Celebrations Down Under

25th February 2015
Realise we have been very remiss and haven’t written in ages, mainly because we have been have such a great time here in Sydney. For those of you hoping for tales of sailing you’re in for a disappointment, this is almost exclusively about time ashore.
Although we are only eight weeks into 2015 we seem to have packed in an awful lot. Rosie came out for Christmas and New Year and we had a wonderful time together with the traditional over indulgence that time of year always seems to bring. Afraid the 5:2 diet went out of the window big time as the ‘fat’ kilos of prawns and other assorted food and drink flew in!

The Boxing Day start of the Sydney Hobart Race was the same terrifying mix of testosterone fuelled sail boats pursued by curious onlookers, as we’d watched race through the harbour four years ago.

New Year’s Eve was the usual Sydney firework extravaganza, although we nearly didn’t make it. We’d anchored in a great spot overlooking both the Opera House and Harbour Bridge during the afternoon of the 30th and, true to form over the course of the rest of the day and the 31st the bay gradually filled up with yachts, motor boats and run-arounds of all shapes and sizes. Given our advancing years we all decided a nap in the afternoon would help us all get through to midnight. Whilst I was showering I realised the boat that had been some way off was now ominously close. In response to my squawk Mike shot up on deck just as we were about to get very up close and personal with it. Seems some idiot had decided he didn’t have to do what everyone else had done and had a god given right to ‘arrive’ when he chose and anchor where he wanted to. He’d come steaming in and dropped his anchor in the midst of us all, had managed to hook our anchor and was now lifting it – no mean feat with a 35kg anchor and 60m of chain, with the result that we were no longer anchored but drifting. We managed to sort things out without any damage to anyone and Mike, on the helm kept his cool but very assertively suggested that he had better ‘Leave and leave now’. Don’t know where he ended up but the whole anchorage was definitely on our side.

Rosie’s last evening was truly memorable with a visit to the Opera House for a marvellous performance of La Boheme, although Rosie and I both decided Alfredo looked vaguely reminiscent of rather tubby version of Ricky Gervais – why can’t the romantic leads ever look the part, or least look like starving artists? Almost on queue to counter the post-Christmas blues the Sydney Festival started with an eclectic mix of free and ticketed events from cabaret to theatre via dance and classical music and everything in between that constitutes performance art. There really was something to suit all tastes, including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra playing Beethoven with a didgeridoo accompanist and what’s weird is that it really worked! We have taken full advantage of everything on offer and have felt much more at home here in Sydney than we did last time, enjoying our time here in a way we hadn’t before. We’ve also managed to get a bit more of a handle on the fraught issues around the aboriginal people and their role in modern Australia; much of this gleaned at their Australia Day activities in Sydney, The Yabun. We won’t say celebrations as January 26th marks the arrival of the First Fleet and what many of the indigenous people consider to be invasion or survivor’s day.

Without going into masses of detail there is a real split within the communities ranging from those who wish to integrate fully to those (few) who would like to decolonise Australia. So how one ever squares those circles of mixed aspirations, heaven alone knows. Add into that the pull of traditional law and culture and the facts that in terms of so many social indicators Aborigines lag behind despite the monies spent on closing the gap, and it really becomes a mind blowing labyrinth of complexity.

We have also spent some time inland firstly in the Blue Mountains where we stayed for three days taking in the stunning scenery and doing a couple of walks. The weather, which had threatened rain even stayed dry. The second trip was even more special. Those with calculators will have worked out that Mike and I both celebrated landmark birthdays as we hit 60. We decided that we wouldn’t buy each other presents but instead push out the metaphorical boat and treat ourselves to ‘glamping’ at Uluru (also known as Ayer’s Rock). What I had never realised was that as well as Uluru there is another set of rocks about half an hour’s drive away, called the Kata Tjutas (formerly the Olgas) which in our opinion are even more impressive and beautiful than Uluru.

