Super South West

Friday 17th February 2018

What a startlingly beautiful stretch of coastline. We have spent the last week exploring the Margaret River Region in the far South West of Western Australia. Under wide clear skies and impossibly bright sunshine, the colours are breathtakingly vivid. Long white sand beaches, blue and turquoise seas, rocky outcrops and rolling surf.

The stunning beach at Injidup

The area is sparsely populated so these stunnng bays are often deserted even though they are less than an hours drive from the charming seaside town of Dunsborough, where Taryn and Greg have a beach house. The only crowds are seen at the calm town beaches and at the many surf breaks along the shore.

Surfers Point near the mouth of Margaret river is home to pro surfing competitions and attracts surfers from all over the world. Kite surfing is also hugely popular, with the reliable afternoon sea breezes often providing perfect conditions. It is entertaining to stand and watch their antics as they ride the waves with ease, professing how if we were just a bit younger we would, of course, be out there with them.

Watching the kite surfers at Yallingup

Resisting the temptation to jump in we instead went rock climbing, enjoying the smooth granite boulders and the pretty oranges of the sandstone. We have always loved watching waves crashing onto to rocks and it’s been a while, our sailing life has us searching out much calmer seas.

Our favourite spot was Canal Rocks where the granite has eroded to produce ‘canals’ that fill and empty with a cascade of white water from each ocean wave. A large Ray, defying the strong currents, swam into the whirling water, as did, rather worryingly, a young girl, who without the rays swimming ability was washed violently back and forth before managing to grab the side and climb to safety. We chose an easier route using a bridge and some stepping stones to cross the canals and then clambered as high and as far out onto the rocks as we could to take in as close as possible the exhilarating view.

Taryn out on the edge of the Canal Rocks.

Another great place is the natural spa near Injidup. Here you can scramble over giant boulders to reach a protected rock pool where it is safe to enjoy the power of the crashing waves. All is tranquil until a large wave hits the outer rocks, this sends gallons of water gushing over and through the crevasses between the boulders, creating power showers and turning the calm water into a bubbling whirlpool.

Taryn and Rick enjoying the natural spa bath

This region is not just about beaches however, running the length of the coast are numerous vineyards all plying for your trade at their cellar doors. Taryn and Greg took us to their favourite, Vasse Felix. Set in green manicured gardens, modern sculptures greet you on the lawns and between the trees, the modern art theme continuing with a small gallery inside. At the tasting bar we tried eight of their wines, we resisted the $80/bottle of delicious Chardonnay and plumped for a more economical full bodied red to accompany our lunch. The wine was good, the views delightful and the food, exceptional.

A few days later we ventured a bit further south to Boranup Forest. The day was unusually cloudy and as we entered the forest there was a short shower. With the rain came a burst of smells, the scent of eucalyptus, mixed with tang of damp moss and rich earthy leaf litter. The forest is full of giant Karri trees reaching 90ft tall, they regularly shed their bark in long narrow strips revealing striking trunks of orange, salmon and greys. We were surprised to discover these giants were members of the Eucalyptus family. We are coming to the conclusion that all the trees in Australia, whatever shape or size seem actually to be eucalyptus trees.

Boranup Forest

On our final day we drove down to Smiths Beach, where feeling the name was telling us something, we finally braved the surf. We ate a picnic amongst the colourful dune plants and then went for a swim. The water was surprisingly warm and although we had picked a calm spot, the waves were fun and still strong enough to dump Rick as he stood knee deep taking photos. As he tumbled concentrating on holding tight to the camera, he was stripped of his expensive and vital prescription sunglasses, luckily they miraculously ended up at my feet.

The Smiths at Smith Beach

With a final farewell to this beautiful coast, yesterday we returned to Perth. A few more days to enjoy before our flight back to Sydney.

Perth

Friday 9th February 2018

A five hour flight across this huge continent and we arrived in Perth to the welcoming faces of Taryn and Greg. It feels fantastic to shower in a spacious bathroom, with limitless hot water, it’s novel to cook in a proper oven and prepare a meal on the large work tops and most of all go to bed without the responsibility of thinking about the weather, the anchor or whatever else might cause us to sink in the night.

