You really appreciate the size of this country when you travel slowly down its east coast. From hot and humid Cape York, with its forbidding, barren-looking landscapes which gradually morph into mountainous rainforest, to the gentle rolling hills along the northern NSW coast and then the majestic Sydney Heads, it’s a huge island.
We cast off the lines again on 8 January and headed for Sydney, expecting it might take four or five days. In spite of sometimes contrary winds, we had an absolutely brilliant sail down, arriving at Sydney Heads exactly 2 days and 19 hours later. Tramontana is very fast boat when she gets her head, and she sure let us know what she could do this time.
Leaving Scarborough marina
We had a third crew member on board, the delightful Bill Hatfield, a very fit 76 year old glider pilot, champion rower, and very experienced sailor. That’s one of the things I love about sailing – the people you meet. He’d been admiring Tramontana on his way past to his own yacht in Scarborough marina, and ended up coming with us. His own sailing history would make a great book – heading out into the Pacific some forty years ago with his wife, in a 24ft yacht. That’s a very small boat. They rounded Cape Horn, and spent a couple of years exploring South America and the Falklands, eventually returning home via the Panama Canal, Easter Island, Pitcairn, oh, and a brief stopover to have a baby in Fiji along the way!
Something we did this time, was register with the Volunteer Marine Rescue network, a collection of people who man the radio and keep an eye on boats out at sea. As you pass their location, they hand you on to the next station along the coast. It’s a good feeling knowing that if all your other SOS systems failed – radio, phone, EPIRB -someone would notice you hadn’t logged in at a certain time, and eventually a search would happen.
Other people were watching out for us too. My sister lives at Broken Head, just south of Cape Byron, so when we neared that point I phoned her. They could see our sail 11 miles out to sea for about 40 minutes. It was strange speaking to her on the phone as we sailed past!
A lot of dolphins have called by on this voyage. Somewhere between Scarborough and Sydney, a pod of about forty dolphins surrounded the boat just before sunrise and stayed for a couple of hours, surfing, leaping out of the water, rolling and flashing white bellies at us. All sizes from very large to little tiny ones. Every so often one would roll sideways and an eye would stare up at the human staring back. I wish they could talk. No successful still photos but some great video footage.
We were within 10 to 15 miles off the coast most of the way, until the last 24 hours when we ran almost a hundred miles offshore to get better sailing conditions and pick up an expected wind change to easterly.
Entering Sydney Harbour – North Head through the early morning rain
We dropped Bill ashore the next morning to catch the ferry and train to the airport for his flight home. A few hours later we dinghied back across to Manly, thinking about finding some lunch when my phone rang, and a familiar voice said, “We’re on the Manly ferry and we can see your boat.” It was good friends of ours from Darwin, the Edwards family, en route through Sydney headed home to New Zealand. We knew they were travelling but thought they’d left Sydney the day before, while they were wondering if we’d arrived yet. And there was Tramontana, out the windows of the Manly ferry! We couldn’t have planned it. Lunch was a lot longer and more fun than we’d expected!
So, here we are in Sydney Harbour, now moored for a day or two at Spit Bridge. First time our boat has stopped the traffic! The weather and some maintenance requirements will keep us here for a few more days but In the meantime we’ll do some exploring by water of this magnificent harbour. It was good to be back in Manly too, the setting for a lot of the action in Ronan’s Echo.
It’s quite a buzz seeing a bridge open up for you
One lovely thing that happened in Scarborough before we left, was catching up with fellow writer Helene Young. We first met in Cairns several years ago. Helene writes excellent romantic suspense, and her latest one, Safe Harbour, is a great read. She and her husband live on their catamaran in Brisbane. It’s rare that I get to spend time with other writers, but it’s so inspiring when I do. My own work in progress is on hold at the moment, but it’s simmering away in the background.