2003 Jan 1: Sydney Summer Festival

One of the fun aspects of cruising is being able to make spontaneous decisions based on the simultaneous developments of otherwise unrelated conditions. While we were in Yamba on December 29, Steve read in the newspaper of the upcoming phenomenon of the Sydney Harbour New Years Eve fireworks, 445 nautical miles south of us. The current weather pattern read: “A High is over the Tasman Sea and a weak trough is off the northern New South Wales coast”. The outlook for Sunday: “E/NE wind 10/15 knots Sunday, increasing to NE 15/20 knots later in the south. Sea 1 to 2 metres. Swell 1 to 1.5 metres.” These were good conditions for motor-sailing south to Sydney, so off we went towards Sydney the following day. Winds remained in the teens overnight, and we checked in with the volunteer marine rescue service (VMR) radio stations as we sailed past each one. We felt like a relay baton, being handed off from one runner to the next, as our details were faxed from one VMR to the next.

Fishing boats were out in force, their erratic courses making it difficult for us to track them all on radar. The wind had died to 6 knots by 0330 hours. At 0800 hours on Dec. 30, Dorothy wrote in the log: “A beautiful sunny day. Seas are lower, at less than 1 m, and have smoothed out on top. The coastline is beautiful, with long sand hills curving in bays between green tree-covered headlands.” By noon the wind was back up in the teens, and we set the reacher. At 1400 hours we sailed through a hundred black shearwaters soaring over the surface of the sea. At 1400 hours the weather service forecast:” Strong wind warning. Isolated showers. N/NE 20/30 this evening, tending N/NW 15/20 overnight, but strengthening to 30 knots again from the N/NE on Tuesday afternoon. Seas 1.5-2 m increasing to 2 to 3 m in the afternoon & evening on a swell of 1.5 to 2 m.” The winds were in the mid-20’s, and our boat speed was 8-10 knots. By 2230 hours, the wind was gusting to 28 knots.

The Newcastle coastal patrol hailed us to remind us of the strong wind warning, and to say that we could come in to the port of Newcastle if it got too rough for us. The seas were only about 2.5 meters high, from astern. We declined his invitation, as we were making very good speeds. By 2230 hours we were getting gusts to 31 knots, and gusts to 35 knots by midnight. We relayed on the marine radio a PAN PAN message from the yacht “Evenstar” who had lost its steering, as the steering pedestal had pulled out of its mount in the cockpit. We were making 10 to 11 knots speed over ground. The barometer was falling, as a red crescent moon was rising in the east in, in the”rain-catching” position. At 0420 hours, New Year’s eve, Dorothy recorded in the log: “The true wind speed is varying from 27 to 35 knots. Just surfed on a wave, with boat speed over ground 16 knots. Whee!! The seas and wind are abating somewhat. Hailed by Coast Guard Sydney asking us to notify them when we are abeam of Terrigal, then again when abeam of Barrenjoye Head. We passed between Sydney Heads at 0800 hours, and by 0900 hours we were anchored in Athol Bay, Sydney Harbor, the BEST location in all of Sydney for watching the fireworks spectacular. We anchored way out in the deep water hoping to be well away from any newcomers arriving to view the fireworks.

As we napped, our lovely anchorage was being transformed into a nautical traffic jam. By 2100 PM we were surrounded by hundreds of boats of all sizes, some anchored, many still motoring around looking for a place to squeeze in, or, incredibly, asking other boats if they could raft up. The wind was in the high teens, making for some anchoring adventures for these boats that were behaving like they had never anchored before. E.g., one 50-ft powerboat approached us asking to raft-up “because we have a knot in our nylon rode”. We wondered how all these boats would depart after midnight without a huge tangle of anchor lines. Unfortunately, a three-story power boat banged his transom into Adagio’s port bow, making a large gash, as another boat had fouled his anchor rode. The wind was blowing in the mid to high 20’s and boats continued to arrive in this already overcrowded anchorage.

The fireworks were superb, shooting up from five different computer-synchronized barges spaced down the harbour, and blossoming from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, ending in the outline of a dove of peace, flapping its lighted wings on the bridge. Unfortunately, the high winds forced the authorities to cancel the 9PM “for families” fireworks.

