Gregg A Granger
13 November 2010
Excerpt: Greggii and I sit with baby octopus heads in our mouths, smiling at each other with all these legs arranged in a poorly groomed handlebar mustache sticking out of our mouths, and wonder why the girls don't want to be around us.
I hope you enjoy this nineteenth chapter from my book, Sailing Faith: The Long Way Home. Please visit www.faithofholland.com to purchase the complete book with 15 maps, and a 24 page color insert of 85 photographs. You will not be disappointed. I guarantee it.
We learn it was the appropriately named Southerly Buster that sent us to Coffs Harbour- a front that turns the weather upside down for a couple days at a time. When the weather returns to normal, we begin our move to Sydney. Because we choose not to sail overnight, the first night finds us at Port Stephens. The wind acts a little funny again, so we spend two nights here.
The sailing is work as we make our way down the coast. We're again in the mid-latitudes, where weather patterns are different and continually changing. With Christmas and the southern summer approaching, the weather is as unsettled as springtime in Michigan.
We leave Port Stephens and sail to Newcastle, where we're surprised by Maggie and Maddie, whom we last saw in Panama. They're living here on Geneva after their engine failure forced a non-stop crossing of the Pacific. Carl works across the river as an electrician for Australian Defense Industries.
Before their troubles, they were looking forward to sailing into Sydney Harbour; we invite them to sail there with us.
We leave early for the ten-hour sail, and make it between the heads--promontories marking the harbour entrance--by mid-afternoon. In many miles and many different sailing conditions since leaving Hampton, Virginia, nothing prepared us for Sydney. New York doesn't come close in the amount of on-the-water traffic. We were in New York in the fall, when other things are more important. We're now in Sydney in the spring, In Sydney Harbour with Carl, Maggie, and Maddieand everybody is flocking to the water: a cruise ship, a number of ferries, tour boats, sailboats, powerboats, fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, tugs with barges, airplanes with banners, and helicopters--all in an aura of celebratory confusion. As we round Bradley's Head, the Sydney skyline unfolds. Modern skyscrapers, glass and steel, and now the Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge. Many experiences in life are made better when shared with other people--it's good to share the excitement of Sydney Harbour with Carl, Maggie and Maddie.
We pass the Opera House and sail under the Harbour Bridge toward Darling Harbour. There aren't many anchorages in Sydney, but we find one in Blackwattle Bay, just out from the Sydney Fishmarket. Blackwattle Bay, separated from the main harbour by the Anzac Bridge, becomes our home for the next three months.
Carl, Maggie, and Maddie take the train back to Newcastle. We settle in.
An officer from Waterways knocks on Faith's hull our first morning in the anchorage. Waterways is New South Wales's on-the-water regulating, enforcing, and maintenance organization. He asks if we have a holding tank. Lorrie says yes. Are we using it? Again, yes. He then tells Lorrie that the fine for not using a holding tank is AU$750.00. Lorrie doesn't think it's the right time to say how we've been using it since the valve was turned the wrong way somewhere on the far side of Panama and the tank got filled up. The macerator pump--to dump the contents overboard--has been broken as long. We aren't using the holding tank for anything new, but since we can't empty it, it is in use.
This begins a new routine on Faith, as Waterways sneaks up behind boats in the anchorage to monitor them. We begin hollering to each other, "Can I flush?" or, "Can I pump out the shower?" as the need arises, and someone pokes their head out of the companionway to make sure a Waterways boat isn't around.
We're anchored in a small pool in the middle of this magnificent city. We walk in the park where a sign says "No Swimming," with a sketch of a big shark on it.
Sydney bustles with the excitement of the approaching holiday. Lorrie, Emily, and Amanda find Christmas-type things they can do only without Greggii and me--which is fine with us. Greggii and I have important things to do ourselves.
One of our first important things is to eat at the Fishmarket. It's filled with stalls, take-away joints, sit-down fast-food places, and at least one fancy-linen tablecloth place that we see only from the outside. We're partial to the take-away joints. Today, we order a fisherman's platter for two. Greggii and I sit with baby octopus heads in our mouths, smiling at each other with all these legs arranged in a poorly groomed handlebar mustache sticking out of our mouths, and wonder why the girls don't want to be around us.
