Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reunions Down Under

After our tour of Fraser Island, we were presented with two options to continue further south along Australia's East Coast:  Sail north to clear Fraser Island's northern Sandy Cape and the reefs and shoals that extend beyond the land there (about 105 miles additional distance), or navigate south inside the island along what is called the Great Sandy Strait.  

The GSS has only one navigational challenge.  It is about 3 feet deep in some places at low tide.  It can be done, but that requires passing the shallowest parts when the tide is up but always while the tide is still flooding so if you should run aground, the rising tide will float you off.  In our case that meant leaving at dawn.

The other challenge is getting out to sea under the southern end of Fraser Island, through what is called the Wide Bay Bar.  This too, requires passage at the best time which is dictated by the tide.  The best time, (on a flood an hour before high tide), was also just around dawn so we spent the night at a little notch on the channel near the bar called Elbow Point.

At that hour of the day we were concerned whether there would be enough daylight to see the shoal (3.7 meters at low water) on the bar. 

We needn't have worried.  There was NO visibility at any hour that morning, as it was just pouring rain.

Fortunately, we knew there were other boats planning their escape out to sea so we deftly fell in line with four boats ahead of us.  We could not see the boats with our eyes, but they all had AIS which appeared on our chart plotter.

Finally out in the Coral Sea, we set our course south for the Tasman Sea, Australia's Gold Coast, and their boating center Southport where there is also a sandy bar entrance, though not as shallow or dangerous as Wide Bay.  But a bar is a bar and it's always wise to arrive at the best time for crossing. If the sea is up and the tide is ebbing, the waves on the bar can stand up dangerously steep.  Our plans were to arrive at dawn at the Gold Coast Seaway Bar, but the combination of distance (a few hours short of a 24 hour sail for Moonshadow) and current pushing us south forced us to reef the sails in the mild conditions to keep Moonshadow going slow enough to arrive after dawn.

 The seas were down and the tide was right so there was no drama at the Gold Coast Seaway Bar, but when we arrived in Southport, we thought we were in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Friends Rick and Roslyn Smith aboard their beautiful Oyster 56 Raya were waiting for us at the Southport Yacht Club.  On a suggestion from a friend of theirs, we walked to the nearby DeVito's Italian Restaurant to discover the food was outstanding.  But we were blown away when the chef team of David De Vito and his wife Tarscha when picked up microphones and began to sing.

So much passion on display.  An amazing and magical night.  Click the link below then sit back and enjoy the these two talented singers caught in the video below.

From Southport, our next stop was Port Stephens, two days sail to the south.  We stayed two days waiting for improved weather then spent a third night just outside Port Stephens at Fengal Bay where the waves break over a low sand spit connecting Shark Island to the mainland.

We've learned the weather changes quickly in this part of the world. When we arrived before 3:00PM, it looked like night was falling.

 Then the rain came...

... but that passed quickly and suddenly we were drenched in Sunshine...

 ... we came out to snap some pictures of Raya...

 ... and they did the same for Moonshadow...

... and the beautiful sunset we enjoyed signaled the beginning of some really fine weather.

The next morning we were off again at dawn so we would arrive at Pittwater before dark.  The morning sunrise made the effort to rise before dark worthwhile.

At the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club we had the first two of a long list of reunions.  First was Red Cat, a 62 foot Oyster we'd met in Fiji and again in Noumea.

But when we pulled up to the dock, Stuart Broom was standing there to take our lines.  We met Stuart and his wife Susie at the Shelter Bay Marina in Panama in 2013, where we all watched the America's Cup races on Stuart's laptop wired up to the marina's wide screen TV.  Later Stuart and Susie joined Moonshadow for the two day passage through the Panama Canal.

At dinner, we were introduced to Maurice who runs things at The Waterfront, a fabulous restaurant in Church Point.

We had visited Pittwater for an afternoon while down under 12 years ago.  This time we were able to spend some time learning what a lovely place it is.  The waterfront homes here are just gorgeous.

From our end tie at the Yacht Club, we could watch all the activity and the array of varied water sports passing by Moonshadow.

Moored nearby was this pretty 5.5 meter...

 ...and this white 5.5 was out sailing nearly every day.  Kind of special to be reminded of the days when we were first dating, sailing our family 5.5 meter Cinco-Cinco at San Diego Yacht Club.

Yacht Club Junior Programs look the same all over the world.

 An then there were the paddle sports.

They take it seriously here.

 Did we mention the beautiful waterfront homes.  This scene reminded us of La Playa next door to San Diego Yacht Club.

 Pittwater is a boating community.  We think every last person here must own a boat.  How could you not?

 We heard there are 12,000 moorings here.  We believe it!