Our stay in Perth seemed to immediately become centred around interesting conversations while drinking great local wine and delicious food. All keen cooks we are having good fun creating meals, sourcing the ingredients from the plethora of specialist butchers and farmers markets that appear to be everywhere here.

The whole of this area, stretched as it is along the coast, is dominated by the Ocean. On our first morning we drove from Taryn and Greg’s house in leafy Wembley the ten minutes to City beach. A brisk SW sea breeze created copious white horses in the deep blue of the sea and with the beach stretching seemingly forever in both directions, we walked down to dip our toes for the first time in many years in the Indian Ocean.

City Beach, Perth

The daily arrival in summer of this cooling sea breeze is nicknamed the Fremantle Doctor relieving everyone from the often uncomfortably hot weather. Temperatures in Perth can regularly sore over 40C, luckily for us Western Australia is experiencing a mild summer with temperatures nearer to 30 C. The use of the word mild in this context sounds very odd to us, in England it is used to describe warm winter conditions. However, which ever word is used, we were glad of the perfect temperatures and enjoyed a lovely lunch of fresh ingredients deliciously combined, while admiring the views.

The following day Taryn and I went to visit the Botanical Gardens in Kings Park. High on a hill it provides excellent views of the city centre and the Swan River. Full of native plants, we wandered chatting, enjoying the calm as we followed a pathway through the trees and shrubs. Our favourite tree in the whole park had to be the beautiful Weeping Variegated Peppermint tree, but also impressive was the famous Boab tree. At 750 years old and right in the middle of a new highway project it has been carefully rescued and transported over 2000 miles south to its current position in the park. I was also rather taken by the grass trees, common to this part of Australia, but strange to us.

Trees in the Botanical Gardens in Kings Park, Perth

In complete contrast to our peaceful day was our evening at the Perth Fringe Festival. Staged each year in February, we joined the throng in the centre of town to enjoy some street food and then a show. Club Swizzle is a slightly outrageous cabaret group, performing comedy, music and acrobatics, we had a thoroughly entertaining and sensational evening.

We had arrived in Perth with one complaint, we had been in Australia for three months now but had not seen one kangaroo! Greg born and bred in Perth sorted that out for us, sending us off to Pinnaroo Memorial Park, a large cemetery planted with native plants and attracting local wildlife.

Kangaroos in Pinnaroo Park

Kangaroos ticked off we repacked our bags, we are off on holiday from our holiday, heading 3hrs south to Taryn and Greg’s beach house in Dunsborough.

Mountains of Maintanence

Sunday 4th February 2018

Rick has spent much of the past week working in a variety of confined spaces, contorting his stiff joints around corners, down steps and inside small holes, undoing tight bolts and jammed screws, sealing leaks and changing oil, pulling out rusted in impellers and testing batteries. We are tied up back at the Cruising Yacht Club Marina and working our way through a long list of jobs before we leave for Perth tomorrow.

Fixing a fuel leak on the generator

With the generator oil changed and a drip from the fuel pipe sealed, next on the list was changing the engine impeller, unusually for Rick this job defeated him, not able to squeeze into the right position to apply all his strength he just couldn’t get it to budge. What was needed was an engineer who knew all the tricks of the trade and someone perhaps, dare I say, a little younger and more flexible. Fortunately we found one such person that could pop in that day and after much huffing and straining he finally freed it and put in a new one,

Not wanting Rick to suffer his aches and pains alone, Thursday I somehow managed to trip on the pontoon. My fall was particularly ungainly as my main concern was to ensure the backpack I was wearing, that contained as well as groceries a years worth of contact lenses, didn’t end up in the water. Gratefully no one was around and I could escape with, if not my body, at least my pride intact.

So it was that Friday morning found us hobbling up the hill to the station, Rick with tired knees and a stiff back, me with grazed knees and bruised ribs. We were off to catch the train for the 2 hour journey out to the Blue Mountains. Near the top of my list of things to do in Sydney it had been pencilled in for a while, so despite the jobs still to be completed and our rather battered bodies, we decided to carry on with our plans.

