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Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 29 – 31, 2012 Karen’s visit and Happy NYE from Sydney Harbour

Karen's next was a full day in Sydney. We walked her through the Sydney Fish Market, over to Darling Harbour, through CBD, down George Street and over to Circular Quay. Frank had made a booking for us to tour the Opera House. The tour is worth the price of a ticket. Although we had seen a PBS Special on the history and construction of the Sydney Opera House, nothing like experiencing the real thing can bring it home. It is, even in this day, an architectural marvel. Afterward we lunched at the up-market food court at the opera house's waterfront boardwalk. Afterward, we (they) barhopped our way back up George Street. Frank wanted to show Karen his favorite beer bars. Eventually we arrived back on Destiny, exhausted.

On the 30th, we took Karen over to Chinatown and to the Haymarket, Paddy's, where she did a fair bit of souvenir shopping. Karen and I hit the party store for streamers, noisemakers, maracas, glow-in-the-dark leis for the ladies and light swords for the guys for the big NYE bash in the harbor. We had invited Heather and Mark, Pauline, Martin, Janet, her sister Helen and Janet's daughter Alicia to come out with us. We told them it would be a sleeping bag night and that they should expect to see and meet a lot of new faces.

NYE morning, because none of our invited guests wanted to make such an early appearance as we had requested Frank, Karen and I headed over to Athol Bay after first hitting the Sydney Fish Market as soon as it opened. We stocked up on fresh oysters, and prawns, and lamb for souvlaki. I had prepared heaps of food and snacks. Russell had anchored Tomkat at Athol Bay since the day after Boxing Day and was staying put. His family would have arrived from Bobbin Head in their smaller launch last night.  As we navigated the minefield of vessels, we began receiving calls on the VHF from Shazaam! and Bliss from MHYC who were already in place and saving a spot for us. Tomkat was too close to the far shore for us to get a good view so we anchored over by the MHYC boats. Mark and Heather had opted to go out with Astrid and Michael on Bliss, probably thinking our boat would be a bit crowded.  Janet, Alicia, Helen, Pauline and Martin had all made arrangements to get to the Taronga Zoo's wharf during the afternoon where we would pick them up in our dinghy. It was a busy afternoon of shuttling back and forth to pick up our friends and stopping by to visit with others. Folks began arriving on Destiny laden with armfuls of food and drinks. Mark, Heather, Astrid, Michael and some of their friends were first to come by followed by Russell, Jan, Tom, Kate and Damo. By mid afternoon we had over 25 people on board Destiny. My gosh, do we have this many friends? Tanja and Bernd from UPPS didn't want to give up their good anchor spot in Farm Cove by the Sydney Opera House, so they braved the busy traffic in the harbor in their dinghy! Talk about risking life and limb. On a normal day crossing the harbor is hazardous, but to do it in a dinghy on NYE is very brave. They arrived a bit breathless and overwhelmed to see the crowd that had gathered aboard Destiny. This was so exciting! We think they all wanted to meet Karen. She was in Heaven. We had so many friends, ice chests and platters of food on board it was tough to get around. How blessed and fortunate we felt to have attracted this many good friends. As dusk approached, several of the others returned to their own yachts to watch the parade. It was even more spectacular than last NYE. At 9:00 the early show began. Tanja and Bernd wanted to get as close as possible to the front line for a better view and jumped into their dinghy. Immediately everyone else began piling into theirs and ours. Good idea! I stayed behind to watch the boat because this is a great time for opportunists to make rounds to unattended vessels for a little five-finger discount shopping. I stood on the ice chest and had a fantastic view of the bridge and the fireworks.  For the midnight show, Martin traded places with me. Thankfully several boats had left before midnight, making it a little easier to get around in the dinghy. We sat right out in the middle of the harbor – waves slapping at us furiously, dousing us all to the bone with cold salty water. There goes my silk blouse! The show was even more spectacular than last year's! We blew our little horns, tossed popped our confetti poppers, whooped and hollered! It was unbelievably exciting and beautiful. Returning to Destiny, Pauline and Martin announced they were going to try to get home. Frank took them back over to the ferry wharf where they managed to get a cab. Tanja and Bernd dinghied back across the harbor to Farm Cove. Janet, Alicia and Helen bedded down in the salon. We retired happy with huge smiles and contentedly fell immediately to sleep. It was a New Year that beat all the others we have ever experienced. Goodbye, 2011!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

