Urban Sailors


Index of slides from this report.

I remember walking along the waterfront looking at sailboats and thinking how carefree they must be, what magnificent fun. Now, from our boat, I see people wandering around on land and I think, how carefree they must be. They don't have to worry about blind port tackers, high speed ferries, electrolysis, foul ground (whatever that is), and where to anchor. If they see a nice cafe, they can just stop and sit down and someone brings them a cappuccino. On the other hand, after an hour or two, their coffee is drunk and their walk is done and they have to go back to a soul-killing job, while we go our carefree way, worrying about blind port tackers, high speed ferries, electrolysis, and foul ground (whatever that is). Perhaps a reasonable bargin. And, when we finally do anchor, take out the trash, find a place to lock the dingy, and then go for a walk, we really appreciate it. Shore Leave!

I guess the interesting thing in all this is how much a wilderness the ocean remains, even in Port Jackson, surrounded by civilization. Civilization is engineered for success: what you want, when you want it. Nice. The ocean doesn't work that way: do what is necessary before you need to, or do it when you need to but it will be ten times as hard. We can be only 20 metres from the waterfront footpath, but the psychological distance could be measured in miles.

Every now and then, Karin will put her hands on hips, fix me with a stare which suggests that I have been seriously delinquent and say something like: "You know, we've hardly seen anything of Australia!" Which sounds quite odd given that we've spent months here and been up and down several thousand miles of the east coast. But I know what she means. We haven't seen the Australia of National Geographic and Lonely Planet, instead, we've seen the secret parallel Australia of sailors and yachties. Our experience of Sydney is a bit like the old joke about the Main codger who finally goes to see New York. When he returns home, his friends ask what he thought of the big city and he replies "Oh, there was so much going on at the depot, that I never did get to see the town." We had two visits in April: our friend Bruce Tassi and his two boys followed by Karin's parents. Hopefully they saw the right mixture of the secret and the profane.

With an eye toward easing our visitors into the yachtie life, we did manage to garner a spot at the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia's marina in Rushcutter's bay. The CYCA is probably Australia's most prestigious yacht club, the sponsor of the annual Sydney-Hobart yacht race. As far as I can tell, very little actual cruising happens there. I was willing to provide them with exposure to genuine cruising in exchange for a discount but they wouldn't go for it. A genuine cruiser shows up and immediately unloads half the boat onto the dock. Then, they do the laundry and being too cheap to pay for the dryer, hang it from the rigging and lifelines with the most intimate bits, spangled thongs, ratty y-fronts with indelible skidmarks, flying proudly. They also proceed to disassemble the diesel while engaging is some particularly messy repairs involving epoxy, 5200, some sort of jury rigged arc welder which shorts out the whole pontoon, and a domestic dispute. If two or more real cruisers get together they are guaranteed to throw a party, which, after the police have come for the second time, will leave the more enthusiastic guests slumbering amongst the wreckage on the pontoon, some of them for days, and the truly unfortunate ones that passed out on fresh epoxy, permanently.

The CYCA didn't seem to keen on any of this sort of stuff so we paid the full price and were careful to wear shoes (aagh, shoes!) in the club.

Dazed and blinking, like a wombat coming out of his hole, Bruce staggered down the arrivals ramp at Kingsford Smith Airport. Kaj and Shay orbited erratically around him like small energetic planets, marvelling at the strangeness of it all. "Look! they do drive on the wrong side, all of them!"

After apprising them of basic safety rules, always look both ways when crossing the street, wear shoes in the yacht club, we dragged them on a walking tour of Sydney in hopes of keeping jet lag at bay.

After some land-bound touristing, we checked out of the CYCA and sailed for Manly as it has the easiest access to surf. Interestingly enough, the beach on the bay side of Manly has a sign prohibiting the usual things (dogs, alchohol, horseplay) and golf. Golf?

As we sailed up Port Jackson towards Manly, Kaj asked eagerly if we were going to go sailing in a storm with big waves because "that would be really cool!" Half an hour later as we crossed the harbour mouth, the gentle beam swell cut him down like a scythe and he lay moaning in the cockpit, greener than paté a month past its date. In spite of his protestations to the contrary, he did not die, but staged a full recovery almost as soon as the swell abated in Spring Cove.

We spent a couple of days at Manly, sometimes hanging around Spring Cove, swimming and jumping off the rocks, sometimes anchoring off the baths and walking through town to go surfing at the beach.