The views were incredible. The high plain of sandstone has been eroded over millions of years to create a large canyon like valley. Cracks in the rock and intermittent layers of claystone, coal and shale, that are more easily washed away, have caused the sandstone sides to collapse forming vertical cliffs and striking pillars.

Pillars of rock known as the Three Sisters

We made the mistake of starting our day at the crowded Scenic World. A tourist attraction offering cable cars, skyways and the steepest railway in the world. It would have been a good introduction to the area had it not been full to bursting with coachloads of tour groups. It wasn’t until we escaped along the Prince Henry Cliff Walk that we could really appreciate the full grandeur of the views and the tranquility of the eucalyptus forests. If we were to do this trip again we would start with this dramatic walk giving ourselves more time to enjoy the waterfalls, cascades and trails further along the escarpment.

Walking along the Prince Henry Cliff

However as we had paid for the tickets we returned to Scenic World and took the small train, descending almost vertically into the valley. Protected by the surrounding cliffs from the harsh drying winds and extremes of hot and cold, the valley has its own unique microclimate and is home to a rain forest. We wandered along a boardwalk through tall trees, thick vines and thousands of wonderful large tree ferns, peering up through the canopy to the sheer rock above us. Thankfully there is a cable car back to the top and a hop on hop off bus to return you to Katoomba and the train home.

Wonderful tops of the tree ferns

Back onboard it was back to work. When sailing towards the marina last week the starboard primary winch suddenly started to make a horrible screeching noise. Rick, happy that he could work in the open and especially not on his knees, carefully took it apart, cleaned each of the 27 components, regreassed and oiled as appropriate and put it all back together again. Still the winch screeched. With stoney face and a certain amount of muttering, off it all came again, eventually he traced the noise to the gear coupling to the motor. He was in for another afternoon working in a tiny space, balancing on one leg, bending around the toilet and stretching past cables to remove first the ceiling panels, then the motor. The motor is very heavy and unfortunately his assistant has more brains than brawn and couldn’t reliably take the weight while he battled with the bolts. As luck would have it, in between being engineers mate, I was defrosting the freezer and with the available freezer baskets and books of varying thicknesses we managed to construct a tower to support the motor as it was removed and reattached. After a top up of oil and a thorough clean of the coupling, thankfully it ran perfectly.

Servicing the primary winch motor

Today’s big task was to take down all the canvas work, so it could be sent to the trimmer for a few bits of repair and two zip replacements. We are so use to being cocooned by the sprayhood that it is very odd to sit with a 360 degree view totally exposed to the elements. Luckily the day is pleasant and with just the watermaker to pickle, the bathrooms and kitchen to clean, the decks to tidy, etc. etc….. tomorrow we off on holiday.

Australia Day

Sunday 28th January 2018

Friday was Australia Day, so this is a holiday weekend, the weather has been sunny, the winds light and seemingly the whole of Sydney, in celebratory mood, has anchored next to us. The sound of partying is all around, the loud beer drinking lads on the brash motor boat in front of us, the excited teenagers leaping from the 8m rock on our left and the screeching kids upset by the bursting of their bright pink, floating flamingo. Paddle boarders and kayakers pass close by, families fish from the wharf and swimmers risk life and limb dodging the dinghies and tinnies that whiz between it all.

Spring Cove Saturday afternoon.

Why, you may ask, knowing it would be even more crowded than last weekend have we chosen to anchor here again. Well sometimes with no particular demands on our time we just need a place to be, a place to stop and past the time until the next errand or adventure. Store beach and the other bays in Spring Cove we know have good holding, are protected from the NE winds and the worst of the harbour chop and have clean water for swimming and our watermaker. The ocean breeze provides a welcome break from the heat and car fumes of the city centre and when the crowds depart, as they reliably do, it’s really rather lovely.

