67. Another Day of Sun

So here I am in Airlie Beach. As I’ve been too lazy to post for a while, here’s a whistle-stop tour of the rest of our stay in Sydney.

A good thing to do in a new city is to ride the hop-on, hop-off bus. You see the sights, get a feeling for the geography, know how to find the places that sound interesting and end up where you started so you can’t get lost. Unless, of course, the bus is so full that you might as well be on a rush-hour London tube. In which case you cannot hear the commentary and you can’t see the buildings around you. We had planned to get off at the Powerhouse Museum purely because it was the first stop that had a cafe and we had skipped breakfast. We are so glad we did, after sustenance we went into the museum (which is being closed and / or moved to a less convenient location). It was free and full of good design icons, including the first train in Australia (Train Number One).

There was an exhibition of fashion by Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson. I feel embarrassed to confess I’d not heard of them as they had such an influence in the 1970’s and I have a number of knitting patterns that were obviously inspired by them. They had been based in the UK for a while and as well as knitted garments had the most awe-inspiring dresses. We actually went around twice, partly because my camera had decided not to take photos but also because we could. If you are in Sydney before March 22nd (when the exhibition ends) then go.

Back on the bus, we eventually managed to get a seat and plug in our earphones. Despite this being January 2020 and thus after Christmas, the sound track, when we were not being told about stuff (mostly how new luxury apartments were being built in previously run-down areas), was CHRISTMAS MUSIC! AAARGH!

Moving on. We had some great meals, Intermezzo in the GPO building, Cafe Sydney in the Customs House (still in use) and Gowings restaurant in the old Gowings Department store (a lovely old Art Deco place) to name a few. It seems that most of the restaurants are in buildings that previously had another function. Not just the restaurants either: the Conservatoire of Music was originally built as stables. I know this from reading Mrs. M by Luke Slattery, a novel based (loosely) on the life of Elizabeth MacQuarie, the wife of Lachlan MacQuarie, the last Governor of New South Wales. There’s a stone “seat” in the Royal Botanic Garden that she sat on to look at the view. Val is recreating the scene below. A good read if you’re looking for a new book to while away a few hours. It was recommended by Fiona, who will be sailing on Punta del Este.

We met Fiona at the Art Gallery of NSW and saw a small exhibition of paintings by Ben Quilty, a local artist who had been to Afghanistan as a war artist. His art was incredibly powerful, not just the war veterans he painted after they had returned but also his Rorschach paintings depicting local atrocities. Although the inspiration for these was of disturbing episodes in Australia’s past, the artwork itself was stunning.

Ben Quilty

Having been to the Opera on New Year’s Eve, we decided to have a tour of the Opera House. Very interesting even though we did not do the back stage tour. Our guide Peter turned out to have been one of the architects involved in the building when he had just qualified. You can’t get much closer than that, on a par maybe with being shown around Robben Island in Cape Town by one of the former political prisoners. We then walked around The Rocks, which had been an area of ill-repute in the past and saw the Ovation of The Seas, the largest cruise ship that visits Sydney. it can take around 5,000 passengers and looks at first glimpse like a block of flats.

We donated some funds to the NSW Firefighters, all volunteers and working in almost impossible conditions, and felt lucky that we had not suffered any ill effects whilst in Sydney. We are blown away by the number of shops in the CBD, there’s a veritable underground city of them. You go down one escalator, wander around, come up another and have no clue how you ended up where you are. The bookshop where I bought Mrs. M fills a whole floor of one part. On our last night we ventured out of the city to have dinner at Coogee.

Sydney artwork

The next day we said our farewell to the city and flew up to Proserpine for transfer to Airlie Beach. On arrival there was a smattering of raindrops but nothing since. It is such a relaxing place we’ve done very little: walked to the marina to work out where the fleet will come in, done our laundry and bought a few snacks for when John and George arrive, met a few other Clipper people and mooched around generally.

The Opposition: Punta del Este supporters and Fiona

It’s now Friday in Australia, my birthday, and NEITHER of my boats are here, due in Saturday or Sunday. We won’t know the Ocean Sprint results until prize giving (Sunday) so I don’t think I’ve any sailing news. The various boats have gone into Stealth, wallowed in wind holes, turned around and confused us all with their movements.

66. It Will Be Lonely This Christmas

You wait weeks for a blog post then three come along close together, just like London buses. (Third one close behind if this one is full). Not only that, I got the title of the last one wrong, now corrected. I’m confusing my legs and my races. With luck a lot of you were fast asleep when I posted it and didn’t notice. Blame the never-ending jetlag I’ve probably developed this year.

Christmas wasn’t at all lonely, just different. Before then, though, we had a second prize giving with Punta, Sanya and Unicef. The night Unicef arrived we had our additional own private prize giving for them. The Elves had created certificates, pennants and medals (the last out of chocolate coins that were eaten very soon after being put around necks). We had a short speech for them, which I reproduce here.

“For anyone who has not heard, Unicef had to divert to Durban for a crew member who developed appendicitis. He had an emergency operation a few hours after being taken off CV31 and there is no doubt that the swift action of the crew saved Andy’s life. In addition, Thomas was taken off after suffering a fall on board and it transpired that he had a broken jaw as well as losing five teeth. These two crew members were on this leg only. We, the Unicef crew supporters, feel the need to acknowledge you, the crew’s, actions. You have been at sea for almost five weeks, sailing for two weeks longer than any other boat. I’d like to call you up by name to receive small tokens of recognition of the sacrifice you’ve made in this race. First, the man who has to take the responsibility for these actions, never knowing until afterwards whether he made the right call: Skipper Ian. Second, AQP Mike for being Ian’s right hand man and support during the race. Next, the medical team of Holly, Antonie and JD. The two watch leaders Dan and Alex. Two leggers: Tim and Rob. One person from the start who’s leaving us now: John Dillon. Four circumnavigators: Andrew, Danny, Sandra and Geoff. The youngest member of the team, Seb. The Norwegian representative, Anne Elisabeth, known as Aser. The on-and-off again crew member, Sophie. The three nicknamed crew, Kiwi Keith, Commo Keith and Mikey. And finally, the two crew members who are not here, Andy and Thomas, we hope you both have a full recovery and look forward to following you on Race Viewer in the next Race!”

