November 15, 2018
32'55S 151'45 E
Newcastle and Racing in Sydney
Newcastle had become our base. It has replaced its British namesake as the world's coal capital. This former blue-collar town, at the end of a two-hour ride on the 'T', Sydney's commuter train, is being transformed into a lower-stress, more affordable alternative to Sydney which is inflating by 5,000 people a day.
Newcastle's skyline is dominated by cranes creating new office blocks and apartments. I contrasted it to my blue-collar home of Waukegan which is barely hanging on being the county seat of an otherwise wealthy Lake County long after the wire mill, Johnson Outboard Motors, and John Manville moved, leaving behind environmental superfund clean-up sites.
We returned to Chicago at the end of May and were back in Newcastle in November 2018 to load Onora's sails, say goodbyes to the marina and the Owen's and left for Broken Bay where Brian and Eva on Zofia informed us of the Great Tasmania Invitational Cruising Rally. Over curry on their boat we received the good news that we were invited to this loose collection of seven sailboats and catamarans that were heading in our direction for a Christmas Day cook-out on the front lawn of the Royal Tasmanian Yacht Club.
We sailed on to Sydney and anchored in the Lane Cove River near Jim and Fiona Igoe's home. Jeannie's cousin spent his youth in Ireland where he met Fiona, a pathologist, married and moved here. Jim and Fiona had lived in Ireland and New York but decided on Sydney to raise their family.
Jim owns half a sailboat that races in the river down the street from their home and invited me to crew on the Wednesday evening race while Jeannie and Fiona, on Onora, watched us cross the starting line in a frantic pack, disappear around a bend and drift back two hours later.
It was quite an experience. I noted on our arrival that this was a confined waterway of narrow steep banks packed with boats on mornings leaving a clear path just enough for the speeding commuter ferries. I expected this to be a class race of small one-designs. Jim told me he raced at the Greenwich Flying Squadron so my guess was that I would be Jim's crew on the two man twenty-foot Flying Ducthman but I was wrong. The boats averaged twice that, including Jim's with a crew of six, all getting ready to race down the river, round an island and back again. There were clearly too many boats to sanely do this.
At the start and until the island was rounded it seemed almost possible to start from shore and hop across multiple surging foredecks and reach other side without getting wet. The house and apartment shoreline is steep-too and funnels the wind from zero to forty. Just as we reached the island the drenching squall hit. I was the only one with the sense to put on my waterproof jacket but was still soaked, waist down, from the sheets of fresh water coming down and the surging salt water coming up when the gusts buried the boat's rails. I was amazed that there was only one collision and no one thought much of it. We came in fourth in our section for which Jim was awarded two sail ties.
Dinner was back at the Greenwich Flying Squadron. Other than being in Greenwich, Jim had no idea about the name. The 'clubhouse' was an aluminum sided dinghy storage shed. The long folding tables had been hastily moved inside when the squall hit. Uncooked steak, sausage and chicken were purchased at the bar and self-cooked on the gas heated sizzling stainless plates outside as everyone drank red wine to get the blood circulating again.
We almost accepted Jim's invitation to stay for a few days but we were feeling the pressure, like all voyagers, to take advantage of every weather possibility. In front of us was the six-hundred-mile trip south to Tasmania.
Strong wind warnings were forecast but we gambled. The wind would be behind so the thirty-knot forecast maximum would be twenty-knots apparent after subtracting boat speed. We hoped that an early start might get us the sixty-miles to the shelter of Jervis Bay before the worst.
After passing Sydney Heads and turning south we received an email. Brian and Eva had taken the same bet and had left Cronulla, just south of Sydney, that morning and were an hour ahead of us. Four hours later hours the seas kicked up and the strong winds arrived.
Chuck Paine, Onora's designer, would not approve of what we had done to his designed balance. Weight is good in the middle of the boat but not at the ends. Our two-hundred-and-twenty-pound anchor for everyday is twice the design weight. We also carry a two-hundred-pound storm anchor and a sixty-pound fisherman in the forepeak. Add to that a hundred and ten meters of half-inch chain and we have twelve hundred pounds more up front than the designer intended. We know we have sacrificed sailing ability for iron to ride out a hurricane but we sleep well.
Onora was now bucking into green water and pitching it up over the pilot house. Further south, Eva, who refers to Australia's meteorologists as 'lying bastards' texted their winds at forty knots and rising. We turned around for Cronulla. Six hours later Zofia joined us. Brian reported that, in their awful day, mileage totaled minus one-hundred meters.
[ Part III ]