Sydney - fireworks, friends and fish!

05th February 2011
Happy New Year, yes I know its February, but reckon it’s never too late to wish friends all the best for the year to come. And as you can see, we greeted the New Year in style!

We ended up spending over 6 weeks in Sydney, not a city in which we immediately felt at home, but gradually we grew to like it and to love the beautiful, vast harbour setting. In many ways it was like being in London with areas like King’s Cross (here as at home the red light district), Paddington with its exclusive shops (not like London), Hyde Park with St James’ Station to name but a few of the more obvious ones. The great thing being that the areas we were most interested in were all within walking distance.
Then of course there are the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, we never did tire of seeing the one and sailing under the other. One of the great joys of Sydney Harbour is the numerous bays and coves offering protection from the weather and the fact you can anchor for free (one of my favourite words). We were able to anchor in Farm Cove off the Opera House which is a view to die for, watching the sun go down over the famous sails and the many colours that the tiles take on depending on the light during the day and night. Mike never did tire of photographing it.

Christmas Mark One. In true Aussie fashion we decided we had to dump the idea of a turkey and go native, which meant we had to have some seafood and the only place to get your supplies from is the famous Sydney Fish Market. I tell you we have never seen so much sea food piled high - prawns, crabs, lobsters and oysters and of course several varieties of each and that’s before you get to the fish. The market was open for 36 hours straight from 23rd until the afternoon of Christmas Eve we can’t even begin to guess at the tonnage of food sold. We certainly did our bit with oysters (to which I am now seriously addicted – do try them dipped in lime juice with a little wasabi mixed in – yum) prawns and lobster. Christmas Day lunch being a surf and turf combo of lobster followed by kangaroo or ‘Skippy’ steaks – am so fond of eating childhood favourites! All eaten whilst anchored in Atholl Bay with a great view of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge.
Some of you may have heard of the Sydney Hobart Race. Starts every year on Boxing Day when at 1:00pm boats ranging from 100 foot maxi yachts to humbler 30 something foot cruising yachts with everything in between set off to race to Hobart in Tasmania regardless of the weather. We had ourselves anchored up by Middle Head with a great view as they charged up the harbour, accompanied by a flotilla of small boats, helicopters (we counted 11 hovering around) and speed boats, even people in kayaks.

It was glorious mayhem on the water and totally unmissable.

Christmas Mark Two. Sadly Rosie who was coming for Christmas got caught up in the Heathrow’s snowy debacle, finally leaving six days late and only reaching us late on Boxing Day. The only upside being she was upgraded to first class and Sea Rover celebrated Christmas Day twice! I met Rosie at the airport, she had no idea where we were anchored and I think was pretty bowled over to step out of the taxi and see Sea Rover moored by the Opera House in Farm Cove. We had some great times together exploring Sydney Harbour (Port Jackson to give it its proper name) and Broken Bay just north of Sydney which is part of the Ku-ring-gai National Park where we even had our own Fish Eagles and Kookaburras in the surrounding trees. Needless to say eating featured large and several splendid meals were had.
But I did make the mistake of letting Mike and Rosie dinghy off to do the shopping for New Year’s Eve. They came back with, to quote Mike, ‘A fat kilo of prawns’! Not so bad you might say, what with all the weight that must have been the shells, except they were already peeled! Plus they had also bought lobster, squid and smoked salmon which meant we were eating rather a lot of prawns for a day to two. But they made a wonderful meal and the best way to start what was a marvellous New Year’s Eve. We got ourselves positioned to the west of the Harbour Bridge with an unobstructed view looking down the harbour. As to the fireworks, there’s no real way to describe them, they were breath taking and there were two shows, one at 9:00 pm for the kids and then the midnight ones with a parade of boats all lit up in between. For a speeded up view of the day click on the following link . If you are wishing to repeat this at home, be aware that the fireworks included 10 x 24 inch mortars! We were told that last year they lit a 36 inch mortar for the finale but to their surprise that blew a hole in the deck of the barge, despite being buried in 4 cubic metres of sand, so they decided for some reason not to risk it again this year!
Fireworks have certainly featured large in our stay in Sydney. They need little excuse to send thousands, sometimes possibly millions of dollars up in flames, sparkles and general pyro technique wizardry. So we had fireworks on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve (of course), January 26th – Australia Day and it seems another mega display is planned for the Chinese New Year this month. They say it brings in the tourists and suppose they have done their sums.
Sydney has also allowed us to catch up with culture high and low. We had a great time on the first day/night of the Sydney Festival when a great chunk of the city was closed to traffic and free entertainment put on throughout including a brilliant performance by drummers similar to the Kodo drummers of Japan. It was marvellous. And then of course there is the Opera House.