We had a brief weekend before John and I parted, as I was flying to Sydney early Monday morning. Most of the weekend was taken with boat stuff once again. The morning after they arrived, all crew had to be on the boat for 0815 to see customs about any prohibited foodstuffs etc. We found out that one circumnavigator was leaving, as he was not feeling well, and another was not allowed back as she had hurt her hand in the first week from Cape Town and hadn’t realised how bad it was. The bones had started to heal but there were fragments that needed attention. I’m not sure of the outcome. After the customs, the general crew briefing had to be attended, even though they were sailing 48 hours after the others. There was a Clipper presentation of a match cup to Punta and mention of both Sanya and Unicef at midday. In the evening we had a Unicef dinner at Bathers Beach House. It was the only time that George and John really had to catch up, along with the “sausage sizzle” and drinks when Unicef arrived.

Clean-shaven at last!

On Sunday the first tranche of the fleet set sail. John had to be on the boat so I and my pal Liz went to the Maritime Museum area to see Qingdao sail past with the other seven setting off. We then drove around to North Mole to the start line (where we’d greeted Unicef on Friday night). It was nice and wide to avoid any more collisions. John and I managed to see each other for the afternoon and evening, and watched the first prize giving and other Clipper videos on Facebook Live.

Then goodbye again. Early on Monday 23rd I flew to Sydney. As the time difference is three hours I left Perth at 10.35 and arrived in Sydney at 17.45 after a four hour flight. Our friend and sort of relative (I don’t know, in-law in-law cousins?) Debbie picked me up and we went back to Mosman where she lives, a suburb of Sydney. We had intended to have Christmas in the Blue Mountains but due to the bushfires that was cancelled. However, Debbie had planned and bought all the food etc so we were ready to party! Debbie’s two daughters joined us for Christmas so it was an all girls’ party, unlike my normal life which seems to feature more men than women (starting with John and George of course). I’ve never had barbecued turkey but it worked very well. The actual cut was a bit of a puzzle: it should have been boned and rolled but there was a bone in it (one legged turkey?). The size was also not quite right: Debbie had asked for a joint big enough for four with some leftovers. This would have fed a whole Clipper crew and leftovers!

Despite only having two days in Fremantle John managed to buy me a lovely necklace for Christmas, which I am sure will appear in this blog sometime soon. George gave me a couple of bottles of wine from his trip to Margaret River which were much appreciated with Christmas dinner (outside in the sun, there’s different). We played a card game I’d never heard of, 5 Crowns, and I managed to lose twice. After that we went onto jigsaws. Debbie had bought two 1,000 piece jigsaws and we finished both during the holiday. We got the giggles one night when Debbie produced her special Orrefors glasses for the dessert wine and I misheard her, thinking she’d said orifice. A special Australian custom maybe?

On the evening of Christmas Day we had a stroll up a local street where all the houses seemed to have gone overboard with festive lights. As well as the pedestrians admiring them, there was a non-stop stream of cars cruising up and down.

Boxing Day (December 26th for those of you who don’t celebrate it) is traditionally the start of the Rolex Sydney to Hobart yacht race of 628 nautical miles. Hobart is the capital of Tasmania and the race takes a few days (exact number depending upon size of yacht and of course the wind). This was the 75th race and the first time for a few years that the Clipper fleet was not taking part. Debbie and I, with a couple of her pals, went to Georges Heights with a picnic to watch the start. As well as the actual 157 yachts taking part, from 30 foot up to 100 foot “super-maxi” yachts, it seems that anyone in Sydney with a boat takes to the water to see them off. For more information see this link: it makes Clipper rules seem very simple. https://www.rolexsydneyhobart.com/about-the-race/yachts/

Sydney-Hobart race start

Eventually I had to move on from this wonderful relaxing atmosphere and Debbie drove me to the Sheraton Grand in Sydney CBD. With my background, this acronym means cannabis oil, but well before that became fashionable it meant Central Business District. A great spot, not as boring as it sounds, with my hotel room overlooking Hyde Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens. It really is confusing here, so many places names relating back to the UK.

Sydney’s hazy sun

Val (George’s other Godmother) joined me on Sunday 29th for Sydney and Airlie Beach. We met two Unicef crew members, Sophie and the other John D, for dinner one night at The Butler, a great restaurant that should only be 15 minutes walk from the hotel if you can read your phone properly, and was actually nearer 30 minutes as I think I must have had it upside down. We got there eventually and grabbed a cab back to the hotel.

Me, Sophie and John Dillon

The highlight of my world trip so far came on New Year’s Eve at Sydney Opera House. First was a slap-up Gala Dinner with free-flowing wine, then the first two acts of La Boheme before the “family” fireworks off the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Darling Harbour. Back to the opera then a post-production party with copious champagne and canapes and a live band. Before the world-famous New Year Fireworks we were treated to a “parade of sail” where the boats had lights on them which changed colour as they progressed around the harbour. As if that were not spectacular enough, the firework display was amazing. It lasted about ten minutes and lit up the water as well as the sky. After it was all over we walked back to our hotel (the nearest taxi rank operating being beyond the hotel and the nearest open train station opposite the hotel).

Happy New 2020 everyone!

Sydney fireworks (looking away from the bridge!)