Then we cross the Pyrmont Bridge. This swing bridge is the first in the world to be powered by electricity. The center balances and rotates ninety degrees on a support structure to let boats in and out. Its age doesn't show because this section of town was all polished up between the time they were awarded the Olympics and the time the 2000 Games played. I don't remember the Sydney games because I gave up on them earlier. Between the pro basketbawlers, Salt Lake City bribing their way in, and television's control of information flow, I don't pay much attention anymore. But in Sydney, they're proud of having hosted them, and that seems a good thing.After crossing the bridge, we go to the Australian Maritime Museum, mainly because it's free. We ask a security guard what time it is and he says 4:47. Then we ask when the museum closes and he says 5:00. We spend our thirteen minutes fascinated by a whale boat, the first display. Instead of regular school, we plan to return tomorrow on a field trip.
After two days in Blackwattle Bay, we're greeted by another Southerly Buster. We make sure our anchor is holding and notice that one of the untended boats lets go and blows across the bay. Emily and I and a Swiss man from a neighboring boat retrieve it before it blows into the pylons of the Anzac Bridge, our gateway to the main harbour. We tow it back and meet David Maxwell, the owner, later in the day. His apartment overlooks the bay and he notices his boat isn't where he left it. We become friends with David and his girlfriend, Virginia, during the months that follow.
One morning we motor-sail eight miles through the main harbour, go under a drawbridge, and into another river. The harbour is a zoo. The Big Boat Challenge is a race of ten of the corporate-sponsored boats in the Sydney to Hobart Race. We come under the Harbour Bridge and are in front of the Opera House when all these boats head our way, along with several hundred spectator boats, ferries, tour boats, and helicopters. We're against the grain for a while, and then they all turn around and overtake us as they head back. We generally like more blue between us and anything that can significantly change the shape of our boat. The boats from Nokia, AAPT, and Skandia pass in front of us, each less than a couple boat lengths away, along with their respective photographer boats, fans, and others.
We anchor in a pool surrounded by vegetation-covered cliffs. Echoes of screaming cockatiels create an eerie aura. Faith is alone here. You wouldn't know the city of North Sydney dwells outside the encroaching horizon.
Returning to Blackwattle Bay, we walk to the Domain--a large grassy park. The event is Carols in the Domain with celebrities singing Christmas Carols for live television. Tonight's event is larger than last year's, which was attended by 100,000 people. They sing real Christmas Carols--as opposed to wintertime-happy-songs masquerading as Christmas Carols--accompanied by a fireworks and laser show. The finale is "Joy to the World;" singing it with 100,000 others and fireworks is a rush. Some entertainers use the stage to give personal testimonies of Jesus in their lives.
The best way to see the Sydney Opera House is during a performance; we go see Carnival of the Animals as the Australian Chamber Orchestra accompanies a cartoonist who reads poems and draws animals. The show begins with the orchestra playing centuries-old music. After the second song, Greggii asks, "When's it going to be over?" He then starts sketching and shows me his drawing of all the instruments: the violins, the ivories, and the oboe. Since he's trying to be quiet, he explains what each is by mimicking somebody playing it. He and I have serious ants in the pants until the intermission, but once the cartoonist takes the stage, we enjoy it. Michael Leunig is a poet, philosopher, cartoonist, and observational commentator--an Australian fixture the likes of the late Jeff MacNelly at the Chicago Tribune.
Boxing Day, December 26, is a legal holiday. The holiday is celebrated with movie premieres, after-Christmas sales, and a day off. In Sydney, Boxing Day marks the start of the annual Sydney to Hobart Sailboat Race. This race began when a bunch of sailing mates were in a pub with plans of sailing to Hobart and decided to make a race of it. Today is the race's 60th start.