On New Years Day we reported the ramming-altercation to the Sydney Water Police, then made our way to Blackwattle Bay where we set our anchor outside about 10 other boats. Anchoring is restricted to the water inside a line drawn from one headland to the next. We were outside that line, so we moved over to Rozelle Bay, which is even smaller, but found a comfortable anchorage just next to a large red Dutch monohull named “Love of Gaia”. We recognized this boat from when it was at Kings Pier, Hobart, while we were in Constitution Dock last year. We hailed the owner to say hello and to invite him and his family of two children to come to ADAGIO for a visit in the next few days. He said that he had sailed to Norfolk Island and back to OZ since we saw him in Hobart. The sunset from our anchorage was superb, graced with the lighted structure of the ANZAC suspension bridge, only a quarter of a mile away.

We were soon off the boat, traveling by dinghy to the Sydney Fish Market marina, where we left her safely and walked to the Sydney waterfront, Botanical Gardens, Opera House and Hyde Park. On Saturday we lunched at the Fish Market with our cruising buddies Laurie and Sally Hohn, then rode in their car for a very special, personal tour of Sydney – particularly the areas that are not on the usual tourista maps. They delivered our mail packets. Sunday night we attended the opening performance of the Sydney Summer Festival, on the steps of the Opera House. A European group, created architectural sculptures with cello tape, used a crane to raise them, and a flying fairy, added elegant fireworks and dramatic sound effects, for a spectacular and wondrous performance. Really difficult to describe what they did – “you hadda be there!”.

Monday we lunched on a platter of sushi and sashimi at the Sydney Fish Market, ordered Festival tickets from Ticketek, then walked to the Maritime Museum for a coffee and fudge cake. In the afternoon we walked the length of Tumbalong Park, enjoying its fountains, children’s play areas and carousel. We spent several hours wandering around the beautiful Chinese Friendship Garden. While not very large, the landscape artists have created an intricate maze of pathways, waterways, lily ponds, waterfalls, a rock “mountain”, temples, tea houses, a dragon sculpture wall and the most beautiful natural landscaping of azaleas, weeping willows, bamboo, palms, grasses and huge stones. The Chinese see animal and human figures in rocks the way westerners see figures in clouds. We watched children and adults parading around the garden in Chinese dress, sometimes quite elaborate. We soon discovered that there is a costume room where for $10 or so anyone can dress the part. The costumed characters added a lot of color to the gardens.

We figured out the public bus system, and visited the Powerhouse Museum today. The highlight at this science and technology museum was a special Star Wars exhibit, based on the theme of the Hero Legend. It was deja vu for us in a way, as we had seen many of the original costumes and models at the Marin County Fair in California some 20 years ago when George Lucas sponsored a special exhibition from the archives.

We spent the next few days visiting the Australian Museum for the exhibition of the extraordinary dinosaurs unearthed in China. Included were the dinosaur fossils with feathered wings, legs and tail. Next was the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the AMP Tower for aerial views of Sydney. At the IMAX theatre at Darling Harbour we enjoyed the Cirque du Soleil circus performance – where the performers were able to do things that cannot happen in the normal circus tent (the 3-D actually works).

We are familiarizing ourselves with the weather patterns in Sydney. With a “southerly change” come high winds. In such conditions today, many of the cruising boats which were anchored in Blackwattle Bay have come over and anchored around us in Rozelle Bay.

Our first concert performance at the Sydney Opera House was by the London Sinfonietta. We did not care for their choice of ultra-modern music, but were transfixed and awed by the architecture which surrounded us. The concert hall and the symphony hall are each suspended from the inside of the reinforced concrete structures which are shaped like flower petals. At night the lighting plays across the lovely sculptural shapes of the exterior and the interior to delight the eye.

Boating on Sydney Harbour is a dangerous thrill, mostly due to the high speed ferries which zip in and out of the passenger terminals, appearing unexpectedly out from behind a headland going at full speed. Plus countless numbers of private boats that don’t seem to have studied COLREGS. We boarded one of these “RiverCats” and headed west up the Parramatta River to the performance of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Fish” at the riverside Theatre. In the evening we attended the Mark Morris Dance Group’s performance at the Parade Theatre, National Institute for Dramatic Arts. A few days later we took our folding chairs and joined the happy crowds on the lawn for the free concert, “Jazz in the Domain”, complete with a huge projection screen for those seated far away from the stage. We could not estimate how many thousands were in the audience, but like us, they were all having a super evening.

