Monday, December 27, 2010

We were in the midst of mayhem yesterday when we anchored to watch the start of 66th running of the Sydney-Hobart Race. Barry thought we anchored well out of the channel in a tranquil spot, little did he know we were in the middle of the traffic lane when the spectator fleet followed the racing boats out to the headlands of Sydney Harbour. This was our view of the start.

We picked a spot well down the harbour where we could see the start when we anchored at 10:00 A.M. When the race started at 1:00 P.M. our view was obscured by a myriad of vessels. There were huge motor vessels, four stories high, commercial vessels crammed full of spectators, small sailboats and normal sized motor boats zooming about, it was unbelievable. Unless you have experienced this, it would be hard to explain. We could see the top of the sails of the huge racing sleds. Once the starting gun went off the spectator fleet went flying by us. The wash buffeted the boat, rocking us to and fro. We just hung on and hoped no one would hit us. I sat on the side of the boat and tooted on our horn to contribute to the mayhem. Then the leaders went sailing by, their speed was fantastic, I loved the boat with the zebra on its sails. There were eleven helicopters circling around. The rest of the fleet went by and we watched them set their spinnakers as they made the turn to head out to sea. The race will take approx. 4 days for the leaders, they have to cross the notorious Bass Strait between Australia and Tasmania, for which there were gale force winds forecasted.

When we planned to be in Sydney Harbour at this time of year this is one of the things I had my heart set on. The experience topped my expectations, awesome!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

From the water this time!

We sailed into Sydney Harbour a couple of days ago. The first night we anchored just inside the entrance, the next day we sailed by the Opera House and then under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. We are currently anchored very close to downtown. We went ashore this morning and here is proof that cruisers will do just about anything. We left our dinghy in a spot that was gated and fenced but we did not want to row across the harbour and walk an extra mile so we just rolled under the gate!! Today we spent the morning at the Maritime Museum and then wandered around central Sydney for the rest of the day. Sydney is hustling and bustling at the moment, crammed full of tourists and everyone doing their last minute Christmas shopping.

The anchorage we are in is very full. There are a gazillion boats in Sydney and most of the prime anchoring spots have been allocated to moorings. There are marinas and sailing clubs all over the place leaving few spots to drop your hook. Last night Barry only got about 3 hours sleep because we were very close to another boat. When you drop your hook in a crowded anchorage, the wind is blowing in a certain direction and you calculate whether or not there is room and generally there is, until the wind shifts and then watch out. We reanchored this morning and it looked good, but later on today after we had returned to the boat the wind shifted and we almost touched a different boat. We pulled up our chain and went across the bay to where a boat had just vacated a spot and we seem to be okay here.

We are anchored just under this bridge

At the Maritime Museum with downtown Sydney in the background.

Central Sydney, an interesting mix of the old and the new.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

We are in Brisbane Waters at the moment, just north of Broken Bay. We came up the river into this area last Friday. It was nerve racking getting in here. Going up the river, across the bar we registered 0.0 on the depth sounder, meaning there was no water under the keel, Barry has it offset by about 0.2 m so we were really close to touching bottom. Then we went under a bridge, the bridge has a clearance of 17.4m at high water and we measured the mast the other day and it was 16.6m to the point we measured to which was at least 0.5m from the top, so we had very little room to play. We went under about 2 hours until low water which meant we should have 1.5m approx. clearance. I wanted to wait until absolute low water but Barry insisted we should have room and away we went. When we were about 5 m from going under the bridge, Barry who was driving shouted, “I don’t think we are going to make it!” he asked whether I could tell. From my perspective at the front of the boat there was no way I could tell, so under we went….. we squeaked through. Further up the river the depth sounder again registered 0.0 and I kept waiting to get stuck, fortunately it didn’t happen and we met our chums and had a wonderful BBQ at their house.

Can you tell if we were going to make it???