We walk a kilometer to the bus stop for the forty-five-minute ride to Watsons Bay, then hike to the top of the South Head and stake out our vantage point for the start. We arrive at 9:30, unpack our blankets and picnic stuff, and watch the harbour fill with thousands of boats jockeying for position. Only last night, Lorrie helped me decide not to take Faith out. Good call.
The race countdown begins at 1:00 PM for the 1:10 start. What a spectacle: the sails, the boats, the ferries, the crowd! Out of 110 entrants, 109 start. There are two starting lines, one for the big boats, called super-maxis in the reredundant flair of corporate and journalistic English, sponsored by Nicorette, Konica-Minolta, Skandia, Targé, AAPT, and others, and one for the cruising class, the mom-and-pop boats that made the race the event it is and have as much fun as ever in spite of all the media attention cast toward the corporate hijackers of the race.The racers sail north into the wind to exit the harbour. When they come out of the heads, about two-thirds of the fleet hoist their spinnakers in winds too strong for them; the super-maxis must, as they are under contract to display the billboards designed on them. The super-maxis lead a large number of boats not too different from Faith, who are not under such contractual obligations. In fact, Faith, in her past life as Antipodes of Sydney, entered the race twice.
One spinnaker shreds and several boats broach--turn to windward out of control because of too much sail. One of the super-maxis must be towed back because her swing-keel breaks.
Hobart, Tasmania, is 650 miles south. To get there, the race crosses the Bass Straits. The weather, beautiful today, may change tomorrow morning in a system that's predicted to be the worst since 1998, where six people were killed, five vessels out of the seven that were abandoned sank, and forty-four contestants out of ninety starts finished the race in eighty-knot winds and twenty-meter seas. Faith, as Antipodes, retired early that year.
Thousands of people line this ridge overlooking the Tasman Sea and the Sydney Harbour in the sunshine of an eighty-five-degree day.
While on the South Head, at 10:00 AM, we hear about a tsunami in the Indian Ocean. It's feared as many as ten thousand people have been killed. Later we learn the impact of what happened this morning: nearly a quarter-million people dead, in areas we find ourselves in the coming years.
With the sunrise over the Sydney skyline, we leave Blackwattle Bay on New Year's Eve to come under the Harbour Bridge and anchor two hundred meters from the Opera House. There are already a hundred boats in this little bay. The New Year's Eve fireworks show from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and from barges towed into the main channel is the first big New Year's celebration in the world. Tonga is actually first, but Sydney has the resources for a major celebration, and sees midnight sixteen hours before Eastern Standard Time.
Carl, Maggie, and Maddie join us for the fireworks, and we tour some of Sydney's other attractions with them including the aquarium and the zoo in the days that follow.
Since leaving Fiji, we've remained in contact with Thomas and Helén from Smilla. They left Fiji to visit their families in Sweden, and determined that they no longer feel at home there. They are considering a move to Australia. As part of the process of making such a move, they plan a month in Australia, two weeks of which are here in Sydney, to weigh their options. They arrive in late January, in time to celebrate Nicole's birthday with Emily and Amanda at a live production of Dirty Dancing. We sail on Faith together for several days in the harbour, visit Bondi Beach, and relive the good times we shared in the Pacific.
In early February, we revisit Carl and Maggie in Newcastle. Faith gets hauled out for a coat of antifoul and repairs where her hull was sacrificed to the reef in Tahiti.
Valentine's Day coincides with Faith's haul, and the first job at any shipyard is power-washing the hull to remove the barnacles and other maritime attorneys racking up billable hours on her. The shipyard is next to a small strip mall. One of the fine restaurants in this waterfront strip-mall has all the tables out, covered with white linen, fancy folded napkins, and lit candles in the center, just waiting for those special dates to arrive. A brief phone call from the restaurant to the shipyard puts an end to work on Faith until the morning. The restaurant doesn't see the romantic side of barnacle fragments on their Valentine's tables.
Our fresh paint gains us a knot of speed, and after launching and hugging goodbyes to Carl and Maggie, we're on our way north to the Great Barrier Reef.