For my fortieth birthday, I went for a swim with the kids, we had a brilliant sail up to Broken Bay, and nobody threw up. Karin and I gave Bruce a crash course in sailing and he proved to be a quick learner. I'd told him about surfing the boat on ocean swells and noticed that he spent rather a large proportion of his time at the helm avidly scanning the horizon for suitable waves. Sadly, conditions were too mild for this new form of surfing.

Promiscuous Rafting

We returned to Refuge Bay over Easter to find an appalling state of affairs. Where before we had had our choice of moorings we found the bay virtually chock-a-block with moored boats. Furthermore, instead of the proper one boat - one mooring ratio, they were rafting up together, two, three, five, seven boats to a mooring; club racers with motor cruisers, cigarette boats with multihulls. And get this, boats were moving from one raft to another! In broad daylight. As bold as brass: "here's y' hors d'oeuvres back, mate" and off they'd go to the neighbors without even pretending to stow the fenders.

We motored delicately through the seething bacchanal to the anchorage we'd scouted a couple of weeks before and anchored by ourselves with an audible sniff.

Opa en Oma Komen

We got a berth at the CYCA, to farewell Bruce and the boys and ready the boat for Karin's parents, Jos & Geja who arrived the next day. Dazed and blinking, like wombats emerging from their dens... Wait! I already used the jet-lag-wombat metaphor. Anyway, they were tired and glad to see us and we took them on the now traditional forced march through downtown Sydney. Fortunately, Australian and Dutch cultures seem to overlap in the matter of a mid-afternoon break for coffee and cake. We took the bus home.

Interestingly, Sydney busses offer a child discount to all children but a senior discount only to Australian seniors. Unlike an American bus where you have to dump the fare in the machine, the driver actually issues a ticket and makes change. I'm not sure how fares are computed, but we never in a month paid the same fare for the same trip. Unlike American busses which usually seem to run every decade or so, Sydney busses seem to sprout out of the ground as soon as you conceive of the need for one. An unusually large number of them do seem to go someplace called "notinservice" which we assume to be one of those undesirable western suburbs.

A stopover in Rozelle Bay produced the ingredients for a magnificent fish soup. Sadly it was prepared at anchor off Manly and Jos got quite seasick under the continuous bombardment of ferry wakes. Due to the lingering spectre of seasickness, we scrapped plans to sail up to Broken Bay and spent subsequent days exploring Middle Harbour instead.

Blue Mountains

After sampling various mill pond type Middle Harbour anchorages we sailed up the Paramatta River to Cabarita Point where we had garnered a berth for Endless Summer while we engaged in some car-based tourist activity.

Cars. After spending months sailing around by ourselves at speeds usually less than 10 knots, driving a car is pretty nerve wracking. For one, it doesn't seem to be possible to keep it on the road. No matter how well you trim it up, the damn thing is always wandering off. And get this, the "autopilot" keeps speed constant but not direction. Who thinks this stuff up? I mean really.

In spite of my waning competence as chauffeur, we managed the drive up to the Blue Mountains - blue evidently because of a slight haze of eucalyptus oil - without a hitch. By rights it should be called the "Blue Valleys" because it is essentially a high tableland which has been eroded away. When you see it, you can appreciate why it took settlers 30 years to find a way through. It is crisscrossed by dozens of steep little drainages which frequently end in sheer sandstone cliffs. Perched above the cliffs are fashionable little towns like Katoomba and Leura, where jaded Sydneysiders go to escape the urban hustle. The day we visited - on the return trip actually - it was raining so we couldn't see much of the views.

For Karin's birthday, we had booked a couple of nights in a cabin near Jenolan Caves. The caves are in the bottom of a valley which is so precipitous that the road in reduces to a single lane in a number of places, in one of which we encountered an outbound tour bus. We squeezed passed the buss by the thinnest of margins, about half a driver's side mirror, as I recall.

In the bottom of the valley, at last, we were amazed to discover that the the entrance to caves actually forms an arch through which the road disappeared - an actual drive-in cave.

The cabin was bright and cozy and soon quite warm thanks to the wood stove.

We were awoken each morning by the chattering of parrots, and the doleful complaints of the crows. While Australian birds are generally exotic and beautiful in appearance, the same cannot be said of their song. Parrots squawk, and immitate various uncouth noises that they have had the misfortune to overhear. And Australian crows, in particular, caw in such a way as to suggest that they are suffering from the violet remains of a near-lethal hangover. Normally, of course, one would suffer the from violet remains of a black eye, but here I use the turn of phrase metaphorically (like the wombat thingy) to indicate the extreme badness, in fact, the near-lethality of the hangover in question. Based on the crows' ululations one could reasonably suppose that they had been on a three day binge drinking brake-fluid and absinthe martinis.

