Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Night to Remember

After a wonderful week-long visit, our daughter and family departed Australia early on Boxing Day. We had a great time with the grandkids and were very sad to see them leave.

Not letting any moss grow between our toes, Meryl and I hopped on a bus down to Manley where we met our old cruising buddy, Andrew from Eye Candy. We had been invited to watch the start of the world-famous Sydney Hobart race aboard Moonshadow, a 62 ft. Deerfoot sailing yacht, owned by cruising friends John and Deb Rogers of San Diego. This was a lifetime dream for me to see the start and to be able to watch the race aboard Moonshadow was the icing on the cake. The 630-mile race goes from Sydney Harbor NSW to Hobart, Tasmania.

John and Deb are the consummate hosts and you know you’re in for a great time.  Even though it was somewhat early, the course was lined 10 boats deep along the route, including large ferries, tour boats, every size sailboat imaginable, and a myriad of other oddball craft. John had his hands full dodging the other boats as everyone jockeyed for the best position to see the rapidly approaching racing yachts.

Blackjack and Comanche neck and neck after the starting gun.

Even though the wind was very light, these super lightweight racing boats knifed through the water at about seven knots.

Wild Oats is one of the perennial favorites for line honors in the Sydney Hobart Race. Ironically it was berthed just across from us in Pittwater.
The first two boats to reach us were the RP 100 Blackjack with Bob Butterworth as crew, closely followed by the 100 Supermaxi LDV Comanche, which included world-class sailors Jimmy Spithill as crew and Stan Honey as navigator. This was like a “Who’s Who” of the world's best sailors.

I had heard descriptions of the mayhem in the spectator fleet, but you really have to be there to fully appreciate it.

These AIS targets best describe the chaos during the start of the race with everyone vying for the best vantage points.

Our stalwart Captain John did a great job steering us in close quarters during the start.
Even though the wind was relatively light, the maxi’s moved along at a good clip and were soon out of sight down the coast. They were followed by the Volvo Challenge series yachts and a bunch of offshore racing yachts including the famous Dorade that we saw in Antigua years ago.

A few days later we hemmed and hawed about sailing Flying Cloud from Pittwater (seven hours south) to Sydney to watch the New Year's Eve celebration. An email from our friend Marce on Escape Velocity stated “this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You have to do it.”  We had heard New Year's Eve was a zoo with thousands of beer imbibed and poorly anchored boats trying to watch the festivities and I was paranoid about anything happening to Flying Cloud this close to the sales date.  We finally decided the fireworks were not to miss the event and wanted to spend a little more time in Sydney before heading back stateside. The sail down was more of a motoring event but we eventually arrived at the very popular Spring Cove just southeast of Manley. It was chock a block full of boats but we found a good spot and just vegged out for the rest of the day.

The next morning we decided to move further into the harbor to Athol Bay, near the Tarango Zoo, to claim our space for New Year's Eve. Good idea since it was already getting crowded the day before New Years'. We connected with friends BJ and Katherine Porter on Evenstar. We had agreed to sell them our Sailrite sewing machine and decided now was as good as any time to transfer the 40 lb. machine over to their boat. Thank goodness they had their son to help out as the water was rough from all the boat wakes.

One of the problems all over Australia for cruisers is the lack of places to tie up or land your dingy. Many times your only choice is to find a stretch of beach and haul the dingy up. In order to go grocery shopping, we snuck the dingy under the large boarding ramp of the Taronga Zoo ferry landing, not sure if it would be even there when we got back. We took the bus up the steep hill past the zoo to the very posh (think old Sydney money) Mossman neighborhood to stock up on groceries and other sundries. We could have stayed and wandered about for the rest of the day looking at all the quaint stores and beautiful 19th-century architecture.

As the dawn broke on Dec. 31st, we could see more and more boats headed towards the area where we were anchored. A number of these boaters had very little anchoring experience (they normally use mooring balls in Australia) so what was comical at the beginning became more serious as the day progressed. Many already anchored skippers just stood on their bow and warned off any boats trying to anchor too close.  I choose to be a nice guy, which turned out to be a huge mistake. 

My new best friend who just wanted to be close to us.
Our first encounter was a 45 ft. sailboat that looked so derelict I was amazed it was still floating. Amazingly, it had about 7 to 8 young kids aboard and it soon became obvious that they all lived aboard the boat. The skipper tried anchoring with two anchors (a terrible idea given the conditions) and didn’t have an anchor windlass so every time he had to re-anchor he had a long line of kids help pull up the rope. He finally gave up and moved a short distance away.

Our next situation was a white, 45 ft. powerboat who anchored somewhat close, but seemed OK at the time. When the wind shifted, however, he swung right into us. As we were fending him off he mentioned: “You’ve been so nice, everyone else has been yelling at us.” By the sixth time he hit us (not hard but still concerning to someone wanting to sell his boat in a short time), I finally started yelling. He refused to move. The crew of Evenstar came over to try to dissuade the guy, but it wasn’t until some Australian’s visiting Moonshadow nearby(including a former cop) came over and read him the riot act that he finally moved.