Maybe that's why we ran into so many people we know here.  In the 10 days we were tied to the dock at RPAYC we met:
  • Stuart and Susie Broom, who live here in Pittwater, mentioned above.
  • Red Cat, mentioned above
  • Raya, British cruisers Rick and Roslyn Smith, mentioned above
  • Paul Chadwick who bought our 52 foot Legacy in San Diego and shipped her down to Sydney.  
  • Hendrik, who was aboard Legacy for the sea trial in 2013, sailed by and said hello.  
  • Peter Burton, a fellow SDYC member who once upon a time sold boats with John back in San Diego (that was a lifetime ago) came by because he saw Moonshadow at the Club.  
  • Cruisers we'd first met in Charleston South Carolina, Walter and Meryl Conner have their boat Flying Cloud on a mooring here in Pittwater so they came by to say hello, and went to dinner with us.  
  • Then there was the catamaran Three-Sixty Blue owned by airline pilots Mark McClellen and Ann MacDonald, who we met in Tonga.  
  • Richard from the Hallberg Rassy 46 Sarita, whom we saw in the Marquesas, and again in Tonga, keeps his boat in Pittwater and saw Moonshadow so stopped by for a chat.  
Whew!  It's a small, small world.  Maybe even smaller if you're in Pittwater.

 A storm front passed through Pittwater one day and brought some wind and rain.  Our version of the "super moon" looked like a scene from Werewolf.

When the front passed over the Yacht Club we saw 47 knots of wind about the time our awning exploded.  With as much sail area as Moonshadow's single reefed mainsail, our awning is huge.  If we think the wind will exceed 30 knots we take it down, but this time we had no warning and the damage was extensive.

It took four days of sewing to repair the awning this time.  Here's a highly compressed video of about 30 minutes work just before dinner.

Despite the wonderful treatment from the RPAYC staff and the fun of watching the endless parade of interesting yachts, canoes, etc, we were ready for a change of the view out our galley window...

 ...which is easy to do here.  About 2.5 hours away we were up the Hawkesbury River and into Cowan Creek, all part of the
Ku-ring-gai National Park wilderness.

Here's Deb - up a creek (with a paddle).

 We also found reflections of Raya in Jerusalem Bay...

 ...with Moonshadow anchored nearby.

 Protected by high wilderness the water can get really smooth.

The exfoliating sandstone is vividly stratified and fractured into millions of square and rectangular blocks.

We could look at these rocks for hours.  Here's a slice of cake with black chocolate icing dripping down the sides.  Yeah, we need to provision with some deserts!

 The sunset colors change from minute to minute as the shadows climb the opposite hillside.

 About that weather.  Here aboard Raya for an afternoon of food and drink, we were chased below decks by rain.  From below we wondered what was that new sound..?  

It was HAIL!

 On our way further up the creek, the Kiosk store nearby provided some lunch and beers one afternoon.

Then we found ourselves at the top of Smith's Creek, appropriate as our cruising buddies aboard Raya were Rick and Ros Smith.

 Could this be the surface of Jupiter?

No.  But an equally stunning example of earth's natural beauty:  Sandstone that's had an interesting life.

It's everywhere in Smith's Creek.

 And it's mesmerizing.

 Even the trees are trying to get into the act!

And they seem to love growing right out of the rocks.

 Another view out our window, this time a beautifully proportioned Aussie built Palm Beach 65. Must be an ex-sailor...she's named Darkside.  Got us thinking... 

Well there's time to wonder about going to the darkside, but for now, we still had some sailing to do.  This time down to Sydney.

 It was a short trip, about 25 miles, so before we knew it there was the Sydney skyline peaking above the hills of Manly Beach.

Meanwhile, just outside Sydney Harbor, a menacing black sail appeared on our bow streaking to windward at 13 knots.

It was 100 footer Perpetual Loyal, winner of the 2016 Sydney Hobart Race, tuning up for the 2017 Race which starts right here the day after Christmas.

As we rounded the corner into Port Jackson, there was 100 footer Wild Oats XI crossing Moonshadow's bow, also gearing up for the race.

And then at last, the iconic Sydney Opera House with the equally iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge on Moonshadow's bow.  Right up there with our experiences at Boston and New York City, we think a waterborne arrival is the best way to visit.

What an exciting day and way to end this leg of our cruising saga.

From here we'll do a bit of touristy things in Sydney before watching the Sydney-Hobart Yacht Race Start on Boxing Day, and the Fireworks for New Year's Eve (a day ahead of most of our family and friends).  Then it's up to Brizzy for the prep before loading Moonshadow onto the Dockwise Yacht Carrier Yacht Express.  That's just about one moon away!

Merry Christmas Everyone!!