Boxing Day at Sydney Heads

It seems so odd to us to keep comparing this year to last. We haven’t spent a year in one place since leaving Pittsburgh and now we get to decide whether we want to spend the holiday season repeating last year’s successes or doing things a little differently.

Case in point: one of the big events for sailors is the start of the Sydney-Hobart race on Boxing Day. It’s a rambunctious logjam of every kind of boat you can imagine all jockeying for a good view of the huge and fast racing sailboats trying to beat each other over the starting line without incurring a penalty. Brave souls take their own boats out and chase the leaders through the harbor and past the headlands into the Tasman Sea. Others book a spot on one of the tour boats and let someone else do the driving. Last year, after a few false starts and with the help of a savvy taxi driver, we found the perfect spot on land overlooking the starting line and enjoyed a picnic lunch and a wide angle view of the fleet.

This year, not wanting to try to replicate last year’s fun, especially without Nancy and Dave here, we had a hard time deciding whether we wanted to stay home and watch on TV — now that that’s an option — or find a different overlook. Boxing Day morning found us still foggy from the wine-soaked Christmas lunch. We wavered, contemplating a day spent with our feet up watching on the tube, but at the last minute we jumped in the dinghy with not much in the way of plans hoping to get anywhere near the South heads for a view of the Tasman Sea as the boats turn south.

Not sure what this is about but we passed them while chasing our bus.

We read about a special bus that starts when the ferries stop running during the height of the start frenzy but after jogging from bus stop to bus stop with an increasing number of similarly inclined folks and watching in frustration as the special X bus passed us by, we eventually took the next best thing, a regular local bus to our general destination, Watson’s Bay. It was an excruciatingly slow ride and we thought we might miss everything. As we neared the Bay we hit a traffic snarl and the murmur among the passengers was that it would be better to get off now and hoof it the rest of the way. Jack and I followed them out and over a hill only to find it wasn’t where we’d hoped to be.

We ran back down to the street, which by that time had cleared of traffic, jumped on the next bus and rode it to the end of the line. It was beach level, and although we could see the starting line in the distance, it wasn’t the view we wanted either. A quick check on Google maps suggested if we climbed over the next hill we’d at least find a view of the boats passing the heads out to sea. By now it was about 15 minutes to start time and our knees were not happy with the last two decisions, but at the top of the hill we found exactly what we were looking for, a pretty good aspect of the starting line, and an excellent clear overlook of the heads and the point where the boats would be tacking to turn south.

Hooray! There was even a wide bench to sit on. Our knees were grateful.

We had a few minutes to catch our breath before the start, then we spectators lined the benches to watch the magnificent racing machines charge the line.

After a few minutes we lost sight of the leaders as they passed behind the rocky promontory of south head and we watched as the spectator boats starting coming out ahead of the fastest sleds. And then the leaders came out, not as fast as you’d want because the wind was light, but once they could turn south they’d pick up speed quickly.

We knew some friends were on one of the big blue chase boats, and we passed our binoculars to some of the spectators hoping to find their friends’ boats. There was a near collision between two of the leaders which we happened to catch, and we learned later that sealed the fate of one of them when they were given a time penalty that took away their win on elapsed time.

We watched for another half hour or so then climbed back down the hill to join the crowd on the beach and eat fish and chips, then stood in line for the ferry to take us back to the other end of the harbor. Quite the odyssey for 45 minutes of excitement, but it’s what you do in Sydney on Boxing Day. And now we’ve done it twice. How lucky are we!

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