We decided to take a train into Sydney yesterday. Our buddies told us it was a very scenic trip and the rapid transit system is an excellent way to get around the city. We visited the famous Sydney Opera House and since we were there decided that we had to take a tour. It was well worth the money, and the views are spectacular. There are at least 5 theatre venues in the Opera House, one for the ballet and a large one for the symphonies and other attractions, the smaller venues were for drama productions, including one for mainly children’s theatre. The gov’t started a lottery to generate funds for the Opera House and our guide explained that the gamblers of Australia were to thank for paying for this wonderful structure. After the tour we had Sunday lunch in the Opera Bar, a very scenic and popular spot overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I felt very pampered and spoiled to be sitting there.

We headed off to walk across the bridge. If you look at the picture of me with the bridge in the background you can see a large pillar over my left shoulder. Once we found our way onto the bridge we climbed up that pillar and enjoyed the views from its top. It has a small informative museum in the pillar dedicated to the building of the bridge.

While we were at the top gawking at the marvelous views a tri-marin was sailing towards the bridge intending to pass under it. He got in trouble and did not have enough speed to tack so he headed off the wind to get up enough speed to try and tack again. We could see it coming; he was headed right for the sea wall almost directly underneath us. He tried to tack again but the current and the wind worked against him and drove him into the wall. What a goof, luckily no one was hurt, his crew member snapped a pole trying to fend him off the wall, he didn’t break his bow sprit, he was lucky. I am sure his pontoons were scraped up but he finally got his sail down and motored backwards off the wall. Hopefully when it comes to our turn to sail under the bridge we can manage to do it with a little more discreetly and if nothing else we can tell the people at the top of the tower to turn off their videos, we have no desire to make it on you-tube!!

We returned to the boat via the train and at the moment are sitting aboard in 35 knots of wind. We are anchored in about 4 m of water with 30 m of chain out so are quite content to wait out the big winds. We are hoping to sail into Sydney Harbour tomorrow, after once again squeaking under the bridge and over the bar!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

We are currently in Broken Bay, we sailed up yesterday. I use that term lightly, we actually motored all the way. We left Port Stephens in dense fog, that is the first time we have experienced that since we have left Canada. Fortunately our radar worked fine and we had no problems, it was a bit eerie, but Barry was steering and I was down below watching the chart plotter and the radar making sure he stayed on the right track. Once he was on the right track I would let him know and he would take a compass heading and then steer that course until it was time to turn. It is difficult to maintain a position when you have no reference points. It was 0500 in order to catch the tide so there were not too many boats to contend with.
The winds were very light and directly on our nose so we fired up the motor. The winds eventually came around behind us but by that time we were racing the light to get here before dark so although we had both sails up we kept motoring. Our new auto pilot (Otto) did a yeoman’s job steering all the way without a problem, maybe he was worth it after all!
We explored around Port Stephens before we left. We hopped on a local bus (much more reasonable here at $2.00 a piece) and went out to Tomaree Head, that guards the south entrance to Port Stephens. There was a great path up to the top with terrific views as your reward for the climb. The Tomaree guns were installed in 1942, it felt rather like déjà vu, the structures were very similar to the ones we clambered around on the north end of Vancouver Island. It was interesting to reflect that both guns were built to repel the same enemy, yet they were oceans apart.
There were some large sand dunes about 20 km south of Nelson Bay which I wanted to see so we got back on the bus. Barry’s ankle had had it by now so he took some pictures at the beginnings of the dunes and I hiked up and down a few, until all I could see was sand. I was prepared for soft mushy sand but it was pretty hard packed and was easy walking. Apparently there are camels that you can ride over the dunes but we didn’t have the time to explore that possibility. I found a few beer bottles buried in the sands and picked them up in my effort to clean up the planet. I rather wished one was full because it was hot dusty work trudging around those dunes.
Broken Bay is a another huge area. There are several rivers that empty into the bay, the Hawkebury being the most well known. Brisbane Waters is another spot that is in the north part of the bay, which is where we are headed today. We are planning to have dinner on Friday night with friends we met in Tahiti. Pittwater Bay has a couple of large yacht clubs at it’s southern end and we could see hundreds of boats moored down there as we passed by it’s entrance last night and sails were gleaming in the dying light as about a dozen boats raced across the bay. School is out for about a month’s holiday today so I am sure the area will fill up with folks on their Christmas holidays very soon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

