It’s not all fun and games living aboard. Shortly after a beautiful paddle around Sugarloaf Bay Jack and I both came down with what our English friends call the dreaded lurgy. Is it flu? Bad colds? We don’t know, but we were nearly flattened by chills, fever, stuffy noses, coughing, the whole works. We knew we needed to get closer to civilization so we dropped our mooring, made the 10:15 bridge opening out of Middle Harbour and motored to Rose Bay hoping for an unoccupied courtesy mooring. We picked up the last available of the six and within minutes we were tucked away in the corner of this very large open bay, exhausted and sniffling.
The next day Jack dragged himself to shore, beached the heavy dinghy and walked to a small grocery store for fruit and other supplies. We’ve spent the past three gorgeous sunny days collapsed in the cockpit, napping, reading, sniffling, coughing and promising each other we’d feel better tomorrow. This is unusual for us, as we generally bounce back pretty quickly from any germs we come across, so this is a particularly virulent bug. We don’t even know where we picked it up but I suspect public transportation is the culprit.
Late yesterday afternoon eight super yachts anchored in the bay to shelter from the predicted strong southerly winds overnight. And as the light faded in the evening there were Friday night races as far as we could see, big boats, small boats, an America’s Cup class excursion boat, a square-rigger, a cruise ship and the omnipresent seaplanes, paddleboarders, kayakers, rowers and boardsailors. There were so many start guns going off in a row that Jack says it sounded like a rolling broadside from an old time man o’ war. We had a lot to entertain us and we’re happy that we chose this active bay as our sanitarium. Still, we’d rather be healthy and doing all the things in Sydney we haven’t got around to yet.
On another brave trip ashore Jack threw himself on the mercy of a local pharmacist who set us up with some stronger meds that seem to be doing the trick. We think we’ve turned the corner but as luck would have it, we ran out of good weather. Today we’re socked in with wind and rain and fog so thick that Sydney seems to have disappeared.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had a great view of the bridge and opera house, but the e-ticket vantage point for the fireworks is by all accounts Farm Cove on the city side of the harbour. We hemmed. We hawed. The consensus was that we were fine where we were, but in my mind we didn’t spend 4-1/2 years and nearly 25,000 nautical miles to stop just short of the goal line. So we up-anchored and motored over to Farm Cove, circled a little to get our bearings and dropped the hook. Picture perfect!
The crew busied ourselves stringing together the courtesy flags of all the countries we visited so far so we could dress ship for the occasion, and as the Cove filled up with all manner of boats we spent the day taking selfies and warning off any boat that we felt was attempting to anchor too close. In the end we figured our US ensign and our string of international flags earned us enough respect that most boats stayed well clear. Thank goodness because it really got tight in there!
The afternoon brought an air show. We — and the rest of the spectator fleet — were convinced the pilot was going to fly under the bridge but on every pass he pulled up and we could hear the collective sigh of disappointment.
As the sun went down the music from ashore and the anchorage cranked up, and anticipation on Escape Velocity went up to 11. At 9pm there was a preliminary “kids fireworks” followed by a lighted boat parade.
Finally, the main event, the culmination of years of planning, learning, voyaging and perseverance to bring us to this moment, to this legendary fireworks display. I only snapped a few shots because I wanted to burn the images into my memory instead of looking at the tiny picture on the camera. It was spectacular, as advertised, and way too short. I could have watched for an hour.
Afterwards, after the champagne toast, after the hugs and squeals of delight, the mayhem began in earnest as most of the boats anchored near us sorted out their tangled lines and headed home. We kept vigil in case anyone strayed too close, but we were safe and eventually Farm Cove was calm again.
It’s 2017 and we’re still here. Who could have imagined back in 1969 that we’d live this long? Life just keeps getting better all the time.
You can watch the video on YouTube here.
We tidied up Escape Velocity and stowed everything that tends to fly across the room when we’re underway in bumpy water and motored out of Blackwattle Bay for the first time since we arrived in Sydney, our destination the Taronga Zoo on the other side of the harbour bridge. Athol Bay is one of the preferred places to watch the legendary New Year’s Eve fireworks so we were eager to check it out and claim a spot before the crowds showed up. Plus we wanted to visit the zoo. We were rewarded with a rolly anchorage from the constant ferry traffic and a spectacular harbour sunset view.
There’s no dinghy dock for the zoo so we had to do a wet landing on a tiny beach, a first for Nancy and Dave, then haul the heavy beast up beyond the tide line. The zoo is built on a steep hill and the best way to enjoy it is to take a cable car to the top, then work your way down.
We’re not really zoo people, preferring to see wildlife in its natural habitat, but the unique setting of this zoo and being able to see close up some of the animals that only exist in Australia made it a fun visit.
There were lots of old favorites who were used to posing for the crowds.
We were advised not to miss the bird show so we arranged our day to take advantage of the presentation closest to lunchtime and grabbed some sandwiches and drinks and took seats in one of the best amphitheatres I’ve ever been in. What a view!
It was an sweltering day, the kind Sydney is famous for and we looked forward to getting back to Escape Velocity hoping for a bit of breeze. We could see that more and more boats were moving into the anchorage for the fireworks the next night.
When we got to the beach we discovered we’d been swamped by the incoming tide. Nearby party boats had rescued the dink and pulled it further up the beach but it was full of water and sand. Welcome to cruising, Nancy and Dave! We got back to Escape Velocity wet and sandy and needed a hose down, but we were once again rewarded by a beautiful harbour view. It never gets old.