New Years Eve in Sydney
05 January 2019
The day following Christmas is known in Australia as boxing day. This is not about pugilistic boxing. The name comes from the fact that many families in Australia have household servants, and the day after Christmas is when the families give the workers gifts in boxes to take home. Boxing day is also the day the Sydney to Hobart sailboat race starts…. I headed out from Pittwater at dawn and came into Sydney harbor about 10AM. The harbor was crowded with boats with everyone who wanted to watch the start of the race. I just wanted to get to the Jones Bay Marina where we would have our slip for the next ten days. But it was quite impressive sailing past the famous Opera House and then under the Sydney Harbor Bridge, especially as several of the 100 foot long Maxi sailboats passed close by me on their way out to the starting line of the race. I got to see Skalywag and Black Jack up close. Very impressive high tech boats.
The slip I was to pick up was for the boat that does the radio relays for the Sydney to Hobart race. It was just leaving the slip as I was coming in. I got in too late to make it out to the viewing point to watch the start of the S2H race, so I went over to the nearby Star Casino and watched it in the Sports Bar there while I had several beers. I liked Sydney.
The Maritime Museum was close to the boat, so I explored that for several hours. I returned a week later to examine in detail the full scale replica of the Endeavor, Captain Cook’s ship. I went very early in the morning and had the boat to myself. The docents there gave me great explanations of all the interesting aspects of the boat. I also enjoyed a detailed exhibit on the deep diving exploits of James Cameron.
There are literally hundreds of waterfront restaurants in Sydney. I tested quite a few, and they were all good. I enjoyed riding my bike all over town, especially riding around the Opera House and Harbor Bridge. Pretty quickly I learned to get around on the Trains and Light Rail system with my Opal Card which allows you to pay with a quick tap. I found a good tennis pro at the City Tennis Courts, and a good pool hall down town.
Phil and Carole arrived two days before New Years. We soon met Miriam who owns a Persian restaurant near the boat slip. She was a bundle of energy, and we ended up spending New Year’s Eve at her restaurant. At midnight there was the most amazing fireworks show any of us had ever seen. There were five areas setting off fireworks across 180 degrees of horizon behind and off of the Harbor Bridge, and all of the locations had their fireworks synchronized and the same so it was like one massive fireworks show across the horizon. And of course the finale was overwhelming. We had a great New Year’s Eve that we will never forget.
South to Pittwater
28 December 2018
I knew sailing south from Brisbane single handed would be tiring. Rather than try to m get multiple weather windows with northerly winds I decided to make long jumps down to Sydney where we planned to spend the holidays. So it was a long overnight motor sail down to Coffs Harbour. The first half of the night I got little in the way of naps as I had to dodge a considerable number of fishing boats. The second half of the night there were cargo ships and passenger ships I had to avoid, so I was good and tired when I finally made it into the harbour. Coffs Harbour a small almost country town, but close to the marina was a row of quite good and varied types of restaurants. I was happy to find tennis courts with a back board near the marina, and it was a fifteen minute bike ride down town to a hotel where they had several pool tables.
After several days I sailed again overnight down to Newcastle, where I got a slip at the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club. I was expecting another small harbor like Coffs Harbour, but on arrival it was evident there was a large jetty and there were cargo ships entering and exiting the harbor. I had to wait while one went in ahead of me. Once in the marina I learned that Newcastle was the largest coal exporting port in Australia. The town was quite nice, with a well developed modern waterfront and a large number of colonial brick buildings.
I enjoyed riding my bike along the ocean waterfront south of Newcastle, and along the river going inland. One day I took a three hour train ride into Sydney to check out some of the marinas I was hoping to keep the boat at. However, the two marinas where I had possible moorings arranged turned out to be quite unsuitable. However, I managed to find a slip in Sydney that we could use from just after Christmas through New Year’s eve, so that was good.
