01 January 2019 | Athol Bay off Bradley’s Head, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
26 December 2018 | Tregoning's at Balmoral Boathouse Marina, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
10 December 2018 | Balmoral Boathouse Marina, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
30 November 2018 | Public mooring, Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
19 November 2018 | Garry’s Anchorage, Fraser Island, Great Sandy Strait, Queensland, Australia
03 November 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia
27 October 2018 | Port Bundaberg Marina, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia
17 October 2018 | Baie des Citrons, Noumea, Grande Terre, New Caledonia
12 October 2018 | Ilot Mato, Southern Lagoon, New Caledonia
24 September 2018 | Port Moselle Marina, Noumea, Grande Terre, New Caledonia
15 September 2018 | Port Aneityum, Aneityum Island, Vanuatu
06 September 2018 | Hook Point, Malekula Island, Vanuatu
02 September 2018 | Off the Beachfront Resort, Luganville, Espiritu Santo Island, Vanuatu
20 August 2018 | Port Vila Bay, Vanuatu
14 August 2018 | Suva Harbour off the Royal Suva Yacht Club, Fiji
06 August 2018 | Bay of Islands, north end Vanua Balavu Island, Lau Group, Fiji
25 July 2018 | Viani Bay, Vanua Levu, Fiji
16 July 2018 | Waitui Kelekele Marina mooring, Savusavu, Fiji
07 July 2018 | Off Tradewinds Novotel Hotel, Bay of Islands, west side of Suva Harbour, Fiji
04 July 2018 | Off Tradewinds Novotel Hotel, Bay of Islands, west side of Suva Harbour, Fiji

New Year’s Eve Sydney-style

01 January 2019 | Athol Bay off Bradley’s Head, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Photo: New Year’s Eve fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge seen from Tregoning in Athol Bay
When we were gathered with the “Go West Rally” in Bundaberg, a recurring theme was how we would view the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney. For those of us who had not previously been in Australia at the change of the year, this was one of our highest priorities, the only question being whether we would attend on our boats or on land. During the rally-seminar on cruising in Sydney, John warned that anchoring-out on New Year’s Eve was liable to be chaotic and nerve-wracking, suggesting that greatest peace-of-mind could be obtained by staying in Rose Bay, a location 2 km from the easternmost fireworks barge and 5 km east of the Harbour Bridge (just over 1 and 3 miles, respectively).

After Randall’s steely and heroic captaincy during the melee of the spectator-boat-charge-to-sea at the start of the Sydney to Hobart Race, Tregoning was not going to be cringing nervously in Rose Bay. No, our goal was a second-row position at Athol Bay, off the Tongaroa Zoo. Front-row positions would be in Farm Cove (just east of the Opera House) or Lavender Bay (just northwest of the Bridge). However, to get a good place in these anchorages would require arriving at least a day in advance and they were close enough to the Bridge to risk being subject to ash and obscured by smoke (depending upon the wind direction).

Many other boats would be aiming for Athol Bay, so we wanted to get there as early as possible on December 31st. Leaving the house at 7:35 am got us unloaded at Balmoral Boathouse at exactly 8 am, when the tender service started. By 9 am we had arrived at Athol Bay and selected a large open area about 100 m (330 feet) from the edge of the exclusion zone (clearly marked by yellow buoys) and about twice that distance from Bradley’s Head. We had a view of the Bridge that was unobstructed by land and our main hope was that no large boats would park in the way. With superyachts over 30 m (100 feet) and commercial boats confined to positions southeast of us, it was reasonable unlikely that our view would be badly blocked.

The view of the bridge from Tregoning in Athol Bay on the morning of New Year’s Eve

The fireworks would be released from the Bridge and from eight barges, four east and four west of the Bridge. We were within 500 m of the easternmost barge (south of Bradley’s Head), so we had a 90 degree field of view of fireworks from due south to due west.

Although with Martha, Jan, and Michael, we almost had a full boat, we had all agreed that it would be fun to invite Barb and Rob from SV Zoonie to join us. They took the ferry from Circular Wharf (by the Opera House) to the Taronga Zoo Wharf at the north end of Athol Bay, and we launched the dinghy to go to pick them up. Soon afterwards, Barb and I made a loop around the Bay to greet some of the other rally participants such as the crews of SVs Osprey, Elevation, Enchantress, and Endorphin. Some of the other familiar boats in the area were Charabia, Florence, Udder-Life, Sky Blue Eyes, Riverslea, and Enough. Other cruisers that we knew were ashore were the crews from Code Blue, Silhouette, Irie II, and Troubadour.

Many boats had spent the night in the bay, mostly nearer the shore where the water was calmer, and a steady stream of others poured-in around and after us. On the whole, everyone was in good spirits and polite. Our early arrival paid-off because we had a degree of primacy in our area and most other boats choosing to anchor nearby realized that in the 12m- (40 feet-) deep water, we would have a swinging circle of about 25 m (82 feet) radius. It was not difficult to identify which crews were used to anchoring and which boats probably only left the marina or mooring once or twice a year.