We had spent a few days at the beginning of the week back in the Blackwattle anchorage, using again the safe docks for the dingy and the closeness to all the facilities to top up the fridge and visit the chandlers. Rick successfully serviced the generator, I failed to find a repair for the spare iPad. We took another day to be tourists and walked through the centre of town to the Royal Botanical Gardens.

An enchanting place that despite being surrounded by the bustle of the city is an oasis of calm. The huge specimen trees create a barrier to the traffic noise and the pathways winding between them cleverly lead your eyes away from the tall office blocks to colourful flower beds, spacious areas of green and the blue of the harbour beyond.

Huge fig tree in the Royal botanical gardens

The most dramatic sight was the green wall. A living art work, which at 50m long and 6m high takes 18,000 small plants to fill. Constructed of narrow tilted shelves, each plant pot sits in its prescribed spot, in a intricately choreographed design spelling out the word pollination, the theme of the current display. Just keeping them watered correctly requires over 1000m of pipes and a misting system. The back room of greenhouses providing the mixture of plants all at the right stage of growth must be an exemplar of organisation.

Green wall in The Calyx

Also this week we have, yet again, been touched by the generosity of the people we meet on this trip. First were the couple off Maunie, another British registered yacht, seeing each others blue ensigns we of course got together. They introduced themselves as they dinged past and we invited them over for sundowners. Such is the way with cruisers, having discovered that we were sailing on to Indonesia and South Africa, while they, for work reasons, had taken the decision to ship their yacht home, arrived arms full with valuable charts and a cruising guide to the Indian Ocean.

A few days later we were lucky enough to celebrate Australia Day with a group of Australians. Friends, of friends, of friends in England, Gerry and Carol kindly invited us to join them for lunch at the Manly Skiff Club. We ate, drank and enjoyed lively conversation about everything from the intricacies of night watches to the Australian love of travel, from the politics of Donald Trump to the current controversy of Australia Day itself. Celebrated annually on the 26th January it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of British ships in 1788. Promoted as a day to celebrate Australia’s diverse cultures, the indigenous population and those supportive of their cause have begun to label it as Invasion Day and there is a growing movement to change the date.

However looking around us and from the chat at the crowded Skiff Club, as far as we can tell, it is mostly seen as a day at the end of the school holidays for everyone to take a long weekend and enjoy the Australian great outdoors.

Whoops

Sunday 21st January 2018

Nooooo! Was the plaintive cry, as clambering from the kayak to the swim deck, our beloved much used camera slipped from Ricks shorts into the water and sank almost immediately out of sight. Being too deep to dive down after it and with the evening sun low in the sky, too dark to scuba, our hearts sank too. Why hadn’t we invested in one of those snazzy strap flotation devises, why hadn’t I downloaded all last weeks photos, why hadn’t we passed the camera up by hand as usual!?!?

We pulled ourselves together and swung into action. With the boat swinging back and forth in the brisk breeze I tried to keep my eye on the spot it went in, Rick dug out our marker bouy and dropped it at our best guess of the cameras location. With nothing more to be done until we had more light the next day, we consoled ourselves with a gin and tonic trying hard to enjoy the setting sun.

The next morning we were glad to see the orange buoy still bobbing nearby. Rick kitted up in his scuba gear and descended through the murky water, miraculously after just five minutes he was back camera in hand.. It is waterproof and rated for depths of up to ten metres we were anchored in about nine, but was that ten metres for just an hour or could it survive being at that depth overnight? Apparently yes it could, it seems to have suffered no damage at all from its extended visit to the seabed.

Well done Rick, operation rescue camera completed successfully.

We continue to spend our time criss crossing Sydney Harbour as weather, provisioning and activities dictate. We started this week in Blackwattle Bay. The southerlies from the weekend continued to keep the temperatures cool, so being in the city centre we took the opportunity to be tourists for a couple of days.