After about five days I sailed 50 more miles to make it into Pittwater for Christmas. Nearby cities include Newport and Avalon, so I expected to find lots of restaurants and considerable civilization. However, it turns out that though the area has a number of yacht clubs and lots of boats on moorings there is not much other development that I could find. Especially distressing was that it was quite hilly with no good bike lanes. I was only anchored here for a few days, so I will return when coming back up from Sydney to see what I missed in this area. There certainly are many anchorages here which are quite beautiful. I prepared my favorite meal, French toast, for Christmas dinner and had a quiet and relaxing evening at anchor playing the guitar and ukulele.
Brisbane and South to Surfer's Paradise
01 December 2018
After about a week in Bundaberg Phil and I took the boat out and around Fraser Island and down to the Scarborough Marina near Brisbane. This is the fastest and most direct route, and with the current now behind us we made good time. Those with time can make a more leisurely passage inside Fraser Island, but there are some quite shallow spots that require meticulous navigation, so we opted for the safer route. We probably will do the inside passage on our return trip back of the coast after cyclone season.
Scarborough Marina was very nice and modern. I found a small Italian restaurant in nearby Redcliffe that had fabulous profiteroles. I returned several times over the next few days just for desert! By then Phil had returned to California, so I moved the boat over to and up the Brisbane River to the Rivergate Marina. This was also a very modern and nice marina. I spent ten days here while I explored Brisbane.
My first order of business was to buy a new electric bike. I checked several bike shops but they did not have the kind of small folding bike that I would need for the boat. I then went Brisbane Electric Bikes where they had the GoCycle. This is an expensive bike, but designed for airplanes and boats. The wheels come off quickly, it folds, and it has good battery power. It also has a enclosed chain that never needs lubrication, so it is much cleaner that all the other bikes. I was sold. I put over a hundred miles on it in the first week riding all over Brisbane.
A lot of my bike riding was over to a little suburb known as Morningside about five miles from the marina. They had a tennis club there, and I found a pro to hit with four times during my stay in Brisbane. Also nearby was the Colmslie Hotel where they had four good pool tables and an excellent restaurant. The city of Brisbane was about ten miles away, and I rode that distance once just to explore the bike path along the river. It was beautiful. After that I quickly learned how to take the train from the station near the marina into the city Brisbane is quite nice, with lots of good restaurants, many of them along the banks of the river. I took several pool lessons from a pro at Q Masters.
I also splurged in Brisbane when I bought a new Cordoba cutaway low G tenor ukulele. Phil previously had me listening to Herb Ohta, and I had also found Jake Shimabukuro, both jazz ukulele artists, and I was eager to get a better uke to play their more demanding tunes. And I have been transferring a number of my guitar instrumentals onto ukulele, so my repertoire has been both improving and expanding.
After about ten days I moved the boat down to The Boat Works, a boat yard reputed to be the best yard in the region near Brisbane. There I had a new anchor light installed. I had a list of about ten other projects to be done but they were too busy to do them. So I elected to take a few days off the boat and went to Surfer’s Paradise on the train and stayed several days at the Voco Hotel. It was quite nice. I was planning to do some surfing, but it was quite windy the whole time and the surf was blown out.
The beaches in Australia are somewhat strange. They are long expanses of nice white sand which sometimes go on for miles. However, due to strong rip tides and risk of sharks and jelly fish, the life guards put up flags about 40 yards apart and everyone swims in the ocean between the flags! They just walk along the remaining long expanses of beach. This seems very strange to us from Southern California where there are long sandy beaches where there are lifeguard stations all along the beaches and all the water is open for swimming or surfing. However, did enjoy riding my electric bike along the coast both north and south of Surfer’s Paradise.
Arrival in Australia
10 November 2018
It was a seven day passage to Bundaberg. Phil and I tried a new watch schedule, six hours at a time on watch instead of three. We found that we could do the longer watches without getting excessively tired, and six hours of sleep at a time when off watch allowed us to get better REM sleep so we felt more awake and alert the following day.