As the day wore on, the wind changed in both strength and direction so that the relative positions of boats kept changing. Two of the many boats that arrived after us, ended-up being too close. We took in a little anchor chain but finally had to ask one other sailing yacht, of similar size to Tregoning, to move away as they swung far too close to us and to their neighbor on the other side. This they did graciously and they seemed to find a good space not far away.

Clouds and boats gather in the early evening with two acrobatic planes flying overhead

A smaller powerboat that had needed several attempts to secure their anchor near us, however, was considerably less charming. When the wind direction changed and we had to fend them off our bow, their captain’s first reaction was to accuse us of dragging and pointing-out that our position relative to the other nearby big boats had changed. He clearly did not understand how boats move with an anchoring scope (ratio of anchor rode length to water-depth) greater than 1 (normally a scope of 3 is minimal and 7 is ideal).

After several such discussions with decreasing humor, Randall invited him aboard to see on our chart-plotter that we had not dragged and were exactly where we should be based on our minimal scope of just less than 3. This offer was rejected and over the following hours, the owner of the small boat pulled up his anchor (with a scope of apparently little more than 1) and repositioned several times within the same general area. Each time, as the wind and currents changed, he ended-up being too close to another boat. Our main fear was not that we would collide, not likely to be a damaging impact in those conditions, but that in his many efforts to reposition he would hook and lift someone else’s anchor or chain, causing them to drag or become entangled with another anchor.

Even this would have been fairly amusing if the other captain had remained cheerful. However, when at one point Randall noted that he needed to move because we had arrived there first (by an hour or so), he loudly muttered that we were foreign visitors and that he and the other Australians had been in Sydney first. (I am pretty sure that if challenged, he would have explained that he was only referring to other boating Australians of European-descent like himself.) When I relayed this conversation to Stephanie who was working in the nearby National Park on Bradley’s Head, she was absolutely horrified that someone would have said this to us. If she had had access to a boat, I think that Ranger Steph might have come down and given him a piece of her mind, which would have not been very sympathetic to his whining...

As forecast, the partly sunny morning had gradually clouded-over and by 6 pm we watched an air display by two acrobatic planes against an ominously darkening bank of clouds. Within minutes of their display ending, the rumble of thunder echoed through the bay and streaks of lightning were visible around the city. Over the next hour, our program told of a Fire Tug Water Display and a Smoking Ceremony (eucalyptus smoke cleansing the harbour of any bad spirits) and Welcome to Country from an Aboriginal Elder but the pouring rain and low clouds obscured any such events, if they still occurred.

After lightning and thunder, rain and low cloud obscure our view of the bridge around 7 pm

With the Bimini and side-panels keeping us dry in our cockpit, we felt very sorry for the crowds on shore who were getting drenched. However, we did not let the bad weather deter us from enjoying our delicious dinner of shrimp and chicken salads that Jan had kindly prepared, with a marvelous chocolate dessert provided by Barb. If anyone expressed doubt about whether the fireworks would be released or could be seen in such conditions, Little-Miss-Sunshine-Barb cheerfully assured us that the sky was becoming lighter to the south...and, of course, she was right.

By 8 pm, our views were restored, allowing us to admire the lights of many colors and sequences on the Bridge. Various patterns and images were projected onto the stone pylons (including, we subsequently gathered, last year’s date “Welcome to 2018”)

At 9 pm, was the Family Fireworks Display, a dramatic 8-minute show that was focused on four of the barges and the underside of the Bridge. It was a marvelous spectacle and included pyrotechnic formations that were new to us. We did not try to listen to the synchronized music provided on one of the radio stations because we would never have heard it over the chest-juddering booms that echoed from the nearest barge to Bradley’s Head and around the bowl of Athol Bay. It was so thrilling!

Part of the Family Fireworks from the barge closest to Tregoning

Red fireworks reflected off Tregoning’s guests: L to R, Michael, Jan, Barb, and Rob

Family Fireworks that remind me of the magical ones that look like people or creatures in the Harry Potter movies and look (to me) like two dancers (white heads, blue arms, red torsos, golden legs/skirts)...and I was the designated (minimal-drinking) captain!

Immediately after the Family Fireworks, was the Calling Country ceremony which “reflects our respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their heritage and living cultures in spectacular images on the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons.” We were just too far away to see this properly but we did see the subsequent “Harbour of Light Parade”. This consisted of large vessels (mostly commercial tour-boats or ferries) which were supposed to dazzle the crowds with changing colored lights “as they dance around the harbour.” All we could see were ships solemnly circling in the exclusion zone outlined in bright pink lights. The first few were impressive but after two hours with no color-changes their impact had rather fizzled.

Not to worry...we maintained our enthusiasm with naps or watching the surrounding boats (all pretty well-behaved as the wind decreased). Bottles of bubbly, including a very fancy bottle that Jan and Michael had brought all the way from France, were popped before midnight so that we could all have a glass ready for toasting the New Year. We then counted-down with the numbers projected on the Bridge plyons and on the stroke of midnight, we gazed in admiration at the amazing show of fireworks, especially on the Bridge.

