the stand on vessel. He was the give way vessel. We watched and waited, but he showed no sign of turning or slowing. Eventually, Maryanne put the helm up to pass about five feet behind him. That’s when we noticed that he was STARING AT HIS PHONE!! He hadn’t even seen us. We both yelled at him at the top of our lungs to “LOOK UP!!!” On the fifth yell, he pulled off the big earphones he was wearing. Really! Sydney harbor is where you decide to immerse yourself in a sensory deprivation tank? People! {Maryanne: OK - so contrary to Kyle's previous comment, not all boaters in Sydney know what they are doing - and in this case, not all even bother to look up and see if there is anything in their path. Thankfully we were keeping a suitable watch}

We passed close by him on the next few tacks, but he was slowly gaining on us, so we never got the chance to see the look of apology he owed us. We did see him almost hit three others, though. I guess seeing our sails fill his sky wasn’t enough to shake him out of his torpor.

We had come to Manly to see Phil on the day he flew to the UK to join the rest of the Muse family. He was busy getting their home ready for a holiday rental. When we arrived, he was three hours from leaving for the airport and the house was still 3+ hours from being ready. It looked like he would never be able to finish in time. It actually wasn’t as bad as that after we had a better look around. Most of the house was done, just the kitchen and living room were a work in progress. Phil kept refusing our help, but eventually, we wore him down and he let us clean up while he hung pictures and got his family’s stuff into the attic. He then gave us his car to use until he returned, as well as a ride to it’s parking spot at the marina where Muse is kept.

When we then checked the bus times for Phil's ride to the airport and ours back to Begonia, we found that we all had three minutes to sprint to bus stops in opposite directions, So our goodbye to him was waving from across the street while running backwards. Thanks, Phil! Have a nice trip!

A day in Manly Cove

Whew! Back at the beach, Maryanne and I decided to have a dessert at a restaurant with a view of the bay. I got a thing that consisted of a single malt whisky, an espresso and chocolate gelato. I like all three things. I should have had them in series, because the combination ruined all three. Anyway, that wasn’t the point. The point was having a view of our little boat in yet another of the amazing places we have been. That worked out great.

We took the last few hours of daylight to sail back to the zoo for the night. We arrived just before the last of the charter party boats left. When they did, we snuck over to their newly vacated mooring ball.

We spent the next day (Christmas) at the zoo, which was open because, “we still have to be there to feed the animals” as one zookeeper put it.

Christmas day at Taronga Zoo

We spent most of our time in the Australian section looking at Wombats and Tasmanian Devils and the like. The Aussies seemed to like the elephants and giraffes best. There is a lot to see there. We stayed until they closed and kicked us out.

Back aboard, we found two big powerboats between us and the adjacent mooring balls. They had forsaken a whole bunch of wide open space in front of us so that they could squeeze in just there. Every time one of them would swing too close, somebody would have to rush out and push against us to keep from hitting. Other times, we came very close when no one seemed to be paying any attention. Time to leave Athol Bay.

The ironic thing was that we were the smallest of the four boats around us. None of the others could take our mooring when we left without hitting the others or making them move, so the anchorage ended up being packed, but with one unusable empty mooring ball.

We moved to the much more sedate Rose Bay, where we were able to pick up the same ball we had used for lunch during our harbour cruise. That put us in a good position for the next day’s events.

That day was Boxing Day, which, if I remember correctly, is the traditional day when the gentry used to beat up their servants after they didn’t do a good enough job with the Christmas service. Here, it’s also the start of the Sydney - Hobart race.

It is a BIG deal here. The harbour is even closed to commercial shipping for the start.

We walked through several bays and neighbourhooods (along with 100s of others) to find a vantage point for the sailboats as they approach the harbour exit

We had no desire to put Begonia in the middle of the chaos, so we elected to go ashore and watch from the vantage point of the cliffs at the southern headland of the entrance. As we walked to the point, more and more people joined in until we were in a river of spectators.

We got there just in time for the start. Ten minutes later, the four Super Maxes at the front (of five in the world) tacked past us on their way to the first mark. The center of the harbor had been cleared for the 147 race boats, leaving a strip on each side for spectators. These two strips became a roiling mess as every other boat in the harbour tried to keep pace with the leaders. It was nuts! One mega yacht tried to stay in place facing the wrong way while a whole stream of boats passed by at speed and at arm’s length. When they tried to turn around, we could hardly bear to watch. The mega yacht took up most of the available width and a lot of the others had to do panic swerves and panic stops. When they left the exclusion zone, the spectators joined in with the participants, creating even more problems for the racers.

We have never been race people - but if you get to watch one, this is quite the party!

Whew! That was great. We had to stand in line to make it off of the point, since there was only one footpath in. During this time, Maryanne got it into her head that she wanted to walk the six miles to Bondi Beach because, you know, it was so nearby.

I demurred at first, but eventually gave in when she pulled out the puppy dog eyes. Fine!

It was an amazing walk. The whole way, we took every detour as we wound our way along multicolored cliff tops backed by incredible hoses. People live here, and it goes on for miles!

Coastal Walks in such lovely weather

When we finally made it to Bondi, we had walked way further than the short way. The most popular beach in Australia is just packed with a sea of people, all in suits that make me think fabric sells for more by area than even the real estate here. Apparently, bikini bottoms no longer come with a back. Keep that in mind the next time you pop into a beachfront pub for lunch.

Bondi Beach

We moved in a few blocks for a fortifying dinner and then resumed our circuit back to the dinghy. We were both a bit sore by the time we made it home, but we had seen a lot of cool stuff so we were warm with the glow of a good day.