Magic sometimes

Towards the end of our morning paddle the breeze built up making the upwind return to Escape Velocity a little more effort than I generally like. I retreated to the boat while Jack poked his nose up the other arm of the bay and with the strengthening breeze he had a very wet paddle back home. We spent the afternoon reading and anticipating a coming thunderstorm that hit right on time about 3:30. Lightning is never fun on a sailboat with that big metal pole sticking up in the air but luckily the strikes didn’t come too close and by 6:30, just as I was baking the last of a big batch of English muffins, the rain moved on and we were treated to a brilliant double rainbow. 

And later, as the sun dipped behind the hills and the sky turned to gold, the lovely sound of bagpipes floated across the water. We stood on deck in the fading light trying to determine where it was coming from but sound does funny things on the water and besides, it’s nearly dark. Lights are coming on in the houses up on the cliffs. A cabin cruiser just made a beeline for the last public mooring in the bay. Escape Velocity is swinging slowly in the gentle current. The day is done. 

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The view from the front porch

A quiet morning in Sugarloaf Bay, only about six miles from downtown Sydney. 

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Oz. Land of large strange rocks

As adventures go this one seemed doable. In video production, my former hobby before becoming a yachtsman, we used to call it a 101: Loving couple enters elevator, they embrace, doors close, music up, fade to black, and credits roll. Easy peasy.

Life is good here in Bantry Bay. We’ve even learned what all those strange numbered rustic buildings lining the western shore are…or were. Explosives storage. Normally I feel drawn to do just what signs like NO ADMITTANCE ON LAND say not to do, but knowing the Aussie love for mischief I could just see some bloke snickering about how surprised somebody someday is going to be when they step on the exact spot where he buried this little hand grenade. It dampened my own enthusiasm for pushing my luck. 

So, where were we? Oh yes the adventure of the day. Well, it’s a 101 with a twist. M, our crack activity director found a few trails that wind around through hill and dale ending at something called The Natural Bridge. I’m thinking Utah! Yeah, I’m up for that but it’ll be a stretch so we’ll have to see how tough the trail is and there’s always the option to stop at the mountaintop viewpoint. As if! 

First thing in the morning, before it gets too hot, we tie up Catnip to the park dock and immediately run into a couple of older gents that are hiking the upper trail. Turns out it’s 440 steps to the upper trail. As luck would have it the Bay Trail bifurcates just before the stairs get serious. Ah, this is more like it. A well-prepared path with gentle undulations, reminiscent of a New Zealand park trail. Ya see that’s how they suck you in, just like the frog in the water pot. 

Before long you’re climbing rocks, reaching for anything to keep from tumbling down a precipice and sweating like Nixon at a debate! Do you have any water left? Maybe we can call it a day at the mountaintop buena vista view del mar. Are you sure you don’t have any water left? I mean the Natural Bridge was always intended as a kind of bonus goal if things were easy. 

The viewpoints on the way were really spectacular and finally we arrived at the top of the mountain on a huge domed rock with hollowed out sandstone features. Other worldly. They like their rocks large and strange down here in the land of OZ. We could see downtown Sydney off in the hazy distance.

It was still a bit of a hike to the Natural Bridge on a trail called the Engraved Trail which is supposed to have Aboriginal Art carved in stone but it seems they would prefer to keep it to themselves. 

Of course Marce had to curb my curiosity by grabbing my tee shirt as I headed over the fence. Real Stone Age Art meters from where I stood. What kind of a person doesn’t want to see that? It soon became obvious why this area was sacred to the aboriginal. Large strange rocks. Large strange rock formations. Not a large pile of rocks but the whole damn mountain top was as near as I could tell, one huge rock. 

The path down to the bridge was steep and torturous and really a bridge too far. I suppose it didn’t help that as we reached the bottom of the ravine I noticed that a stream passed under the trail and I must be standing on The Natural Bridge. It was a Spinal Tap moment. When Nigel, not good with figures, confuses inches for feet and a tiny Stonehenge trilithon descends to the stage. Let’s just say it loses impact, even though it’s beautiful. Rocks big, bridges small. 