Inaugurated in 1976 and first televised in 1995, the midnight fireworks now last for 12 minutes (representing the 12 months of year). Featuring 8.5 tonnes of pyrotechnics and 35,000 shooting comets this was the biggest show ever staged in Sydney. Although released in perfect synchrony from all barges, compared to the Family show there were many more fireworks on the Bridge at midnight. It was hard to know where to look and whether to just watch, take still photos, or shoot video. Luckily, I realized about half-way through that only video could do justice to the show and captured much of the display on the Bridge, along with our gasps and wows. For the finale, a beautiful two-minute sequence of Bridge fireworks concluded with the addition of a barrage of high-flying rockets piling into a magnificent crescendo of concussive booms, fizzes, shrieks, dazzling colors, and intricate dancing patterns across the sky. By all definitions of the word, it was absolutely awesome.

Beyond the anchored boats, New Year’s fireworks on the Bridge and surrounding barges greet 2019

Was it worth the long day at a rolly anchorage (ferries keep running until 8 pm), the angst of closely maneuvering and anchoring boats, and the subsequent short night (we did not get to sleep until 2 am and were awoken by bouncy wakes well before 7 am)?

Would we recommend the experience to other cruisers?
Absolutely...unless you are completely paranoid about other vessels being too close or the forecast calls for strong winds. Our anchor held perfectly but there were clearly a few areas (perhaps with seaweed) where other boats could not remain in place. Of course, these gaps just attract the late-arrivals but, luckily, by that time the wind had diminished.

Would we recommend taking other passengers? added greatly to the fun and the party atmosphere. It also made us feel much less anxious about the other boats having arrived early and knowing that we always had someone in the cockpit or on deck keeping an eye on our ever-moving neighbors (Randall nobly slept in the cockpit as all of our cabin berths were full).

Since many fireworks rise so high in the sky, is it still important to be able to see the Bridge and to stay for the midnight show?
Absolutely! The Bridge fireworks are what really distinguishes the Sydney show from others.

Could the fireworks budget of A$5.78 million (US$4.12 million) have been better spent on social welfare programs?

Of course, such a budget could be usefully spent elsewhere but does the show provide the city with value? With all of the structures needed for road closures (of the Bridge and City Center from 11 pm to 1:30 am), the total budget is considerably higher and this is all assigned by the Sydney City Council from their tax payers, for which, we thank them. It is estimated that 1.6 million people attend the associated events and view the fireworks live. Some people pay considerable sums for good views from the Opera House, Botanic Gardens, Taronga Zoo, Bradley’s Head National Park, commercial vessels, etc. These ticket-sales presumably benefit the host organization of the viewing site. Many other spectators, like us, do not pay directly for watching the shows. However, since most of these spectators come from outside the city, it has been estimated that about 20 times the City’s budget is generated as extra spending in Sydney during this period, including all of the hotels and rented-out houses and apartments with suitable harbour-views.

While the more than billion people around the world who watch these fireworks on TV do not pay anything for the privilege (but maybe the TV networks owe fees), the positive publicity generated for the city and country must contribute to future New Year’s Eve attendances and general spending by tourists. At least the seven people aboard Tregoning, were specifically in Sydney spending money over the New Year holidays because they wanted to be, and were, dazzled by the spectacular, world-famous Sydney Harbour Fireworks.

Christmas Sydney-style

26 December 2018 | Tregoning's at Balmoral Boathouse Marina, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Photo: The Sydney to Hobart racing fleet approaches the spectator fleet, as seen from Tregoning
What is the stereotypical way to spend Christmas Day in Australia?
Cooking shrimp on the barbie at the beach.

Well, Randall is too seeped in northern hemisphere traditions to relinquish his second excuse for roasting a turkey within a month (in this case within 2½ weeks thanks to our delayed Thanksgiving). But we did go to the beach.

A 15-minute, mid-morning drive eastwards took us to Manly where our unexpected holiday treat was to find free parking and a pleasant wander along the waterfront. Plenty of people were taking advantage for the marvelously clear skies for a spot of sunbathing (yes, a few people still do it even in this skin-cancer-conscious country) and a frolic in the waves. The main Manly beach borders the Tasman Sea and its popularity as a surfing destination attests to the sporty waves that pound the beach.

Surfer and surf life-guards (complete with Santa hat) at Manly Beach

In their yellow and red uniforms, the surf-life-guards are conspicuous, numerous, and attentive. Most people are well-used to the waves and behave accordingly but the occasional tourist might be overwhelmed by a big one or get trapped outside the breakers, afraid to come back in through them. More likely, visitors could get caught in a rip current which explains the relatively narrow areas of the long beach that are flagged and patrolled as safe for swimming. A sign warned of bluebottles (the tiny Portuguese Man o' war jellyfish with a nasty sting - as we discovered in Baja Mexico) but seeing none in the water and no-one complaining of them, I decided that this was a low risk threat. We could not tell whether there was anyone specifically looking for sharks (this area was not netted) but with so many other bodies to pick from, I also rated an attack from one as a low probability risk per person.

Thus, with Randall and Martha looking-on, I represented our family and headed into the water to complete this part of a traditional Australian Christmas Day. The water temperature was perfect and I could have played in the surf for hours although it was crowded enough, and the waves were breaking late enough, that body-surfing was not really practical.