The caves were spectacular but we all pined for the freedom to crawl around and explore. Evidently, there are some 300 known caves in the area, in addition to the really good ones that no one is talking about. Cavers are much like surfers in being very circumspect about a good cave.

A great deal of downtown Sydney seems to be undermined by various interconnected shopping malls. In fact it seems to be possible to move through downtown while remaining underground - as though Sydney was subject to bad weather or regular bombardment. Our recent experience in the caves proved unexpectedly valuable as Karin and her mum were able to navigate the subterranean maze of retail entanglements easily. Sadly, Jos was a couple of weeks too late for what would have been an antipodean shopping coup extrodinaire. Retailers had just given up on half half price remains of their summer collections and started flogging the double double price new fall collections.

And so we come to the end of a month of visits, rattling around in a suddenly empty boat. The weather, which had been brilliant all month, turned cold and rainy, so we spent a couple of quiet days in on Bantry Bay gathering our wits and preparing the boat for the coming trip. However successful the visits were from a tourist standpoint, they were a triumph with respect to plumbing. We had 5 different guests and no head clogs.

Nicoline finally earned her solo dingy license. The requirements are severe and unvarying: you must be able to start the motor by yourself. After weeks of sometimes desultory practice, she finally mastered the trick. Without the burden of her brother she can now race around on the plane, swerving and shrieking like a wild thing.

We took Colin Gunn (owner of F41 #15 now finishing up at Steve Ikin's shed in Murwillumbah) and his family out for a sail, and were treated to a delightful seafood dinner at their home above Balmoral Beach.

The nights are growing crisper and the mornings are no longer appreciated for their cool but for the arrival of the first rays of sun. Time to head north.

Heading North

We're going to work our way back up the coast, stopping at some of the places we missed on the way down (Port Stephens, Camden Haven) and then head for New Caledonia, via Lord Howe Island if we get the right weather. While SW'ly winds are optimal for getting to Lord Howe, they are pessimal for actually staying there, the lagoon anchorage at Lord Howe being open to the SW. We're hoping that grabbing a southerly change a day or two after it comes through will put us at Lord Howe with a week or so of good weather to enjoy.

Yachtie Details

Port Jackson/Sydney

I was hoping that Port Jackson would have one or two yachtie ghettos like Sausalito or Alameda on SF Bay but the sailing scene seems so diffuse as to be non-existent. Most Sydney boats swing on moorings; there are very few marinas in the usual sense. When people come back from a sail they phone up the tender service and disappear instead of hanging around the dock for a chat. There is, of course, a vibrant yacht club bar scene, but, as usual, it is unclear how much overlap it has with sailing.

But get this, so many people sail here that it is economically viable to have a capucchino boat which motors around the moorings in the morning dispensing coffee to those careless enough to have embarked without.

Suggestion: Take one of those semi-abandoned ex-naval islands that no one can figure out what to do with and create a yachtie ghetto (er... recreational marine precinct): There are plenty of serviceable cranes and slipways, ample factory space, etc. And the historic island(s) would be viewable by the general public.

There is just one obstruction in all of Port Jackson, a rock near the entrance. It is marked by a pole and surrounded by a phalanx of cardinal marks. You'd have to batter you way through them to run aground. For the rest, one can sail right up to the edge, a fact that the local racers demonstrate every weekend.

We were steeling ourselves for major expense, but staying in Sydney was oddly economical as we mostly anchored out. Marinas were usually full and it seemed silly to pay for a mooring when we could pick up a public mooring or anchor for free.

While we haven't experienced Sydney at any other time, our impression is certainly that April may be one of the best months to visit. Aside from bursts of activity around Easter and ANZAC day, we had no problem finding public moorings or space to anchor. During the week the water was nigh on deserted and on weekends traffic was manageable, an important consideration, given that summer weekend traffic on the bay is so bad that there is talk of somehow regulating it. As it is, weekend navigation is somewhat bipolar between: "Watch out you bastards, I'm on starboard" and: "Aagh! I'm on port and they're coming at me like cabbages out of a dump truck!"

The harbour control routinely broadcasts information about pending ship movements on VHF channel 13.