After all that trauma Moonshadow took pity on us and invited us over for drinks. We ended up staying on board for the remainder of the evening.

The fireworks, which didn't start until midnight, over the Sydney Harbor bridge.

As for the fireworks, they were absolutely spectacular. It seemed like they were exploding all around us in a 360-degree phantasmagoria of light and sound. The Sydney Bridge looked like a waterfall of white sparkles with multicolored bomb bursts of color overhead. Despite all the hassles, it was a “once in a lifetime event” and we were so glad we got to see probably the best firework show we have ever seen and a great way to welcome the New Year.  Happy 2018 to you all! 

Monday, December 25, 2017

Australia: A Family Christmas

We finally got our Christmas wish:  our grandchildren would be visiting us during the Christmas Holiday.  They were scheduled to fly from Guatemala and arrive in Sydney Dec. 18th.
With guests coming, we were a little rushed to get the varnishing done on the cap rail and stripping all the old caulk from our teak decks, along with the micro cleaning of the boat that only Meryl can do when she knows we're having company.

On Dec. 18th our daughter Christa, her husband Andrew, and two very active children, Quinn age 7 and Conner age 5, arrived at the marina, tired from nearly 25 hours of traveling but anxious to see Mimi and Boppa's (that's us) boat.

Taking everyone out in the dingy, along with luggage, required a bit of magic but we finally got everyone settled and headed one hour north to Coasters Retreat, a wonderful anchorage nestled in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

Quinn, Meryl and Nash enjoy their first time on Flying Cloud.
Quinn and Meryl checking out the view from the foredeck as we approach Coasters Retreat in Pittwater.
Quinn and Nash check out a Swamp Wallaby at Coasters Retreat.
Two very special women in my life.
Quinn and Conner very excited about their first night on a boat.
We took a nice hike up to the top of the road in Coasters Retreat. No snakes but it was dreadfully hot.
Christa always chooses great AirBnb's. This one was at the top of the ridge in Avalon. Surrounded by gum trees, we had a nightly chorus from the resident cockatoos, which have one of the most irritating squawks of any bird around. 
Christa is a stickler about healthy foods for the family.
After a morning at the beach we had a delicious lunch at the Whale Beach Deli near Palm Beach.
One of our Christmas gifts to the kids (and Christa and Nash for a day off) was taking the kids to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
Since Australia has more creepy crawly things that can kill you than any other place in the world, I thought I'd just put in one picture so we don't deter you from a future visit to Down Under.
The view from the Taronga Zoo is breathtaking with the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Bridge in the background.
After our experience at Sea World we were smart enough not to sit in the first row during the seal show.
When Quinn and Conner see this picture they'll be surprised to see what's right behind them.
All grandfather's brag about their grandchildren, but I have to say Quinn got some of the best rides of any of the kids in her surf class that day. Being strong, well balanced, and light weight also helps.
We took a nice hike up to the top of Barrenjoey Lighthouse. You can see Palm Beach (where the kids took surfing lessons) on the left and Pittwater (where we keep the boat) on the right.
The intrepid hikers at the top of Barrenjoey with the Tasman Sea in the background.

Quinn and Conner both got to make their very own Gingerbread Houses. The challenge was to keep grandpa from eating all the ingredients.
Wrapping presents late on Christmas Eve.
Quinn and Meryl making delicious Christmas sugar cookies.
Nash cooked a delicious Christmas Eve dinner with steak and lobster hot off the barbie.
Nash reading "Twas the Night Before Christmas."
So nice to share Christmas morning with young children again.
Mimi thanks the grandkids for a beautiful jacket from Guatemala. 
Constructing a Lego Catamaran with a 7-year-old is a humbling experience.
We took a Christmas Day walk along windy Newport Beach with large waves washing over into the swimming pool.
No Christmas is complete without some rock climbing on the sandstone cliffs above the beach.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Australia: Being Tourists in Sydney

Our dear friends Paul and Irene Ballew braved 24 hours of flying from Issaquah, WA to visit us in Sydney. We stayed on the boat the first two nights so they could experience the joys of hand flush toilets and being rocked to bed each night by the waves.

After getting reacquainted and hearing everything about each other's families, we decided to explore the local area and get some exercise. We took a wonderful walk (two times) up to Church Point (on the northern shore of where our boat is anchored) to the venerable Church Point Cafe.