Like most adventures, it’s all about the journey.

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Escape from Blackwattle

It takes about half an hour to walk from our anchorage in Blackwattle Bay, in the shadows of Sydney’s ANZAC Bridge, to the four story Broadway Mall which has just about anything a human could need. Farm markets, supermarkets, food courts, theaters, clothing of every conceivable style except half-off sailor stuff, and a genuine Apple Store. I have a collapsible wheeled cart that makes it possible to lug it all back to the dinghy and home, but I never relax until I see Escape Velocity bobbing at anchor right where we left her. Generally Blackwattle has good holding in mud but there are areas where there’s nothing but silt, and a cubic foot of silt over your anchor means that it’s only a matter of time until you come around that last corner to find nothing where your home used to be. 

We’ve really enjoyed the buzz of Sydney and charm of Glebe Point and the convenience of the fish market but we’re both getting that restless feeling. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the dead pig just drifted past the boat.

I’ve been hard at work scraping the hull and props which requires a lot of free diving in Blackwattle’s water which can only be described as a kind of seafood chowder with periodic infestations of jellyfish and whatever this effing thing is.

The pull of many pleasures, including good friends, has kept us here but moving day is upon us and we’ve decided to try the other end of Sydney Harbor, past The Sound, around Middle Head into Hunters Bay if things go well. 

My efforts seem to have earned us an extra knot or two so when we raise Hunters Bay it’s still early enough that we decide to keep moving across The Bar looking for something…homey. At Middle Harbour we had to slow down to accommodate the bascule bridge at the spit for their 10:15 opening. 

I couldn’t describe what we’re looking for but I know we haven’t seen it yet. 

Quakers Hat Bay, Sugarloaf Bay…maybe on the way back down. Finally beautiful Bantry Bay nestled like a fiord cleaving a wooded mountainous national park with one last mooring ball #079 open and waiting just for us. Engines off, strange bird calls, breeze rustling the nearby trees, gentle lapping of clear bay water. Home.

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The view from the back porch


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The view of the front porch

We dressed ship with our country flags for New Year’s. 


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A quiet Christmas

 We had two very generous and tempting invitations to Christmas festivities with friends but decided instead to make it a family day aboard Escape Velocity anchored in Blackwattle Bay with a view of the Sydney skyline. It’s been two years since we’ve been with my sister and brother-in-law and many years since we spent Christmas with them, as we lived far apart when we were landbased. Since we moved aboard in 2012 Christmas has sometimes been a lonely day but we keep up our traditions of cinnamon buns and curry and samosas for dinner to help us feel connected no matter where we are. 

We awoke to perfect weather and between bouts of cooking we went ashore for a walk around the point at Blackwattle Bay. 

We came across this group of friends playing cricket, a game that fascinates and confounds us. Some day we hope to watch a match in the company of someone who could explain it all to us, perhaps Mark of Macushla, who used to entertain us with incomprehensible dissertations on the finer points. On Christmas we were left to try and figure it out on our own. 

Many years ago Jack and I went gift free for the holidays. It took all the stress of shopping and spending out of the season because in the end our time spent with loved ones making memories is the only gift we ever want anyway. Despite missing the rest of our family — and snow — we count this as one of our most memorable Christmases ever.

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On the rocks

We printed out a walking tour guide from a website and took the bus downtown for a day of Sydney history. We hooked up with Nancy and Dave and our friend Wendy who’s a historian, so combined with our walking guide we learned additional stories about the early days of European settlement of Sydney along the way. 

We chose a day when a craft and foodie market was operating and we enjoyed browsing the artists’ booths and bought lunch from the various food vendors. 