December 26th – 28th boxing Day, Sydney/Hobart Race and Karen Gladney Arrives

Early wake-up, drive down to Bobbin Head Marina with Russell, Kate and Tom to meet the others who would be joining us for the ride over to Sydney Harbour to watch the start of the world famous Sydney to Hobart Race. Joining us aboard Tomkat were Crossie, Damo and two of his mates. Following us in their own motor yacht were friends of Russell's from Perth.  Jan wisely opted for peace and quiet at home.  Tomcat was fully stocked with a large assortment of food and drinks. Russell provisions for two days what we stock for 2 weeks! Once on board we eased our way to the entrance of Broken Bay where Russell put the pedal to the metal and we shot like a cannon ball over to Sydney Harbor, going about 26 knots. What a ride! His yacht is not only beautiful; it is what my daughter would call badass. He took us all the way up to Middle Harbour, dropped us at Destiny and was back at Spring Cove in less time than it would have taken us to get halfway to the entrance of Sydney Harbor from Bobbin Head. We boarded Destiny and set off to join the others at Spring Cove.  Once we got underway I turned on Skype to call my family back home because today would Christmas for all of them. I managed to reach everyone but my daughter by the time we were scheduled to board Tomkat that would take us out to the start of the race. Disappointingly, I took Frank over in the dinghy, dropped him off and returned to Destiny where I opted to keep trying Jennifer on Skype rather than go out to watch the racers. Because of the time difference here to Houston, if I'd gone with the others it would be much too late to call Houston when we returned. I did manage to get Jen on the phone just as the racing boats left Sydney Harbour. It was well worth missing the race in order to wish Jennifer and Trace Merry Christmas.

The gang returned some hours later looking a bit haggard. Apparently Russ was pushing Tomkat so hard that a few of the guests got a bit sick. Frank described it as a death-defying ride out through the heads trying to keep up with the fleet. Seriously? Russell's Riviera trying to keep up with sailing yachts? These babies are fast! Frank told me that they were speeding past foolish onlookers who had ventured out in kayaks and dinghies that literally got tumbled in the churning waves that the multitude of yachts tossed up. He said aboard Tomkat they were all having a devil of a time holding on, much less taking photos. Eventually all of the youngsters departed leaving just us, Russell, Crossie and the other yacht to a quiet evening. We brought steaks over to grill on Tomkat where the 6 of us settled in for a feast. After dinner, Frank and I retired to Destiny. Sometime during the night a storm brewed, waking us out of a sound sleep. We awoke to hear motors and anchor chains working all around us. Apparently boats are dragging. We popped our heads up to note that Tomkat and many of the others had moved. We stayed firmly planted – thanks to our Rocna!

Frank and I moved over to Blackwattle Bay early Tuesday to get grocery shopping and laundry done in preparation for Karen's arrival. Over the past week we had been putting together a "welcome to Australia" gift pack for Karen. So far we had a basket filled with what we considered to be Aussie icons: Tim Tams, Cherry Ripes, melting moments, a photo book of Oz, a little koala and a koozie with Aussie characters on it, a personalized pen and tote bag. I think there were some other things in there but can't remember it all now. That afternoon, Mark phoned offering to pick Karen up at the airport – what a guy!

December 28th, Karen's flight was scheduled to arrive at 7:30 AM. Mark drove us to the terminal, dropped us off and waited off premises while we went in to the international arrivals area to meet Karen. We stood poised with cameras in hand to catch her walking under the "Welcome to Sydney" banner.  She finally popped out around 8:45, all smiles and hugs! We stuffed her bags into the back of Mark's SUV and took off. Mark the consummate host, gave Karen a little driving tour of Sydney on the way back, even stopping off at his favorite French bakery for us to pick up a couple dozen frozen croissants. This is where I bought Karen her first Lamington. She liked it a lot. After getting her things stowed on board Destiny, we set off for town.

Monday, December 26, 2011

December 16 – 25, 2011 – Christmas Parties and Celebrations, Aussie Style!!!