Our sailing friends, Sally and Laurie from “Champagne Charlie” fame, introduced us to their friends Jim and Carol who invited us to dine with them at their home in Balmain, one of the prettiest peninsulas on the Sydney Harbor. Those folks who think the Aussies don’t know good food, haven’t dined on Carol’s cooking!

Complacency with our easy life anchored in Rozelle Bay, and being distracted by the high heat of the day, yesterday we ignored the rapidly falling barometer and the weather forecast of “Strong squally southerly change this evening.” Seeking refuge from the 100 deg heat, we went in to town to see a movie, and then to the Symphony in the Domain, complete with the violinist Suzy Parker and fireworks to accompany the 1812 Overture. It was splendid! As we were returning to Adagio after 10 PM, we saw that she was no longer anchored along the north side of the bay, but was on the south side, close to another boat “Conda’s Mate”, which had earlier been anchored near us on the north side of the bay. Both boats had dragged their anchors in the 45 knot southerly winds, while we were in the movie theatre.

Two boats from the Sydney Harbour Waterways were standing by. They had set our second bow anchor. The owners of “Conda’s Mate” arrived a few minutes later, and we determined that we would have to wait until morning to sort out what we thought were fouled anchors. The crews of both boats stood anchor watch throughout the night, during thankfully light to moderate southerly winds.

In the morning, the volunteer coast guard boat assisted the owners of “Conda’s Mate”, John and Sharon, whose propulsion engine was not working, raise their anchor and re-set it on the north side of the bay. We were surprised when “Conda’s Mate” raised their anchor to see that our anchor was not fouled with theirs – both boats had dragged independently, thankfully not colliding. Our anchor was firmly stuck on the bottom, assumedly hooked on something large and heavy. John from “Conda’s Mate” said that he had read on the Internet that the mega-yacht marina on the south shore of Rozelle bay had installed devices underwater to hold the anchors of the yachts when moored stern-to the dock. Perhaps we had hooked onto that. The Waterways boat with a crane tried to free our anchor with no success. They accidentally let go the end of a line we had given to them, the other end is looped around our anchor chain with a large shackle. These sank to the bottom. Our next idea is to hire a diver to try to free it. Steve hoped were are not damaging our aluminium SPADE anchor by pulling on it with great force. Meanwhile, we remained anchored close to the center of the channel, with barges and tour boats passing by from time to time. The wind is forecast to be from the north, with more hot temperatures, tomorrow, followed by a weak southerly change on Tuesday.

On Monday morning The Diving Company, (Simon, phone 0412 072 359) released our anchor which had become entangled in the heavy ship’s anchor chain which has been installed on the bottom of the bay to secure a series of pylons and lines for mooring yachts at the Rozelle Bay Super Yacht Marina on the north shore of Rozelle Bay. We spoke to Richard Morris at the marina (9563 8700) who said that The Diving Company was familiar with the system as they had installed it. Our anchor had not been damaged. Cost for divers A$440. Meanwhile, in the Australian capital city of Canberra, bush fires destroyed 368 homes and killed 4 people.

The next morning the air was filled with smoke from the fires to the northwest of Sydney. Long outrigger canoes from the Sydney University women’s rowing club across the bay, paddled past. We raised anchor in Blackwattle Bay and motored to Westport Marina in Cabarita, on the Paramatta River. We tied up stern to, bows pointing towards the south, in a 150 ft long slip. The Fastcat ferries send a pressure wave which sets Adagio moving in circles, straining against her docklines. Winds turned southerly again, with thunder, lightning and some rain, bringing cooler weather for a couple of days before turning north again for the weekend.

Australians’ favorite holiday is Australia Day. From Cabarita, we took the FastCat Ferry to Sydney to view the parade of ships, the ferrython, tall ships race, and attended the “George and the Sydney Symphony” at the Sydney Opera House. During the afternoon, the weather was very hot, so we saw two really great movies at the movie complex at Circular Quay in between Australia Day events.

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