The Rocks are literal rocks and early settlers built their dwellings into the steep cliffs. Most of it’s gone now, but there’s one area that’s preserved as a small historic park. Rather than do a reconstruction or mock up, the foundations were left as is with the addition of steel silhouette furnishings to aid the imagination in visualizing what it was like to live here. 

When we’d exhausted the walking tour we headed for the famous Sydney Harbour bridge walk. 

Uh, no. Luckily you can also just walk across the bridge and get the same views, if a little closer to earth. It was a chilly, windy, overcast day but still, any view of Sydney Harbour is a treat for the eyes. No matter where we are around the city, the view never gets old. 

We ended our walking tour with a cold one at the oldest pub in Sydney, the Fortune of War, 1828. 

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Holiday down under

These days the holidays take us by surprise, especially since we’re far removed from the familiar run-up that begins with Halloween and takes us through Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas all the way to New Year’s. We’ve been programmed by years of living at 40 degrees north latitude to start anticipating the season when the sky becomes crystalline blue and the days get shorter and the first frost of late September turns the leaves persimmon and apricot and honey. When we lived in Pittsburgh the advent of autumn triggered the nesting instinct and a chilly day might find a pot of chowder simmering on the stove, maybe a fire in the chimenea to gather around at dusk, hands warmed by mugs of hot mulled cider. Meals were planned around roasted root vegetables, chestnuts and freshly baked bread. The holidays were synonymous with snow and sweaters and warm wool socks and the oven getting a serious workout. 

This is our fourth holiday season in warm weather, our second in the upside down world of the Southern Hemisphere. You’d think we’d be used to it by now, but old habits die hard and we’re still surprised when we see Christmas trees and red-suited Santas while we’re wearing shorts and sandals.

At the shops we ooh and ahh over the peaches and berries and asparagus but my instincts are to look for butternut squash and parsnips and clementines. Those are all available — in fact I can’t think of a thing that isn’t available here in Sydney — but I have a hard time associating roasted root vegetables with summer heat. More often than not we go for the peaches and berries, and last year in New Zealand we succumbed to a months-long indulgence in corn on the cob, the first we’d had in years.

Still, we aren’t completely adjusted to a summery Christmas and Hanukkah season and standing over a hot stove for an hour frying up the latkes isn’t much fun in the heat but we’re getting over it. 

Jack and I took the bus to central Sydney to save our legs for touring and the four of us started at the New South Wales State Library. It’s a beautiful space and busy, which made my librarian sister happy. 

Nancy and I took a few minutes to make poppies to add to the ANZAC memorial installation while the men waited patiently.  

And Nancy exercised her card catalog chops just to keep in practice. 

It was after we walked to the pedestrian mall and joined the holiday shopping crowd and heard the Salvation Army band that it hit me. It’s Christmas! 

Here’s Jack starting on his Christmas list. 

Can’t say it enough: I love having my family here!


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A Sydney welcome

On our first full day in Sydney we walked into the Central Business District (CBD) to meet up with Nancy and Dave at their hotel. It was a long walk and we needed a bit of a sit down before starting our tourist romp. You know us by now; we never turn down a cafe.

Once we were recaffeinated Nancy and Dave lead us to Circular Quay and we experienced from land the magnificent world-renowned waterfront that brought tears to my eyes when we entered the harbor the day before. I was still in a state of wonder that we had sailed to this distant city all by ourselves. Every once in a while the enormity of our accomplishment hits us and on this day the feeling was front and center. It was icing on the cake that my family are here with us too. 

From the Opera House and Writer’s Walk we moved on to the Botanical Garden just enjoying the beautiful weather and each other’s company. 

Nancy and Dave will stay another few days in their CBD hotel while we head back to EV in Blackwattle Bay. That evening an explosion sent us running out to the cockpit to find fireworks at Darling Harbor just over the tops of the buildings along the waterfront. It turns out there will be fireworks every night until Christmas. Could it get any better? We LOVE Sydney!


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