Middle Harbour Yacht Club is becoming a big part of our lives. We have become very attached to its group of members; so much in fact that we joined, thanks to the encouragement of the Tuppenny girls Ruth and Gillie. December 16th we attended the MHYC Christmas party and seafood extravaganza. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with several of the yachties with whom we had spent the previous Easter weekend over at Broken Bay. The evening was festive; the atmosphere charged with the holiday spirit, the attendees were friendly and outgoing. The seafood extravaganza was truly delicious. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with everyone, including Santa, and later on singing carols together. Toward the end of the evening Colin, Scott and the gang asked us if we were going up to Sugarloaf Bay on the 17th for the Christmas parade of lights? They were planning a big raft up and potluck dinner. We eagerly agreed to join them. Sugarloaf is up toward Bantry Bay and Cammeray. The parade was nice, but not as engaging as the group of friends that converged on Shazaam! Scott and Colin always host the most engaging and hilarious social gatherings. People naturally gravitate to Shazaam! whenever she is part of an event. I love these guys and feel a real ache thinking of leaving Australia in a few months.
December 20th Mark and Heather sponsored an IPY owner's dinner at a trendy Asian restaurant in Balmoral where we met another couple of 485 owners, Dimitri and Arti who live in Sydney. They are planning a circumnav the other direction, taking off from Sydney. OOOH! We wish them well. After dinner we all retired to Mark and Heather's splendiferous penthouse overlooking Rozelle Bay for a game of cards. Oh no, we played "Oh Shit!" I am terrible at this game. As usual I was the big loser but we had a fantastic evening nonetheless.
December 24th we joined the Cammeray Yacht Club's Christmas potluck luncheon where we ran into some old acquaintances (Nine of Cups) and met new ones. Consistent with last year's feast, the food was so good we literally stuffed ourselves. I took a Mexican 7-layer Dip, surprising myself at finding enough ingredients to make it work. I found that if I smashed some cannellini beans with some chili powder and taco seasoning then refried them in a skillet I could come up with a reasonable substitute for refritos (and much healthier I'm sure). The dip was a big success. We did not stick around for the afternoon festivities because we had a date with a train at 4 PM. This required sailing back to Middle Harbour, getting fastened onto a mooring and catching the bus into Sydney. If we orchestrated all according to plan we would arrive at Russell and Jan's house in Asquith in time for Christmas Eve dinner. We had been invited to spend an authentic Aussie Christmas with their family.  Everything fell into synch, putting us at the Meggitt home at 6:00 PM.  We settled in to the guest room complete with little filled stockings on our pillows, and then visited and ate a light dinner with Jan, Russell, Kate and Tom, followed by Kate's home made Pavlova, yummmm!
December 25th – Merry Christmas! Ho, Ho, Ho from Then Land Down Under! Santa managed to track us down, bringing some special Aussie gifts to us: a set of Australian floral placemats depicting varieties of the indigenous eucalypt/gum tree flowers, a local cookbook entitled "Slices of Asquith" and a set of children's books depicting Aussie characters for the traditional ones such as Goldilocks and the Three Koalas. Santa is so clever! I took family gifts for them I'd purchased at some of the local Christmas markets. After the gift exchanging Jan, Kate and I headed out for a walk in the neighborhood whilst Frank and Russell sought out the cold beer. Debbie and Crossie, Jan and Russ's close neighbor friends joined us for Christmas dinner. Jan's dining room was decked out beautifully. Kate had set the table that proudly displayed her gingerbread house as the centerpiece. Dinner was wow! A leg of lamb roast, pork roast with crackling, a leg ham (from Debbie and Crossie), roast vegetables, salads, etc. we ate like royalty. The piece de la resistance however was Jan's Christmas pudding. We have never tasted anything so amazing. And we didn't even think we liked pudding. Hers was out of this world. I think she told me she steamed it for nearly 2 days? To top it off she planted a real 6 pence in each of our servings.
After lunch, the boys set off for the backyard to their favorite spot under the big gum tree, while Debbie, Jan, Kate and I sat on the porch for a relaxing chat. Kate's boyfriend Damo (short for Damien I think) stopped by later. They are so cute together! Tom went off to swim. He is a serious contender for a national championship, and swims or works out nearly every waking moment.
We stayed at the Meggitts again Christmas night and planned a very early wakeup call for Monday, Boxing Day which is also the day of the Sydney-Hobart Race.