We are in Port Stephens, which is a bigger harbour than Sydney Harbour so it is huge. There are all sorts of little towns built up along the south side and I think this is Sydney’s playground. There are all sorts of holiday homes along the shores as well as about 5 small marinas scattered along the shores. We had a terrific sail from Laurieton to here, we had 72 nm, as the crow flies, to sail in a day so we needed good winds to get here in daylight. It took us exactly12 hours which means an average speed of 6 knots, although I would guess it was faster, we were flying. I had to suggest to Barry at one point that we should take in some genoa because it felt like we were on the edge to getting out of control. We just entered the headland and anchored just around the corner as the sun was setting, perfect timing.

We went over to Nelson Bay on the south shore and picked up a courtesy mooring. What a concept, you are allowed to stay for free on these moorings for 24 hours, so we did just that. We bought some fresh fruits and veggies and wandered around town taking in he sites. We headed further into Port Stephens to a spot called Fame Cove. It is almost a hurricane hole, a great anchorage, protection from every direction. We picked up another courtesy mooring. The cicadas are very loud giving off a high pitched noise which rises and falls all day although they seem to stop at night. There is no development in the cove so you feel as if you are in the wild. It is the weekend and small power boats keep coming and going all day, people stopping for lunch, supper or just a swim with the family. There was a spot on shore where there was a fire pit so I will see if I can convince Barry we ought to have a fire tonight that would be fun.

I want to explore the other side of the harbour where it says there are koala bears, I am on a mission to spot one in the wild! We will stay here until the winds stop blowing from the south and then sail down to Broken Bay, just north of Sydney, which is where the Hawkesbury River empties into the Pacific.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cat's-Paw IV is the little white blob in the bottom right hand corner of the picture

We are still in Laurieton, we were ready to leave but connected on the radio to Nanook of the North (a boat formerly owned by our good friends Maurice and Katie Cloughley). They were headed in the next day so we decided to stay longer. It was a good thing we did; we have had a wonderful time. Yesterday I went to the local pool and participated in an aquacizes class. It was a good workout and all the women were really close to my age, they were having a Christmas lunch for the group and I was invited to join. What fun, listening to the banter they threw back and forth at each other was a joy and getting to know some of the women from a different walk of life was very interesting. The instructor, although she didn’t attend had ordered 2 bottles of sparkling wine for the group so it was even better!!

Today we walked up that very large hill I have been going on about. There were 4 of us and we had a great time. Grant from Nanook is a boat builder and knew a lot about the trees that were growing, we saw some crimson rosella’s and some wallaby scat. We did not spot any koala bears so were a bit disappointed about that but the view from the top of the hill is spectacular.

There was an added bonus though; the top of the hill is the launching spot for paragliders. We were just about to leave when a car pulled up and three guys piled out, one young, one middle aged and one old (75). We must have stayed there an hour and chatted with them about their sport, how much experience they had and the weather conditions on that hill. The young guy took out a fancy sporty kite that you could do tricks with and played with it, manipulating it all around. The middle aged guy lay on the grass and explained to us what was going on while he waited for a nasty cloud with unpredictable winds to blow by. The old guy was a bit skeptical about his chance of gliding today because of the conditions and the fact that he had been scared silly the last time he was up when he went into a cloud and could not see anything and experienced vertigo, not knowing which way was up. The conditions became more favourable and the middle aged fellow took off, then the older gentleman had a go. It took him 3 or 4 tries to get off in gusty conditions, but he did not give up and was rewarded with a wonderful ride. The young man had had an operation of his head putting in a metal piece to correct an old injury so he very wisely chose not to fly today; he was the chase car driver. This really fired up my desire to go paragliding, people talk about a bucket list and I am pretty sure this is on mine. Barry even was enthralled claiming it would not hurt his ankle to do that sport. He wanted to sell the boat and take up hang gliding. That was until the young guy informed him that he had broken his ankle on a landing 3 months before, but he said he still flew with a walking cast on, Barry would only need one ankle to land!!! What a great day!