One of the swimming areas at Manly Beach on Christmas Day (Alison in the circle)

Manly is a popular destination for tourists who visit by ferry from the center of Sydney, getting a bit of a harbour-tour in the bargain. It was possible to imagine that it might once have been a sleepy, surfer hang-out but it now has its share of high-rise hotels and condominiums and with attractive pedestrian shopping streets and a wide, well-maintained waterfront walk. Longer-distance treks (about 10 km or 6 miles) can be made on the Manly Scenic Walkway either a loop southeast around North Head or west towards (the questionably named) Spit Bridge, which we drive across on our way to visit Tregoning at Balmoral.

Martha and Randall at the south end of Manly Beach

The three of us took a short stroll on the walkway at the south end of the beach before returning to the house to open our gifts (stockings had been broached on waking) and to cook and eat our turkey feast. The day was concluded with a cutthroat game of Mexican-train dominoes.

Boxing Day (December 26th) as in Britain is a secular public holiday with the name probably derived from the old English tradition of giving tradespeople a "box" with a gift or gratuity for a year's good service and/or of providing servants with a day off (they, of course, had to work for the wealthy on Christmas Day) and a box of gifts to take to their families - usually including left-over food. That morning, Randall and I rose early to drive to the airport where we met Jan and Michael who arrived from Olympia, Washington, having completely missed Christmas Day when they crossed the International Date Line.

They had both slept reasonably well on the flight, which was just as well because after dropping their bags at the house and having quick showers we drove down to Balmoral and boarded Tregoning. Sadly, Martha had come down with a nasty cold so she decided not to join us. With both Jan and Michael recovering from sinus infections and colds/coughs, Randall and I have been popping zinc lozenges and trying hard to stay healthy.

Jan and Michael on Tregoning with the city and Opera House beyond

Aboard Tregoning, we had time to take a cruise under the Sydney Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House before the exclusion zone was enforced at noon, an hour before the start of the 74th consecutive Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. With the start lines between Bradleys Head (west) and Shark Island, the race heads northeast through the harbour to curve around South Head and out to sea. The fleet of 85 yachts of various sizes then races south to Hobart, Tasmania, with the crossing of the Bass Strait providing a potentially treacherous ending to the 628 nm passage. Many boats and six lives were lost in 1998 when a nasty storm caught the fleet in the Strait so this is not a race for inexperienced sailors.

While the "time-corrected" winner (finishing time adjusted for the boat-size handicap), may come from the classes of mid-sized yachts (around 50 feet or 15 m), the excitement of which boat leads on leaving the harbour and which will actually cross the finish-line first (the line-winner), is claimed by the maximum-length racing yachts, the 100-foot long (30 m) super maxis. Costing around US$20 million to build and US$2 million a year to maintain in racing condition and with around 17 racing crew members, few of these behemoths compete each year. The 2018 race started with five super maxis but one had to drop-out early because of a broken bowsprit. These yachts have the potential to finish the race within 48 hours, whereas we would expect such a passage to take around six days.

Three of the super maxi boats (and a smaller one) race up Sydney Harbour

As soon as the 1 pm start-cannon fired, with a fresh northeasterly breeze the race-boats had to tack into the wind on their way to the harbour mouth. Whereas we would have been weaving back and forth tediously across the exclusion zone (unable to point any closer than about 60 degrees into the wind), these racing yachts made only a few, speedy tacks, being able to point much more closely into the wind (maybe less than 30 degrees). It was quite intimidating when a yacht came screaming towards the edge of the exclusion zone, trusting that the crew would make the tack (turn) before ploughing into the spectator fleet, including us, crowded just outside the zone.

Preparing to tack, a race boat approaches the yellow float marking the edge of the exclusion zone with Tregoning's life-sling at bottom left

While the race-boats were a truly impressive spectacle for Jan, Michael, and me, poor Randall did not get much of a chance to watch them. He was completely concentrating on the surrounding spectator fleet.

We had chosen to go on the east side of the race-course where it is possible to follow the racing fleet around South Head and out into the ocean. It was nerve-wracking enough before the race started, as the hundreds of boats of all sizes (from tiny inflatable dinghies to crowded multi-deck tour-boats) vied for good views of the start lines. Randall did a good job of keeping us near the exclusion zone without getting trapped. Spectator boats are not allowed to sail but, even under power, sailboats are generally less maneuverable than powerboats so he had to be careful to keep sufficient room around us to avoid drifting into other boats as we waited (the flooding tidal current was moving us all towards the city).

Once the race had started, however, things became even more challenging. Although most of the spectator boats were moving towards the ocean at similar speeds (6 knots maximum), a few tried to stay in place at the edge of the exclusion zone and these had to be dodged. The chop of all the wakes was very confused (requiring the crews of smaller dinghies to bail-out water) and we were surprised to come across one of the small, mid-channel lighthouses on our path. Luckily, Randall could dodge around it but one boat had become trapped next to it with boats flowing around on both sides. Although some boats came very close, Randall avoided any collisions and for the rest of us the spectacle of the spectator fleet was almost as fascinating as the race itself.