Courtesy of Rosie we were treated to a beautiful Peter Wright production of ‘The Nutcracker’, and for reasons which sometimes escape us we then took her to a burlesque type performance of Briefs done by an all-male cast in, you guessed it …. their Y fronts! The Opera House has also figured in catching with Scottish cruisers Will and Margaret, who have become good friends. Together we enjoyed a superb performance of Carmen with Israeli soprano Rinat Shaham in the lead role. It was only afterwards that Mike reflected it might be the last time we see them as their plans take them north whereas we are heading south to Tasmania. Something I hadn’t really been prepared to countenance – the down side of this life where you are constantly saying ‘Goodbye, fair winds and hopefully we’ll met down the track’ often more in hope than expectation.
After celebrating the 50th birthday of Isabelle, a French Canadian cruising with her American husband on another Oyster, we started waiting for a weather window to sail to Tasmania. And since we had to wait and wait, we somehow managed to justify yet another visit to the Opera House, this time to see ‘Madama Butterfly’ with Patricia Racette in the title role. The stage was a vast pool of water, in which Butterfly and Pinkerton’s house stood. When they danced after their wedding, candles floated across the water and a full moon appeared behind the stage. Enchanting.
We have been well away from all the violent weather that has cost Australia dear, wreaking havoc most notably in Queensland during the past few weeks. Within the extensive media coverage various particular moments have brought it home to us: seeing footage of the Brisbane River in full flood and a yacht with owner on board sinking near where we had moored; watching television pictures of people walking in waist deep water around the Brisbane equivalent of our South Bank, where we had spent happy times ourselves; and among so many poignant stories of loss, talking to fellow cruising friends whose uninsured boat was one of many to be swept deep into the mangroves off Bundaberg. It took three days for a team with a tug to clear a path and to pull it back into the water, where remarkably the old wooden boat floated, and has carried them safely to Tasmania where we have just caught up.
Getting to Tasmania means crossing the Bass Strait. Those two small words Bass Strait are ones that cause a moment of hushed reverence amongst sailors. The Bass Strait, like the Bay of Biscay has a reputation for high winds, big seas and generally being less than friendly to boats and sailors. The key to not being beaten up is, unlike the Sydney Hobart Race, to bide your time and wait for the right weather window, they do happen. We waited 10 days in Sydney, Mike glued to Australia’s Bureau of Meterology and New Zealand’s Metvu. Comparing the information and building a picture of what was happening and the weather patterns. We also started pulling in GRIB files again, the main way we access weather using our satellite phone when on a passage. Particularly useful to check how the GRIBS forecasts compare to the ones we can pull in when we get online with a SIM card and dongle!
And hey there are worse places to be stuck than Sydney,plenty of time to catch up with films and the sites. This included something we don’t usually do, an organised coach trip to the Blue Mountains outside Sydney. We were pleasantly surprised as it did what it said on the tin and gave us a taste of the surrounding countryside.
Included in the trip was a stop at a wildlife park and the chance to pet koalas and feed kangaroos. Something that would normally have us cringing but was actually really great and koalas maybe dim (reputed to only have brains the size of a shrunken walnut and to spend 18 hours a day asleep as they detox they highly poisonous gum leaves they eat!) but they are soft and seriously cute and the roos were so gentle as they nibbled their food from your hand.
After ten days waiting, and watching weather forecasts, at last there looked like a window and we were set off from Sydney early on Saturday 30thJanuary. Advice from Kevin, a New Zealander we first met in Auckland and who has sailed most things, including the Sydney Hobart several times was ‘Go through the Heads, sail 120° until you hit the East Australia Current (EAC) then go south straight for Hobart’. Excellent advice as it turns out even if the winds we enjoyed meant we couldn’t follow it to the letter. The EAC gave us upto several extra knots every hour and we clocked up our best ever daily mileage, 197 miles in a 24 hour period. Waiting for the weather also gave us great winds up to F5 -6 and more importantly calm seas for the entire trip, well nearly. There was a predicted wind shift to south, not what you want when you are sailing south, as it means you are sailing directly into the wind and more significantly the waves which build very quickly. Sadly this shift happened earlier than forecast, something of an outrage! I mean if the forecast says late morning/early afternoon you don’t expect it at 10:30am do you? It happened as quickly as that, one minute a F4 from the north and 10 minutes later a F5 which soon became a F7 from the south. The last 10 miles to a sheltered bay, by now motoring head to wind, took well over two hours and we were coping with waves of increasing height. Still I just think of the Sydney Hobart race where foredeck crews were reported as having to work under 2 – 4 feet of water breaking over the bows. That’s why I don’t race!
The result – here we are in Wineglass Bay and last night the only boat in this beautiful bay overlooked by hills with the most stunning white sand beach and for the first time in ages we can see the bottom, the water is that clean and clear.

It’s almost like being in the tropics again except it is cold. We have had to put the winter duvet on, dig out our long trousers and fleeces. So yet another outrage aboard as I was sold T shirts and shorts! In the next day or so we will sail down to Hobart, very slowly, stopping en route to take in some of the history and then catch up with several other cruising friends and enjoy the Wooden Boat Show with you guessed it … more fireworks!
So we both hope 2011 is a great year for all of you.

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Photo comment By Anita: fab photo of Sydney Opera house

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