Friday, December 16, 2011

November 24 (Happy Thanksgiving, America!) - December 15, 2011 in Sydney

Happy Thanksgiving from Sydney Harbour. Just being here is enough to make us feel grateful. We puttered on over to our familiar anchorage at Blackwattle Bay finding it very crowded. We greeted old friends Kim and Andrew on Artful Dodger, phoned Mark and Heather and Pauline and Martin to let them all know we’re here. Immediately our calendar got booked with lunches, dinners and coffees. I was anxious to hook up with all of them.
December 4, Mark Dent phoned to ask if we were up to a spontaneous road trip. There is an SUV he wanted to test drive for the week and needed to take it on the road. We readily agreed that we could be packed to go the next morning. He and Heather showed up with two vehicles: the one they were planning to “test” and another SUV which he explained is his mother’s car that needs to be driven because it apparently sits in the garage too much. Mark armed us with road maps and an overview of our destination. We will drive/follow them up into the Hunter Valley as far as Gloucester, then loop over to Singleton where we have a two-bedroom apartment booked for the night. We hopped in and followed them out to a beautiful drive on the M1 up the Pacific coast. We passed through picturesque (and at times odd-named) towns, into the lush green valley and much less populated areas of farmland, hills and mining country. Arriving in Singleton, we had difficulty finding a place open for dinner. Monday night the only eatery available was a pub. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time to an old east Texas honky-tonk town. There were a lot of Bubbas in here, and a few Bubbettes! Yee-haw, we had a good time. The meal was a bit under par, but the atmosphere was priceless. Returning to our very nice apartment, Mark broke out a set of playing cards and as he shuffled he asked what was our pleasure? Frank insisted on teaching us Hearts. We were having a fairly good time until he slammed us with some surprise rules and beat us all to a pulp. Funny how the rules kept changing in his favor wink, wink. Tuesday morning we set off to breakfast at a beautifully trendy antique, floral and collector shop that housed a small cafĂ© in back. Then we hit the road – Putty Road back along the quicker inland route to Sydney. What a marvelous trip! What marvelous friends. But then, we find all of our Aussie friends are marvelous.
On our return Frank tended to do bloke jobs while I spent time with girlfriends. Pauline and I occupied an entire day out shopping one day and then she invited Frank and I to join her for dinner with her very close friend Janet. We ate Thai at “Atom” in Newtown, and found this to be one worthy of a return visit. Frank and I hit it off straight away with Janet. She would become part of our inner circle of Aussie friends.
We took great pleasure discovering new areas of Sydney Harbour, from Manly to 40-Baskets Beach, Iron Cove, Double Bay, Elizabeth Bay, Farm Cove, Middle Harbour all the way up into the secluded and beautiful Bantry Bay and back to Blackwattle. Discovering Sydney in this way is a delight that few travelers will enjoy when they make a trip Down Under. We continue to count our blessings as we explore this city that has much, much more to offer than a bridge and an opera house.
We passed a fair amount of time back and forth to Birkenhead Point where there is a large outlet mall, chandlery and in general good shopping. Mostly we enjoyed the plentiful walking and jogging trails here, and at just about everywhere along the shore in Sydney. The “Manly to The Spit” hike is one of the most popular and one which we did many times. Another favorite of ours is the Coogee to Bondi. Janet lives in Coogee.
The following week while we were anchored at Rose Bay Pauline and Martin picked us up for a drive down to Cronulla, Port Hacking and Botany Bay. Martin wanted us to see the areas we had been thinking of sailing to, explaining that it is good to see it before going all that way in the boat. It was a beautiful drive, along which he also showed us some of the fairly large custom homes he had built around there. We ended the day with dinner at an excellent Greek restaurant in downtown Sydney. The next morning Frank and I watched the Sydney-Hobart race boats doing practice runs just out the harbor from us. Some of them are simply magnificent to watch up close and personal. What a thrill it is to be here – seriously we keep pinching ourselves. That afternoon we decided to get going to Middle Harbour. Rose Bay is nice but with all the traffic of ferries and seaplanes it gets to be a bit too much.