A powerboat passes almost under Tregoning's bow as we are swept along in the spectator fleet (the small white lighthouse just left of center was a bit of a surprise)

Once around South Head, the spectator fleet quickly thinned-out. No longer constrained by an exclusion zone, the faster powerboats took-off and crowded shockingly close to the race-boats as seen in this photo from the Rolex (race sponsor) website (South Head is on the left).

Exposure to the ocean-swell also discouraged smaller boats. We rounded South Head but with the leaders of the racing fleet quickly out-pacing us and spreading apart, we soon turned around. We did not have to go very far back into the harbour before we were behind the slowest racing boats and were thus allowed to cross the exclusion zone and return to our mooring at Balmoral. We had to ask a day-tripper boat to leave our private mooring but they did so quickly and amiably.

It was a thoroughly memorable day and something that we were very glad to have done in Tregoning. Well, Randall might have been more relaxed if we had joined the 600,000 spectators on the shorelines (our house-mate, National Park Ranger Steph was on crowd-control duty at Middle Head) but then someone has to deal with all of the parking and road-traffic congestion. Anyway, this was possibly good practice for dealing with the hoards of boats that we expect to surround us when we anchor-out to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks. But that will be a whole new adventure...

Sydney last!

10 December 2018 | Balmoral Boathouse Marina, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Photo: Passing the Sydney Opera House aboard Tregoning
Sailing past the Statue of Liberty in New York, under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, around Diamond Head in Hawai'i, into Baie D'Opunohu with the pinnacled backdrop of "Bali Hai" from the South Pacific film in Mo'orea, French Polynesia, and motoring through the Panama Canal have been some of the most scenically famous places that we have gone in Tregoning. Arriving at each of these places evoked an unexpectedly strong emotional response linked to a powerful sense of awe and accomplishment.

So it cannot be surprising that when we arrived at the mouth of Sydney Harbour early on Friday morning (December 7th) with a couple of hours to kill before we could request directions to our mooring, we did not hesitate to go sightseeing. The wind had dropped low enough to make sailing untenable, especially with the swarms of rush-hour ferries weaving between waterside neighborhoods and the city, so with the mainsail up we motored south into the main part of the harbour. The large, natural harbour is lined with marinas and extensive mooring fields so that boats fill many of the bays or arms of converging rivers. We were surprised by how many of the headlands and waterfronts were National Parks, with bush vegetation and trails separating the steeply sloped and affluent-looking water-view residential areas.

We entered Sydney Harbour by passing the lighthouse on cliffs of South Head

With its backdrop of skyscrapers, the city center is about 5 nm from the harbour's entrance between the sheer-sided, striated cliffs of North and South Heads, so it took us about an hour to reach the heart of the harbour. As anticipated, it was with great feelings of excitement and satisfaction that we approached the iconic structures of the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (a.k.a. The Coathanger).

On its own, the bridge is pretty impressive. Completed in 1932, it is still one of the world's tallest (440 feet or 134 m), widest (1,650 feet or 503 m span), and most elegant steel arch bridges. However, with the striking curves of the white roof of the Opera House framed by the lush green of the Botanical Gardens, near the bridge's southern end, the combination is truly remarkable.

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge

The excitement of the close waterfront views of the Bridge and Opera House had overcome my slight disappointment that the sky was cloudy so our photographs seemed a bit flat. We went under the bridge and took a loop around Goat Island before heading back towards Middle Harbour where our mooring was located. And as we made that island-loop, the clouds dispersed so that I could take all the same photos again but this time with the benefit of a blue sky and brightly lit subjects. Lucky us!

Arriving at Balmoral Boathouse Moorings, we were escorted to our mooring by two tender operators (a.k.a. Mooring Mates). It took a few minutes to establish which mooring was to be assigned to us because we could see that SV Sea Twist was still on the mooring we had been expecting to take. This made us a bit nervous that this hard-sought arrangement for our two-month stay might have come undone, but we were quickly reassured that all was well. If we were planning to live aboard, Balmoral might not be the best option because it is exposed to a bit of swell, which in the prevailing southeasterly winds would be on the side and cause rolling. As a secure home for Tregoning while we house-sit, however, it seems like a very pleasant spot, only about a 20-minute drive from the house and in a particularly salubrious neighborhood. Another advantage to the site is that we do not have to use the dinghy to get to shore as there is a tender-service provided from 8 am to 6 pm every day.

We took advantage of this service to go ashore for a walk along the popular and attractive beachfront (and, yes, a celebratory ice-cream was involved...) With the school-year ending, there were a couple of hundred middle-school kids participating in various activities on the beach and bay, such as sailing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, swimming races, and musical-chair-like races on the sand with limited numbers of sticks of garden hose as the prize rather than chairs (maybe you had to be there for it to make sense...)

Contestants start the race in a prone position with their feet pointing to the finish line on the beach at Balmoral Bay.

The number of racers is halved in each round with only those fast enough to grab one of the hose pieces making it to the next round. Tregoning is one of the boats in moored in the background beyond the semicircular jetty of the netted swimming area.