We wandered around the maritime museum which displays Australia’s rich maritime history. Then went outside to look around the 1970’s submarine they have on display. Basically just one long corridor from front to back with bunks squeezed in between a maze of piping, pressure gauges, pumps and engines. The mind boggles as to how 69 men lived so dreadfully cramped together for so long. We had first visited the HMAS Onslow about 15 years ago, now ocean going sailors ourselves different questions come to mind; How did they cope with all the heat from the massive engines? How did they make water and how on earth did they manage to fix that joint buried behind a metre deep tangle of pipes?

Not much more spacious were the conditions on the Endevour, the ship that in 1770 James Cook first sailed to Australia but at least the crew onboard her could escape on deck. The ship in Sydney is a replica of the original and actually still sails, in fact she is off to New Zealand next month, we’re certainly glad we don’t have all that rigging to contend with.

The Endeavour moored in Darling Harbour.

Wednesday we walked to the Rocks, an historical area with many original sandstone buildings and cottages from the first development of Sydney by the early settlers. Historically it was a rough area occupied by convicts and run by gangs, even up until the 1970’s it was so run down it was nearly demolished. Now properties are snapped up by wealthy Sydneyites and being next to the cruise liner dock, it is a busy tourist area full of museums, old pubs and art shops. Luckily there was no ship in the day we were there and we found plenty of room to sit, enjoy views of the harbour and eat a very nice lunch.

The promised improved weather moved in on Thursday and we moved out to Manly. We were there to pick up a friends daughter and a couple of her friends for a day on the boat. We filled up with goodies for lunch and picked them up from the ferry terminal.

We love the Push-me Pull-you ferries that run every half an hour between Manly and Central quay in the city.

We all had a great day, chatting, eating and drinking, in fact so pleasant were the beach anchorages. Rick and I decided to spend the weekend off Store Beach. A very popular spot but the crowds don’t seem to appear until around midday and all disappear again around 6pm and so even at the weekends there is plenty of time and space to enjoy a swim, take out the kayak or lose a camera.

Anchored off Store Beach

Middle Harbour

Monday 15th January 2018

With Sydney’s record breaking temperatures hitting the World news last week, here on the ground, we are surprised not so much by the hight of the mercury but by just how changeable the weather is. One moment we are baking at over 30C the next day the thermometer is struggling to break 20C and winds go from nonexistence to blowing a gale within hours but we are beginning to see a pattern emerging.

As a high pressure system sets in, warm northerly winds that are enhanced by afternoon sea breezes lead to pleasant clear days. When the temperatures rise and a low trough threatens, thunder storms break out. These can be quite violent with high winds, hail and dramatic lightening. As the low passes through it drags in southerlies which having come up from the Antarctic are cool and can often be very strong. Then it’s back to high pressure and the cycle starts over.

This week we have been anchored in a Cove in Middle Harbour. Middle Harbour is a branch of waterways to the north of the main harbour that is similar to those at Pittwater and Cowan Creek. Hidden away up a creek we had until yesterday been mostly protected from these vagaries of the weather.

To enter the inner part of the harbour you have to pass through a lifting bridge. The Spit bridge carries one of Sydney’s busy routes north and opens briefly at four or five set times each day. Promptly at 1.15pm last Monday afternoon we squeezed through the surprisingly narrow gap and motored upstream to find a quiet anchorage.

Passing through Spit Bridge

A couple of miles on we found a great spot off Sugarloaf Bay in Castle Cove and settled in. After two days anchored off the busy Manly beaches and a few rather rocky nights at the marina, it was bliss to be absolutely still. The scent of eucalyptus trees that covered the banks wafted in the air and the drone of cicadas filled our ears. We planned to spend a few days here, carrying on with maintenance jobs, catching up with some admin and just enjoying the calm.

On our first evening however we discovered we had some noisy neighbours living in the hills. Just before dusk and around dawn each day, we’d be deafened by an cocophony of squawking. Large white birds were fighting and flapping in the trees above us, we took out the binoculars, they had lemon coloured crests and markings on their wings. A few taps later and a Google search revealed them to be Sulphur Crested Cockatoos and all the fuss was as they jostled for the best roosting spots in the hollows that form in the older eucalyptus trees.