The inland Pittwater area is lined with beautiful beaches such as this. As you can see, there are boats everywhere on the inner waters of Pittwater.
The Church Pt. Cafe is a local institution and tables are fully booked long in advance.
We got to Church Pt.  early and enjoyed some Cafe Lattes and a nice waterfront view table. We learned there was entertainment later so we walked the two plus miles back to our dingy landing and had lunch there.
Every Sunday at around 3:00 pm the Church Pt. Cafe hosts live entertainment. Today's artist was a former punk rocker turned blues guitarist named David Rainey.
On Dec. 4th we drove down to Sydney (that's worth a blog post by itself as we circumnavigated the block three times with Walter on Google Maps trying to find the entrance to our AirBnb condominium). Paul and Irene had booked a great AirBnb right across from the Sydney Fish Market in Blackwattle Bay, just a short walk to Darling Harbor and downtown Sydney. We took a lot of pictures of our stay in Sydney and they tell the story best.

The next morning we Uber'd over to Spit Bridge to begin the 8-mile walk along the Sydney Harbor shoreline to Manley. Since it was a Super Moon, the tides were extra high on parts of the trail necessitating some barefoot travel.
The trail winds through park land and very upscale suburban neighborhoods.
The trail winds through Sydney Harbor National Park where there is an Aboriginal site with well preserved stone carvings, this one representing a fish.
As you approach Manley the scene becomes more urban, but the bays are still packed with boats.
We had a wonderful lunch at the Four Pines Brew Pub and then took the ferry back to Circular Quay in Sydney. Everyone had their cameras out as we passed under the iconic Sydney Bridge.
On Dec. 6th we walked down Pyrmont Bridge Road to the Pyrmont Bridge, which is used only as a pedestrian passage and has wonderful views down to Darling Harbor. Our goal was to visit the famous Darling Harbor Aquarium that Meryl and I had visited over 20 years ago.

Darling Harbor has been transformed into a tourist mecca with wide promenades on both side of the bay. This is the view from Pyrmont Bridge.
The intrepid travelers had to pose for the required tourist photo on the Pyrmont Bridge.
The Darling Harbor Aquarium is unique in that you walk through glass tunnels and view the fish from the sides and overhead. It's a little unnerving when a huge shark passes overhead staring at you like it's lunch time.
This large sawfish checked us out on an overhead pass.

We discovered the joys of using Uber to get around metropolitan Sydney. I have to say it was one of the best transportation experiences we've ever had. We'd pull up the app on our iPhone (it already knew where we were) and give it our destination and instantly we were presented with a map of nearby Uber cars and how much it would cost (seems like most destinations where about US$ 7-10, which when split two ways wasn't much). The drivers would usually arrive in about two minutes and were incredibly friendly, many times given us a guided narrative to the town. At the end of the day we'd Uber to our condo and be dropped at the front door, great service since we were all usually wiped out by then.

Our next days adventure was to explore the downtown area and the Sydney Opera House. We'd arranged for a free walking tour that began in Hyde Park (you make a donation at the end) and Meryl had booked an Opera House tour for 3:30 pm.

This is the old Department of Education building in downtown Sydney. Many of the older buildings are constructed of a local tan sandstone that glows in the afternoon light.
The Queen of the Seas was berthed between the Sydney Bridge and the Opera House. Nice views from both sides.
We opted to take a Free Tour from Hyde Park to the Rocks area near the Sydney Opera House. 
The wide promenades near Circular Quay (the ferry terminal) host a large number of great restaurants. We stopped at one only to quickly move inside when a torrential rainstorm passed overhead.
Here we are being normal, everyday tourists. We'd loved it.
Paul and Irene have wrapped up an impressive year of worldwide travel. Where better to cap off the year then down under?
The beautiful Sydney Opera house was designed by Jorn Utzon, who was railroaded out of town never to return to see the completion of his fabled work.

This view is surreptitiously called "The Cleavage" by the tour guides. The roof is made of three different shades of ceramic tiles.
 Back at the condo we had envisioned staying up until all hours drinking and reminiscing, but to tell the truth we were all completely wiped out after the long days in the sun. Paul had a new FitBit on his wrist and we were walking between six and eight miles a day. Our next adventure was a tour of the Wildlife Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbor.

Second only to the kangaroo, the koala bears are one of Australia's favorite animals.
These rock wallabies live on cliff areas and rock faces. They are very agile with their legs and tail working in unison.
You don't want to run into the Green Tree Python in the outback.
Paul and Meryl were having an "up close and personal" moment with this boa constrictor.
Despite the trainers promise that this was a very "socialized" boa constrictor, we still gave it lots of room.
This is one snake you don't want to run into under any circumstances. It's the famous Taipan, 30 times more poisonous than other snakes. It's large, fast-moving, and neurotoxic. Only one person has survived a bite from the taipan (without using anti venom)
Another nasty character is the salt water crocodile, called "salties." These get up to 26 feet in length and have been known to attack dinghies and small boats. Even Australians are afraid of these guys.
As you can see, it was a event-packed week for the Ballews and Conners. We originally had been neighbors in Bellevue, Washington and have stayed friends over the last 40 years. They are great people and it was very difficult to say good-bye, even though we'll be visiting them for a short time when we return to Seattle in February.