After packing some bags, we use the tender service again to take us to shore to meet Hillary on her way home from work. Neither of us had seen Hillary for at least 16 years (when she moved from Florida to Australia) so we wondered if we would recognize her immediately but, of course, she looked just as cheerful and radiant as ever. She was apologetic that both she and her Australian firefighter husband, Glen, would be out that evening but it actually worked out well. After being shown around their lovely house and meeting the dogs Sally and Connor (more of them later), once left on our own, we walked three blocks to a small shopping center. After a Thai meal, we picked-up some groceries for the next day, then returned to the house to read and fall fast asleep by 8:30pm!

To be fair, we had not had much sleep in the previous 24 hours. We had left Nelson Bay in Port Stephens around noon the day before and the overnight downwind passage had gone well but had been quite bouncy and noisy thanks to a significant swell approaching from the side in addition to the following wind-waves. Despite not sleeping very well on our overnight off-watches, neither of us wanted to miss any views of Sydney Harbour and in the excitement of exploring Balmoral and packing for our weekend at the house, we had no opportunity to nap further. So with the combination of sleep deprivation and the availability of a motionless, quiet, comfortable bed, we both quickly succumbed to the sleep of the dead.

It was pretty amazing that we had arrived in Sydney just one day after the date that we had rather randomly nominated when we were about to leave Bundaberg. Expecting plenty of northerly winds, we had assumed that we could have made the 633 nm trip in less than a week if we did not stop. During the other two weeks, we could explore wherever we wanted to stop, including some time in Pittwater (a very attractive part of Broken Bay partly surrounded by a national park and just north of Sydney). Instead, we had to sprint southwards when the brief windows of northerly winds occurred (mostly lasting less than only 24 hours) and find a suitable anchorage to wait-out the southerly winds.

We had left Port Macquarie during the afternoon of 1st December for one such overnight sprint, having had to wait until 2 pm for the incoming tide to allow a comfortable crossing of the bar at the river's mouth. The next day, we had entered the huge bay of Port Stephens just in time to avoid being caught in the open sea by strong westerly winds. We still had to motor into the wind to cross the choppy bay to get to the well-sheltered anchorage at North Arm Cove but it was worthwhile as we had a couple of quiet nights there and then at the even more protected Fame Cove. We spent our fourth night in Port Stephens on a free public mooring just off a nice beach in the town of Nelson Bay. It was easy to row to shore to explore and get a few groceries but, as our cruising-guide had warned, it was a bit rolly overnight.

This less-settled night was worthwhile, however, because the next morning, before we set sail for Sydney, we were able to meet two of our friends from Washington State, Anna and Ian. We first met when they were cruising on SV Gecko in Panama and we have visited them a couple of times in Washington since then. It was great to coordinate a meeting because they were enjoying the final few days of a long tour of Australia and we were afraid that we might miss them. We swapped our latest travel-tales over a tasty breakfast at the very scenic Nelson Head Lighthouse. Combined with our tour of Sydney Harbour the following day, meeting long-time cruising buddies made a perfect ending to our busy cruising season.

With the entrance to Port Stephen in the background (over Randall's head), Anna, Ian, and Randall await breakfast at the Nelson Head Lighthouse Café

Now we are focused on adjusting to a land-based life for the next six weeks. We will stay in the house fulltime after we have dropped Hillary and Glen at the airport on Wednesday but we started off with a fun weekend visit. This included a tour of the Fire Station where Glen works (yes, we saw the pole but, no, we did not slide down was quite tall and a bad landing could be very damaging). Learning all about the fire-trucks and other equipment in the charming old building (it has been modernized but still has two of the doors from which the horses would have led to their fire-engine harnesses) fulfilled something of a boyhood dream for Randall. We also enjoyed our long-postponed Thanksgiving dinner because, yes, in Sydney, Hillary had been able to find a suitable turkey. With that feast and the coastal scurrying to get to Sydney behind us, now it really feels as though our Christmas season can begin.

It’s beginning to look a lot like...

30 November 2018 | Public mooring, Port Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia
Photo: The lit Christmas tree at Port Macquarie
It's beginning to look a lot like...

...we will make it to Sydney close to our target date of December 6th despite not particularly cooperative weather. We have been sprinting south at every opportunity to sail with northerly winds and then stopping for a few days while yet another low-pressure system passes, bringing southerly winds and the occasional thunderstorm.

...we have been lucky not to have been in Sydney already as the weather there has been particularly unpleasant with buckets of rain, plenty of lightning, and strong winds. The high winds inland have blown red-dust out to sea creating hazy skies and we have had to wipe light coatings of it off the solar panels and Bimini windows.

...we are getting the hang of timing the crossing of bars (shallow areas that can have nasty waves and currents) at river mouths and crossing the shallows in river systems just before high tide. Leaving the shallows of the Great Sandy Strait, we crossed the Wide Bay Bar then sprinted south to Moreton Bay. At the south end of the bay, we picked our way through a maze of shallow river channels inside North and South Stradbroke Islands. We arrived at the crazy boat chaos and miles of high-rise buildings of Southport as if we had just arrived in Miami's waterways after a week of quiet isolation in the Everglades. Crossing the bar at the Gold Coast Seaway, we had another sprint across the border into New South Wales and on to Coff's Harbour where we were lucky enough to get a marina slip that allowed us to enjoy exploring and resupplying ashore.