All went well until we approached Bundaberg. We thought we were going to arrive on Monday, November 5. However, the wind angle was such that we elected to tack south toward Fraser Island and then tack back north into Hervey Bay to zip across into Bundaberg. But we discovered that on tacking back north we ran into a three knot adverse current for the 20 miles we needed to clear the north end of Fraser Island. This meant we could not make it into Bundaberg until after dark, so after entering Hervey Bay we elected to heave to, backing the sails so the boat was stopped in the water, and we had a quiet night of sleep before arriving at Bundaberg the next morning. So we had to postpone our eagerly anticipated celebratory arrival Mai Tai’s for 24 hours.
The Bundaberg Port Marina was quite nice. The officials doing the arrival formalities were very friendly, and all the Australians were happy to have us Down Under. We had heard that the Australian authorities could be difficult at times, but this was not the case for us. The most trying inspection was the timber inspection, where the official goes through every locker on the boat looking for termite droppings or other indications of unwanted infestation. Fortunately, the day before out timber inspection the Customs inspector had seen some mites in a bag of our rice. This prompted us to clean out all of our old food stores as well as to clean, reorganize, and vacuum out all of our lazarettos and cabinets. So we were happy when the timber inspector applauded us on our tidy boat and did not find any signs of infestations on the boat. We later learned that they purposely do not explain what they will be looking for as they prefer the boats not be cleaned before their inspection as it can eliminate the “evidence” of bugs, but we did not think we had any infestations except for the one bag of rice.
Once we had cleared all the formalities we were free to start exploring Australia. Near the marina there was a large grassy area, and the first day I was out riding my bike I saw one large kangaroo and several smaller ones. Strangely, I did not see any other kangaroos over the next ten days we were in Bundaberg. And fortunately, Bundaberg is below the area for crocodiles, so we did not see any crocs during our stay either. But to be safe, we stayed out of the water, where the bull sharks can also be a problem.
There were about thirty Down Under Rally boats in Bundaberg, and we learned a lot about sailing and exploring Australia in the sessions given by John Hembrow. There were also several musical jam sessions that Phil and I played at that were a lot of fun. But the most unusual music was performed at the closing party where an Australian fellow played drums, guitar, and amplified didgereidoo for an amazing amplified mix of sounds. The Phil, Karl from Sky Blue Eyes, and I joined in with him to play some old time rock and roll and pop tunes. But the best songs turned out to be What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor and Pretty Woman, which both sounded remarkably good with the droning didgeridoo in the background and then with the didgeridoo leads that were played while we played rhythm in the background. We felt like we were beginning to appreciate the native influence that can enhance even our style of music. And of course I bought a real native built and artistically painted didgeridoo which I ingeniously hung in front of the cabin heater to hide the vent tube going up through the deck beside the mast.
The town of Bundaberg was about 15 km away from the marina. It was fun exploring what is basically a country town in Australia. They are best known for the rum distillery, and the tour there was fascinating. And the rum was excellent too. Phil bought an $80 bottle of rum that was so smooth we could drink it straight. But we are saving it for future celebrations.
One adverse event occurred in Bundaberg. My trusty, well used, and moderately corroded Prodecotech electric bicycle got stolen off the back of the boat, even in the secure locked marina…. I think I must have put 10,000 miles on that bike over the previous three years, but now it was gone. However, I was not too upset as I had been considering buying a new electric bike. Brisbane will probably be the place to do it.
Exploring New Caledonia
30 October 2018
The sail across to the main island of New Caledonia was somewhat rough as the trade winds were getting stronger. But Phil had to make it to Noumea within a week to fly home for a wedding. So we pressed on. We anchored each night in well protected harbors, but we had to motor sail into the wind and choppy waters each day to make it down the east coast of the main island known as Grand Terre. We thought it would be fairly smooth because we are inside the barrier reef all the way, but the reef is a fair ways offshore and the tradewinds blow parallel to shore with a long fetch resulting in the chop.
After several days of this we were relieved to make it around Cap Coronation. We picked up a mooring in a beautiful small bay called Anse Majic, or Magic Cove. It was lush greenery all around and very quiet except for numerous birds calling from the shoreline. We free dove what was reported as an excellent coral reef, but all it had was a remarkable amount of thin white stag horn coral with the usual tropical fish.