Unfortunately the cockatoos were too far away, especially in the fading light to get a photo, unlike this Pied Cormorant, who not wanting to give up his place in the sun, let us very slowly approach within a few metres.

Pied Cormorant sunning himself

With such flat water we could break out the kayak and in the dingy go quite a way to explore. About two and a half miles further on we discovered tiny Echo Point Marina and decided to stop for lunch. In a perfect location surrounded by parkland with views over the water, the food was excellent and the service friendly. However as seems to be becoming a theme in Australia, getting ashore was not as straight forward as it first appeared. A dingy dock sat right outside the restaurant but as soon as we arrived, an agitated waiter appeared to warn us that the marina would charge us $30 to tie up the dingy and it would be better to go across to the beach and walk around. No big deal but just another small signal that even at a marina, with money to spend, visiting yachties aren’t particularly welcome.

Castle cove has just a few houses that overlook it high in the hills. But the harbour itself is more crowded and a popular city suburb. The houses are all built on the almost vertical banks on three or sometimes four levels. Running up to the road above or the shore below they have very steep steps, some have installed small lifts. As in Pittwater each shoreside property has its own jetty and pretty boathouse, in fact the boathouses are often nicer than the large properties above them.

Pretty boat house in Powder Hulk Bay

Back onboard Raya we slowly ticked off more jobs. Flags, charts and generator spares ordered; tick, tax returns filed; big tick, hot water tank coil replaced; hooray and raw water filters cleaned; urgh! The engine raw water filter was full of jellyfish!

Jelly fish swimming in the engine raw water filter!

After a pleasant week hiding from the worst of the winds and watching the thunders storms in the distance, the weather cycles finally caught up with us. A band of strong chilly southerly winds has been passing over New South Wales and Sunday blustery gusts started to blast into the cove, as our anchor chain stretched out, our picturesque spot began to feel rather small and the rocky edges rather close. We moved out into the bay only to have our anchor chain wrap around something on the bottom. This drastically reduced our swing and bought us far too close to a large motor yacht. Accompanied by horrible shudderers and graunching we slowly and as carefully as possible lifted the anchor back in. We returned to the centre of Castle Cove and spent a unsettled night with a close eye on the anchor alarm.

This morning we decided to stick to our plan of returning to the city and motored back through a very rough Sydney Harbour to Blackwattle Bay. It is still blowing a gale but one of the good things about cycles is that you can rely on them to keep turning, calmer conditions and warmer northerlies are forecast to return Wednesday or Thursday.

Fast Yachts and First Swims

Monday 8th January 2018

With the outskirts of Sydney peaking at 47C yesterday we have finally been for a swim in Australia. We seem to have been in marinas, up muddy creeks or surrounded by jelly fish. The winds have often been chilly, the sea rough or the water full of other craft. The forecast for a heatwave on Sunday persuaded us to head out of the city to the beaches just south of Manly Harbour. Here the temperatures were a cooler 32C but hot enough to persuade us in. And fantastic it felt too, why we asked ourselves had we been putting it off so long.

First dip for a while

We had started the week anchored off this very same beach , not swimming, a chilly southerly was lowering the temperatures and creating a lively chop. We were here instead to say farewell to our friends from Moonshadow who in the morning were sailing north to Brisbane from where they are shipping the boat back to Mexico. We have had a lot of fun together over the last few months, we will miss them.

In time honoured tradition the New Year has brought our thoughts around to the year ahead. In the hope of beginning to tick a few things off the “while in Australia’ list we booked in for a few days in the marina at the famous Cruising Yacht Club of Australia.

The CYCA organise the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and is the home to many of the racing yachts we watched leaving the Harbour on Boxing Day. With top speeds of 25kts some are already back and with each boat protected from the sun by a tent shaped canvas awning it felt a little like been moored in a campsite.

Raked masts and protective awnings of the CYC racing fleet.

With our port of registration, Southampton, clearly printed on the transom and the British ensign flying, here halfway around the world we are use to ‘pontoon voyeurs’ coming up to look at Raya. This time however nobody had eyes for us, they were all coming to view our neighbour – Ichi Ban, the star and overall winner of this year’s race.