...we have found some interesting towns to which we would like to return when we are heading back northwards in the autumn (April/May). Coff's Harbour was an unexpected delight with a spectacular walk over Muttonbird Island, next to the small marina. Muttonbirds are wedge-tailed shearwaters which nest in short tunnels on the island. This is nesting season so the island is closed at night (when the feeding adults come back to shore) and it is dangerous (for birds and walkers) to step off the concrete trail. Arriving at Coff's Harbour mid-morning in fairly calm conditions, we saw rafts of the shearwaters floating on the sea.

View southwest over Coff's Harbour from Muttonbird Island

...we really like the very good data-coverage all along the coast with our Telstra cellphone plan. This makes it much easier to get good up-to-date weather forecasts than relying on the SSB-radio or only getting internet service when in towns. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) coastal forecasts have proven to be very accurate so far, so we are very happy with their reporting...even if a little less happy with the actual weather.

...we do not have to worry too much about power generation. With the combination of long periods of sunshine and windy days, we have been keeping the batteries well topped-up. It is a very pleasant situation after the cloudy winter skies and calm days that repeatedly put us on power-conservation mode while we were in Fiji and Vanuatu.

...we also really appreciate the free public moorings that many towns make available. Most are intended for only 24-hour use but, apparently, outside Sydney it is acceptable to stay for longer as long as no one else is looking for a mooring. At Bongaree, at the north end of Moreton Bay, where the anchor-holding was not very good we were grateful that neighboring boaters told us about these moorings, and we are currently enjoying a waterfront mooring at Port Macquarie.

...we will celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday more than two weeks late, after we get to Sydney. There has been no sign of turkeys for sale at the small supermarkets we have visited in the last few weeks...and, by now, we all know how much Randall loves to roast a turkey for Thanksgiving. We did walk very close to an Australian brush-turkey while visiting the excellent Botanical Gardens in Coff's Harbour but fortunately Randall was not too desperate by then!

An Australian brush-turkey

...Christmas! One evening here in Port Macquarie, we had to leave the public mooring because it was going to be too close to the barge from which the fireworks were going to be launched for the Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony. We were able to anchor a little further away up the river and still maintain a good view of the fireworks. Without having had our Thanksgiving dinner, we have not started the Christmas music or movies on board Tregoning yet but it cannot be postponed for long...Randall is getting restless!

A grandstand view of the Port Macquarie Christmas-tree-lighting fireworks

Pausing in the Great Sandy Strait

19 November 2018 | Garry’s Anchorage, Fraser Island, Great Sandy Strait, Queensland, Australia
Photo: Al, Phil, and Randall before the Bundaberg Rum distillery tour
It will come as no surprise that in the last couple of weeks we have been keeping ourselves very busy. We have, however, finally managed to extract ourselves from Bundaberg Port Marina and are now heading southward towards Sydney. We would like to arrive in Sydney in early December so that we will be able to spend a bit of time with our friends Hillary and Glen before they leave for the US on Dec 12th, at which time we will start house-sitting for them. Although there are many places to stop along our 650-nm-route, we will save most of them until our return journey (in April/May – at the end of cyclone season) when we should have more time (although I will be anxious to go snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef ASAP). However, with prevailing southeasterly headwinds in this area, we have to wait for suitable conditions to be able to sail southward. This means that we will probably have to stop a few times to wait for northerly winds or to avoid being at sea in one of the nasty thunderstorms that occasionally develop along this coast.

Our final two weeks in Bundaberg were great fun with plenty of social activities, such as, attending a party to watch (on TV) the Melbourne Cup horse race (I had randomly picked the winner’s name in the rally sweepstake netting us a sweet A$60) and joining in various rally-organized evening gatherings. We did some further exploring of Bundaberg (including a tour of its famous rum distillery) and of the nearby historic town of Childers. There was plenty more bird-watching and, of course, making new cruising friends and enjoying plenty of time with many of our established friends (e.g., crews of Sequoia, Silhouette, Irie II, Code Blue, Osprey, Jadean, and Florence.

A laughing kookaburra – one of the iconic birds of Australia

We also attended all of the rally seminars, which provided excellent information about cruising along the eastern seaboard of Australia, all the way from Tasmania to Cape York. We (well, mostly Randall) ate a huge seafood platter that came as part of the marina deal and then a second one that we won as a door-prize. And...we managed to get some work done on the boat including Randall fixing: the watermaker’s leaking hoses; a problem with Susie - the self-steering wind-vane; the air-leak from a dinghy tube; and replacing the propeller on the outboard. As usual, I had various cleaning projects.

We finally cast-off the dock-lines early on Thursday morning (Nov 15th) and in gloriously sunny and relatively calm conditions (it had been very windy during much of our time in Bundaberg), we motored southeast across Hervey Bay to the mouth of the Great Sandy Strait. This shallow strait lies between the mainland and Fraser Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with dimensions of 120 by 15 km (75 by 9 miles) that is the world’s largest sand island. It is also the only known sand island with rainforest.