Nights were cool but for the most part days were warm enough for shorts and a tee-shirt. Only exception to this was in the downtown shopping malls which had turned up the air conditioning to make the new fall fashions seem more sensible. Water in Port Jackson and Broken Bay was amazingly clear and quite warm.

Manly: spring cove
This is the traditional anchorage when landfalling at Sydney. Pass the heads, turn starboard, drop the hook and save the sail down the harbour to the bridge and opera house for the next morning when it can be fully enjoyed and photographed with the sun behind you.

Either arm provides reasonable shelter in a N'ly breeze. The key is to have a breeze which will old one's stern(s) to the ferry wakes.

The northern branch (Collin's Beach) has nice rocks for jumping off.

Manly: baths
Anchorage just off the baths well clear of the ferry warf is very convenient for victualling on the Corso and visiting the beach on the ocean side. As long as you have a decent N'ly breeze to keep the boat stern-to the ferry wakes, it is quite comfortable. We've even spent the night.

Rozelle Bay
We've spent a couple of nights here, usually in combination with victualling at the fish market. While fish, produce and gourmet items are readily available, a grocery store visit will require a bus ride.

Traffic noise from ANZAC bridge is pretty constant and lights on the various warfs can be bothersome. This is the only place we've ever had interactions with Waterways, it being right in front of their Sydney office. They dropped by asking if we had heads aboard (we did) and holding tanks (we did) and were the holding tanks closed (they were). No worries then.

CYCA - Rushcutters Bay
Based on hearsay and some preliminary calling around, I had pretty much given up on getting a marina berth. The local economy is just too good. But the CYCA always seemed to have space when we wanted to come in for a few days. For a while, we even had a little catamaran ghetto on D arm as Barbarella, a cat that we'd seen last year in Mackay when she was just launched, was there too. Barbarella looks exactly how you'd expect a catamaran with that name to look. The owner had shied away from covering everything in shag carpeting, but he did have token bits for doormats.

Staying at the CYCA was expensive, about $77/night, but when you factor in what you save ferry or bus fare for 6 people it becomes quite reasonable. Also, I got to gawk at basically every really famous racing yacht in Australia.

Bantry Bay
Up Middle Harbour, this bay has 5 or 6 public moorings and a derelict powder house. What more can you want? Around the corner is a nice little beach to picnic on.

Cabarita Point
The marina here was very friendly and not too expensive. Sadly, there is no nearby shopping but it is only a short walk to catch a bus or ferry.

Lane Cove River
It was blowing a full gale (S/SW) out on the ocean and we had just come out of Middle Harbour and were looking for someplace new to go anchor. The second bend in the Lane Cove River provided a calm, mooring-free anchorage in 3 metres of water just west of the baths. This is upstream of the two places Lucas indicates. Holding was OK in mud.

There is a smidge of public shore right next to the baths where a dingy can be landed. Ashore is Woolwich, a posh bedroom community. No commerce other than a restaurant/liquor store at the top of the hill.

Balls Head Bay
Also known as the "international anchorage" this little bay is kept free of moorings for so that visiting cruisers can anchor there. The anchorage is about 1 km from the Wollenstonecroft train station, and 2 km from the suburb of Crows Nest and shopping, most notably Boat Books.
Birkenhead Point
This may be the easiest provisioning stop in Sydney as there is a gigantic shopping mall right next to the marina. The charge is $15 if you just want to go shopping, we upgraded to a whole night for $44. The marina staff were very helpful and the showers had recently been remodeled.

Anchorage just across from Birkenhead is supposed to be good but you'll have a lot of traffic noise from the nearby bridge.

Rose Bay
The southerly winds, ideal for this anchorage, changed to westerly leaving us beam to the ferry wakes. Not the greatest state of affairs but a notch or two above vile.

Balmoral Beach
Fantastic shelter in for winds S to W as long as the swell on the ocean is small. Nice beach, jetty and many cafes, etc. ashore.

Broken Bay

Careel Bay
There is currently plenty of space to anchor outside the moorings from Careel Bay Marina. The marina is very friendly

Refuge/America Bays
While you can anchor outside the moorings in either bay, we discovered that you can actually anchor inside the moorings in the eastern arm of Refuge Bay. The holding wasn't stellar (soupy mud) but it was good enough given that the shelter provided was excellent.

Lots of hiking, climbing and exploring in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase (that's what it is called, I didn't make it up) National Park.