However, these rocks have very restricted access because they are sacred to aboriginal Anangu men, and you can only visit a couple of the valleys amongst the rocks. We loved every trip out to Uluru and the Kata Tjutas, including the 9km walk around the base of Uluru. There was so much more variety in the stone than I had appreciated.

Now, back to the camping, which isn’t normally my preferred sort of accommodation and I was taken aback when Mike first suggested it last summer. But this is my kind of camping, a tented room with all mod cons and even a Nespresso machine in the room oops I mean tent. I mean how could it not be fab when the opening question was ‘Would you like a glass of champagne?’ The guides were wonderful, really well informed and interesting, every time we came back from a trip (a bit like being on safari they did early morning and evening trips to The Rock) there was someone waiting with a hand towel and, during the day, a homemade ice pop.

Think the highlight has to be the sunset helicopter trip; the colours were just breath taking and it was unforgettable. The food was superb and we felt well and truly pampered. Mike, up for an early morning dawn shot of Uluru and our tent even got brought coffee to where he had set up his tripod at 5:00am, Trouble is he now thinks I will be providing the same service on his early morning shoots! As you can imagine we had a wonderful time. The final parting gesture being a packed lunch as we were flying out on Jetstar, a no frills airline. Neither one of us will forget our 60th birthday in a hurry.

Still we are meant to be circumnavigating and the plan is to try and get back to New Zealand both to meet up with friends and to position ourselves to sail back to Fiji later this year. So we i.e. Mike started looking for a weather window for the crossing. Some of you may remember we had a rather torrid time crossing from Hobart to Auckland in 2011 and neither one of us wanted a repeat of that particular crossing. As ever patience was rewarded and a window opened up and we duly prepared to set sail. Mind you not before one last live event – a Paul Simon and Sting concert, a real rave from the grave. Despite both being in their seventies they had lost none of their magic or, more importantly, their voices. Paul Simon singing ‘Mrs Robinson’ just for me was wonderful, although Mike is trying to persuade this might not have been the case. We did realise at this point that one way or another we had managed to go to 11 live events in the first seven weeks of the year – not sure we’ll keep that up.
Anyway, back to sailing. With a decent force four we waved a fond farewell to the Opera House and Harbour Bridge and, feeling much sadder to be leaving than we had done previously, headed off for NZ. The angle of the wind meant we were beating i.e. sailing into the wind and taking a lot of water across the decks, not our usual downwind sailing. This revealed problem number one - the forward hatch is no longer as waterproof as we would hope and the front cabin was getting pretty wet, fortunately onto some cockpit cushions and not the mattress. Then the switch for the in mast furling started to play up and I discovered the hatch in the heads was also leaking. All of these niggles were manageable. Then the generator went, yes the newly installed generator stopped generating. Just cut out with an ominous ‘Cylinder head’ message. We both know that when you look at disasters it’s rarely one thing but a series of small things all adding up that leads to the major problem. Given we were barely 200 miles offshore and didn’t know if the generator was a small problem or a big warranty job, we decided to turn round and sail back to Sydney. So, hello Opera House and Harbour Bridge … and a few friends!

The problem – a fairly new impellor which had shredded but the generator is working again and we’ll have done the other repairs by the time you read this. And hey we’re back in Sydney with all the celebrations for the Chinese New Year and the gay community’s outrageous Mardi Gras parade next week and then of course it will be back to bread and water for a while! Hopefully we will get to NZ in March, but if we don’t well there are worse places to be stranded.

PS Spot the white car on the road in the foreground!

Enjoy more of our latest photos from Australia

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Photo comment By Lindsey & Ritchie: Hope to see you over here soon! Ritchie just arrived back today having completed a South Island circumnavigation on Southern Cross for 11 weeks. I was with them for the first 5 weeks and I can't wait to get back to Fiordland. We have had the most amazing weather this summer and everywhere is on water restrictions. Sail safe xxx
Photo comment By Al: Happy birthday to you both! You look wonderful - 60 or not! - and look forward to the next update. Spring is half-sprung here in London, which makes life a bit more bearable. Lots of love, Al xxxx

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