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 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 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 Years 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 a not to miss 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 with 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 Years 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 anytime 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 stay 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 the 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! 

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