Getting back to the tasks in hand we launched into the long screed of jobs that need doing before we set off from Australia later in the year. As is always the way with new places the first few days can be frustrating, the chandlery seemed very expensive, cooking gas refill appeared impossible, potential repairs to the sprayhood zips unsatisfactory……… At over $120 a night we wanted to keep this visit brief but we will be back in February to leave Raya tied up while we fly to Perth. Hopefully by then the research we have done and the leads we have secured this time will start coming together.

One benefit to being in marina is that we can tell people exactly where we are, it was lovely to have had visits from three sets of friends and family. And, being in a marina full of racing yachts that have no antifoul on their keels means that divers equipped with cleaning tools are every where. We slipped out of our berth with two months of barnacles and growth scraped from our bottom.

Ashley comes to tea

Fabulous Fireworks

Monday 1st January 2018

HAPPY NEW YEAR

Well the Sydney New Year celebrations certainly lived up to all the hype. They culminated in a spectacular fifteen minute show, with fireworks, every colour of the rainbow, filling the sky. The bridge featured at the heart of the display, with five barges spread either side along the harbour all lighting up in unison. Despite the many boats in front of us we had still had a fantastic view.

As anticipated on the 30th our spacious anchorage rapidly started to becoming more crowded. A party atmosphere was gradually building so we dug out our string of signal flags and ‘dressed’ Raya.

Raya dressed with flags for New Years Eve

All the activity in and outside the anchorage made it very bouncy, getting into the dingy was difficult, we did go to lunch in pretty Mosman Bay and visited a few friends on neighbouring yachts but mostly we sat and were entertained by the bedlam around us. As more and more boats tried to squeeze in, the light winds made everyone wander around their anchors. Badly anchored boats dragged, swung into each other and twisted around each others chains.

Many times we thought that no more boats could possibly fit in but we needed a new definition for crowded, as still more boats arrived. There were the occasional cross words and frequent standing on the bows, hands on hips, expressions implying “you must be joking that is way too close” but on the whole everyone was good naturedly accepting of the situation.

On the afternoon of the 31st we were joined by the Yollata crew, a family we originally met in Marquesas nearly two years ago, now land based they came to stay on Raya for the night. We had originally planned to raft with Moonshadow and all party together but the crowded and rough conditions made that too difficult but we did all get together for a great supper. A few too many champagnes later it was back to Raya to see 2018 in in style.

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Celebrating in the Sun

Friday 28th Dec 2017

Christmas in the heart of Sydney

Celebrations started with Christmas Eve sundowners on Raya. There were only eight yachts in the small Blackwattle anchorage so we went around and invited everyone for a glass of Pimms. Not really a Christmas drink but with temperatures at almost 30C, it seemed more appropriate than mulled wine. We ended up with 17 people, from 6 different countries, squeezed around the cockpit table. The chatter was lively as the Australians were quizzed on their local knowledge, the Americans explained the logistics of shipping their boat home in the New Year, the French told us about life in New Caledonia and the Danish and Swedish described their plans for their traditional Scandinavian Christmas Eve feasts later that night.

On Christmas Day we went across for a delicious rack of lamb with our American friends John and Deb on Moonshadow. And in a continuing spirit of cultural exchange we introduced them to traditional English Christmas Crackers and they us to Deb’s family Christmas onion pie. We returned to Raya full and happy in time to catch family and friends as they enjoyed Christmas morning in the UK.

Good sports John and Deb wearing their cracker paper hats

Boxing Day it was back on Moonshadow to go out to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. The thrilling lead pack of 100ft Super Maxi yachts, using every inch of the course, powered by at about twenty knots just meters away. But the real action was the mayhem of spectator boats that fought for the best view of the fleet, especially local boat Wild Oats XI. The water was churned to a lather by the crowd and the mad power boat drivers, whose only purpose seemed to be showing off how fast they could drive through the throng, John deserves a medal for keeping us and Moonshadow safe.