The Great Sandy “Strait” is not straight but, like parts of the Intracoastal Waterway along the east coast of the US, it has many twists and turns, many islands, and many dead-end channels so it was important to stay alert and follow the main channel. We stopped for one night off the North White Cliffs (yes, tree-topped cliffs of white sand) near the Kingfisher Resort, which we gather Prince Harry and Meghan had recently visited. The next day we slowly motored through the channel where the tides meet and then through the shallowest area of Sheridan Flats where we only had about 50 cm (1.5 feet) under the keel despite being close to high-tide.

People on the beach below the North White Cliffs of Fraser Island

For the last three nights (while southeasterly winds blow out at sea and during which we saw 32 knot gusts of winds during a thunderstorm), we have been in Garry’s Anchorage which is very sheltered from waves and a delightful place to watch several dugongs and large turtles from the boat. We have also walked on Fraser Island a couple of times, bird-watching and looking for other wildlife. We did not see any of the Fraser Island dingoes, which are supposed to be the purest population in Australia (not interbred with domestic dogs) but we did get a very good view of a goanna, or monitor lizard, that was about 60 cm (2 feet) long. Compared to the potentially dangerous Komodo dragon (the largest monitor lizard which is found in Indonesia), this one was pretty modest. It was about the size of a large iguana but, unlike the herbivorous iguanas, most monitor lizards are carnivorous and they have a much more predatory speed and raised-stance.

A lace (I think) monitor lizard, a.k.a. a goanna

We were very relieved not to have seen any saltwater crocodiles, which are notoriously dangerous. They typically only appear this far south in the height of summer (Jan-Feb) but signs on the beach where we went ashore warning us about the crocs and dingoes (potentially dangerous if food is around), left us in no doubt that we were in Australia. With the potential for some highly toxic snakes and spiders in the woods, it pays to stay alert on land as well as in the water. Needless to say, we stayed on the dirt road and were not tempted to go bushwhacking. You have to be pretty whacked, and wearing protective clothing, to do that much in this country.

Randall’s 70th birthday

03 November 2018 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia
Photo: Randall was not allowed to be anonymous on his 70th birthday
We are continuing to have an excellent time in Bundaberg and this included a marvelous day for Randall’s 70th birthday. He received many birthday greetings from family and friends by email and on Facebook...for which he is very grateful. Thank you!

We got on our bikes early in the morning and spend two hours going exactly 1 mile (1.6 km). The reason for our apparent lethargy was that we were bird-watching and identified about 30 species during that time. We are not familiar with most of the Australian birds yet so it took us a while to get good enough views to be able to make positive identifications. It was really satisfying to finally put a face and name to some of the many calls that we hear each day and now we feel familiar with such species as the: crested pigeon, peaceful dove, masked lapwing, Torresian kingfisher, galah, noisy miner, blue-faced honeyeater, Australasian figbird, plumed whistling duck, straw-necked ibis, and fairy martin. One of my favorites was the rainbow bee-eater which is a beautiful bird when sitting but is even more striking when flying - russet wings contrasting with the green body (I have not yet managed to photograph one in flight).

A rainbow bee-eater

After the excitement of our first two hours of bird-watching, we stopped in Burnett Heads for a delicious breakfast and then continued our bike-ride through town, along the coast, and then looping inland back to the marina. On the way, we saw several additional bird species and a group of kangaroos relaxing in the shade. This time, they were not all lying down and there were males in the group. Seeing a large male standing watching us gave us a new respect for how lean and muscular it was, how it used its huge tail as a third leg, and how large and sharp those claws looked on its front paws. Not an animal with which one would wish to pick a fight...

A large male kangaroo

Since Randall’s birthday fell on a Friday, we were able to spend the evening with many of the cruisers at the Bundaberg Port Marina because on Fridays the marina provides meat for a barbecue and everyone brings a side-dish. I made Randall wear a “70 Today” badge and party-hat which provided much mirth and many congratulations. I also made a large carrot-cake (thank you, Joany, for the excellent recipe which has been appreciated throughout the South Pacific) which was just large enough to provide a piece for everyone who wanted one (around 55 people). The singing of “Happy Birthday” was more rousing than harmonic but we greatly appreciated the enthusiastic effort and it was a wonderful way to end an important and thoroughly enjoyable day.
Vessel Name: Tregoning
Vessel Make/Model: Morgan Classic 41
Hailing Port: Gainesville, FL
Crew: Alison and Randall
About: We cast-off from Fernandina Beach in north Florida on 1st June 2008 and we have been cruising on Tregoning ever since. Before buying Tregoning, both of us had been sailing on smaller boats for many years and had worked around boats and water throughout our careers.
Extra: “Tregoning” (rhymes with “belonging”) and is a Cornish word (meaning “homestead of Cohnan” or “farm by the ash trees”) and was Alison's mother’s middle name. Cornwall is in southwest England and is where Alison grew-up.
Tregoning's Photos - Main
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