P.S. Barry posted a video of the old guy taking off on YouTube, check out the link at the side of our blog.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

This is the very spiffy Serviceman's Club that is Laurieton. It is the equivalent to the Canadian Legion and I have never seen a Legion like this! This club has it all, a sports bar, a card room, a huge gambling room with machines, a betting shop with TV's that featured dog racing and buggy racing as well as a good soccer game (do they bet on that too?), 2 eating areas, a private dining room for weddings or conventions and best of all showers for visiting cruisers! We just had to pay a deposit on a key and we have the run of the place.
We took a walk around town yesterday and saw some sights and bought a new water jug. I stepped on an old one and it was leaking, our water maker is not making very good water at the moment so we are jugging water in when necessary. This is an old church beside the museum (below). It was not open but it had stained glass windows and I loved the hanging church bell. From the notices on the door it was still being used as a practice spot for local orchestral bands. We wanted to get in the museum but it was not open on Sat. so we may not get a chance to peruse it. We were going to stay quite a few days but the wind is going to pick up and we are a bit worried about getting out the bar, we may go tomorrow morning, we shall see, maybe we should talk to some locals and get their take on what wind conditions are necessary for crossing the bar.
There are lots of pelicans around here, they are such graceful birds. They just hang about the dinghy dock and one of them actually waddled over to a picnic table, it looked like he was begging!! I have never seen that before from pelicans, there is a fish cleaning area where the water tap is and when I took this picture they were all hanging out around it. I thought they might have been wanting fresh water, but had forgotten that is where people clean their fish!!

Friday, December 03, 2010


This video is for my grandchildren and for my daughter Heather who had a hermit crab as a pet at one point in her past!

This is Perpendicular Point at the entrance to Camden Haven

We are safe and sound in Laurieton which is a town about 2nm up the river from Camden Haven. We experienced our first river bar crossing in Aus. On the east coast of Aus. there are few natural harbours and there are lots of rivers that have been used to access the ocean. Unlike the west coast of the US, in the places we stopped, the bars here are fairly narrow. The river entrances have break waters to facilitate the entrance of boats and I think some have to be dredged on a regular basis. When you have big ocean swell breaking or even just piling up because it is shallow it can be a real challenge to get across these bars. Once you are committed to the entrance your boat can begin to surf down the waves and if the waves are too steep or close together you can easily loose control. Cat’s-Paw IV handled this bar without any problems, we had a benign sea condition and hit the tide at the correct time. We kind of gulped after we were through, knowing we had to plan a good time to get out of the river as well, I guess it would not be so bad going out because you would never be surfing down the waves, just bashing into them and Cat’s-Paw seems to bash with the best of them, thank goodness for a good seaworthy boat!
We have not been ashore yet but the setting is quite lovely. I am not going to take a picture now because it is raining and dreary out there. I am looking forward to exploring this town and maybe taking a bus to look at other towns up the coast. There is a very large hill called Big Brother (you can see it in the picture) that is climbable apparently, that may be a good activity!!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

We are underway from Coffs Harbour to Camden Haven, about 85 miles south. It should take about 17 hours at 5 knots so not enough day light to get through the bar and anchor in one day, so we did a overnighter. We left at 1800 and we only have a half rolled up genoa out. There is a terrific southerly current running so it carries us along at about 2 knots, so we really only need to sail at 3 knots but the tide does not turn until 20 hours after we left and we should wait at least 2 hours after the tide changes before attempting the bar because there is a lot of water in the rivers and it takes awhile for tidal change to take effect. So much to think about, I could not convince Barry to leave later so we are going very very slowly!!! We have seen about 5 freighters but we seem to be closer to the coast than they run so I have not been freaked out. It is dull and overcast, we have about 10 knots of true wind and 8 knots of actual wind (our fancy wireless windspeed finally seems to be working). We should be in Camden Haven about 1300 hours and we shouldn't cross the bar until about 1600.