The next day we motorsailed into Noumea and were lucky enough to get a slip at the Port Moselle Marina. This was a very nice marina with adjacent restaurant and associated boat repair shops. It was right in the center of Noumea, which was a wonderful French style town. There were a number of excellent French restaurants, and I made the most of eating as many chocolate deserts as I could.
I found an excellent tennis pro to hit with almost every day. And I was lucky to find a small pool hall where I could practice and slowly improve my nascent shooting skills. The French love water sports, especially kite surfing, and there were a number of extremely good riders out almost every day, many of them riding the new hydrofoil kite boards which rise up out of the water as the fly along, often ending each run by launching quite high into the air, making a U turn while still way above the water, and reversing their course as the landed at full speed back on the foil. Very impressive!
While in Noumea I cracked off half a left upper molar eating something hard. I found a young dentist who had just finished his training in Paris and come to Noumea the year before. He was working for another well established dentist who was off on vacation. But the office was gorgeous and the equipment seemed up to date, so I decided to let him repair the tooth. I was surprised when they quickly took a CT scan of all my teeth and said they were fine except for the one molar. Instead of making a dental impression for the tooth, they just sent the CT scan to a lab which was able to make the replacement crown from analysis of the CT scan. It seemed high tech, and went very smoothly though it took two visits to get my mouth back in order.
There were a number of interesting museums in Noumea. The native culture was somewhat different from the other Pacific islands. Their huts were taller and more sophisticated. The also made extensive use of wooden sculptures. And of course the French influence was seen in the more colonial buildings.
Phil returned from California after several weeks, and within a few days we set sail for Bundaberg, Australia. About twenty other boats were leaving at the same time as part of the Down Under Rally, but as usual within about 12 hours no other boats were seen until we reached Australia.
Safe Arrival at Lifou Island, New Caledonia
28 September 2018
Departure from Port Vila, Vanuatu, went fairly smoothly. We got four take-out dinners from our favorite Indian restaurant, Spice, which we froze for in-transit consumption. I also got a lot of fresh bananas, apples, and oranges which I cut up and froze in preparation for making fruit smoothies while sailing. The two day sail to Lifou Island, New Caledonia, was very rough and bumpy due to strong SouthEast tradewinds and a course that was close to the wind.
When we finally arrived at Drueulu Bay, Lifou Island, there were already about 20 boats in the harbor waiting to clear customs and integration. They as we were all part of the Loyalty Islands Rally put on by John Hembrow and his wife LeeAnne which allows sailors from Fiji and Vanuatu to clear Customs and Immigration at Lifou Island instead of having to go all the way to Noumea to check in. This saves about 150 nm of sailing to get to Noumea and allows all of us to cruise the Loyalty Islands, which have a lot of beautiful anchorages, and are hard to sail back to after Noumea. The beaches here are of very fine white sand, and the waters in the bays are beautiful light green and blue colors.
The terrain is quite different from Fiji and Vanuatu which were very jungly. New Caledonia was considerably drier with large bare areas of orange-red dirt on the hills intermixed with pine forests. Along the beaches were some areas of dense palm trees, but not the extremely lush green vegetation we had become accustomed to over the last year. New Caledonia therefore should help us transition to the more sunburnt landscape we are headed to in Australia.
Here on Lifou we met up again with Carl and Julie from Sky Blue Eyes and met a lot of other interesting cruisers. Our entire group went one day into the main island town of We one day to get sim cards and provisions. Phil and I split off from the group when we snuck off to the Hotel Druhu. They have a French restaurant there and we had a fabulous lunch. I had a wonderful deer stew followed by a scrumptious chocolate fondant, which is a type of chocolate lava cake/pudding. We tried to order several main meals to take back to the boat and freeze, but the restaurant advised that they did not allow gourmet food to be taken off the premises…. So we resigned ourselves to wait until we get to Noumea to begin gorging ourselves on more French cuisine.