Local favourite Wild Oats battling out through Sydney Heads

Spectator fleet

Having eeked out our freshwater all week, Wednesday we said goodbye to Blackwattle Bay and motored out to the cleaner waters of Manly Harbour. Once the watermaker got going we enjoyed a shower and did a couple of loads of washing. A nice seaside town Manly felt open and bright after the inner city. Getting ashore, however, was not as easy and required scrambling over railings at the top of a long vertical ladder, onto the high ferry dock. Once on dry land we walked the 1/4 mile over the headland to the ocean side and Manly Beach. A long curve of sand stretched into the distance, we were struck by the wealth of public facilities available. Half a dozen volley ball nets sat at the top of the beach, good quality BBQ grills awaited takers, surfboard hire with deck chairs for parents were spaced at convenient points along its length and lifeguards, warning signs and their equipment were every where. On the inner beach there were even shark nets to protect the swimmers. What sharks we asked ourselves?

Manly Beach

Also ashore was a supermarket so we stocked up for our NYE celebrations. Not wanting to risk carrying all the bags down the steep ladder Rick bought the dingy around to the harbour beach and we loaded up from there. Disaster nearly struck when the crate of beer didn’t quite make the transfer from dingy to Raya, only a dramatic dive from Rick, mindless of the the potential for man eating sharks, saved the bottles from sinking 12m to the sea bed.

Then it was time to up anchor and move on to reserve our spot for the fireworks. We have just arrived in a rather bouncy Athol Bay, below is a photo of our unbeatable view. Unfortunately it is inevitable that wherever we place ourselves, another million boats will appear in the next couple of days to spoil the vista, fingers crossed a huge motor yacht doesn’t sit itself right in front of us.

Our Current View for the fireworks, let’s keep our fingers crossed nothing too big comes in to block the view.

Too Hot for Christmas

Christmas trees are everywhere, decorations adorn the streets and the presents are wrapped but however hard we try it’s just all wrong. With temperatures in the 30’s, light summer evenings and no turkey to cook, our brains can’t except it’s Christmas.

Unseasonal as it may feel, Sydney remains in every other way a wonderful city. As we have explored the sights and wandered the local area we have been struck again, despite the crowds, how clean and well laid out everywhere is. The modern shiny glass towers sit comfortably amongst the few remaining grand red brick Victorian buildings. One moment you are in a busy tourist spot, the next in a quiet square surrounded by tall trees and traditional houses. Small islands of green sneak in wherever possible and the harbour shoreline is omnipresent.

As I think I have mentioned before we are not very good tourists, we tend to avoid the crowds but we couldn’t be in Sydney without a visit to the Opera House. Built over 14 yrs and opening in 1973 it’s sculptural elegance is as good close up as it is from afar. We were glad to see that the powers that be haven’t been tempted to overwhelm it with tacky restaurants and shops, the empty space around it acting to set it off to full effect.

The Opera House from the land.

Darling Harbour on the other hand has been completely built up since our last visit, every square inch given over in the pursuit of tourist dollars. We have eaten in the crowded restaurants here twice now and unfortunately both times the food has been average, the service poor and the bill exorbitant.

Also full to bursting was the shopping district around George Street, harassed but mostly smiling Christmas shoppers rushing to buy last minute gifts. In the middle of this mayhem we were struck by how easily people of all nationalities mingle together here, an amicable acceptance of each other rarely seen in other large cities. At the entrance to Darling Harbour near the wharf where for hundreds of years, thousands of ships arrived with peoples from across the World, is a celebration of their diversity, the Welcome Wall. Nearly 30,000 names, picked out in bronze, are listed so far and anyone who themselves or who’s ancestors immigrated here can apply to have their names added and a short history of their lives stored in the archives.

While Rick joined the throng to finish his Christmas shopping, I went to see the Cathedral. It’s 100 yr old architecture is surrounded by modern high rises and it’s Christmas tree, bathed in warm sunshine, is surrounded by summer flowers. Happy Down Under Christmas everybody.

Sydney Cathedral with its modern backdrop and it’s Christmas tree surrounded by summer flowers.