Wednesday, 30 November 2016

A few more days ...

Snowy Wanderer
After four days of good progress, the weather has, as predicted, become contrary. We have bent our route a bit to the north to avoid two days of east winds. While this hasn't produced sailing winds in our favor, the resulting calms allow us to motor at a better speed than we could achieve directly into wind driven ocean waves. The higher speed more than makes up for the additional distance traveled.

It is cool and rainy. We have left the warmth and sunny skies of Australia far behind. So it seems we have lost something but we HAVE gained the evening airshow. For some reason, the seabirds congregate nearby as the day comes to a close. Unlike the birds further north, the albatrosses and their relatives feel no need to pester us with deck landings and their associated mess but seem content to just soar endlessly over the ocean swells.

The largest of them, the wandering albatross, nests on sub-Antarctic islands raising one chick every couple of years. The nesting pairs mate for life - as long as fifty years. When the chick is young, they take turns making week long forays into the ocean for food. As the chick grows large enough to defend itself from predatory birds, both parents head off to hunt bringing food back to their large fluffy chick who eagerly waits for them on a forlorn windy hillside.

It is difficult to appreciate the size of these birds with no well-understood reference in the sky or on the waves. An albatross's wings measure three and a half meters (11 1/2 feet) from tip to tip! The only clue to size is the illusionary slowness with which the albatross seems to glide compared with smaller birds. This is the same illusion that makes Boeing 747s and Airbus 380s appear to be descending to land much more slowly than smaller airplanes. They do not - and neither does the albatross fly particularly slowly. They regularly forage over 500 miles in a day.

At rest
The birds are such a treat to watch ... but oh so hard to capture in the camera lens!

At 11/30/2016 00:01 (utc) our position was 37°08.11'S 166°24.15'E

Saturday, 26 November 2016

The Tasman Sea

If anything might make four to five meter high seas vaguely tolerable in a small boat, it would be steady progress. Fortunately, we have been so blessed. Apart from a few hours of contrary wind as we left Sydney which forced us north of our course, we have been moving quickly toward New Zealand. A broad swath of the East Australian Current even added 3 knots to our speed in its curving trajectory towards the east. Our first two full days at sea have given us noon-to-noon runs of 146 nautical miles on the first day and an excellent 184 on the second.

All around, the cobalt blue foam-crested sea is layered with different levels of detail. The huge crests roll by every ten to twelve seconds and raise and lower us with their bulk. These monsters were born days ago in a fifty-plus knot storm now far to our southeast and will travel thousands of miles before they fade to imperceptability. Superimposed on them are the wind waves chased by the 20 to 25 knots blowing from our starboard quarter. These are the seas that produce the annoying lurch that makes living and cooking aboard such a challenge. Every minute or two, one of them collides forcibly with our bow and sends a shower of sea cascading across the deck and into the cockpit. In an even tinier level of detail, centimeter-high ripples, ruffled by the wind, chase across the surfaces of the larger undulations.

While there are no ships or boats of any description to be seen out here, the air is full of life. Various perfectly adapted pelagic birds seemingly extract joy from the ocean swells as they soar above them on long slim wings. I even saw that most excellent flyer, the wandering albatross, who actually seems to nourish himself on wind and wave. What magic soaring! He never flapped a wing in all the time I watched him.

And just to remind us that we are not the only people who voyage from Australia to New Zealand, a solitary contrail divides the deep blue above. I can just make out the silver jetliner leading it across the sky towards New Zealand, a few hours away!

And what now? The winds that drive us will fade and reestablish themselves, at times from an inconvenient direction. We are out here for at least another six days, perhaps seven if we choose to alter our course to the north to avoid a few days of easterlies in a distant forecast. Nonetheless, each day, the miles-to-go shrinks in a pleasing way.

At 11/27/2016 00:03 (utc) our position was 35°50.29'S 157°40.31'E

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Leaving Australia

Sea plane at Rose Bay
Tomorrow's the day. It felt very odd to be taking out my down mitts, wool hat and Icelandic sweater today. As you can see from these photos (taken yesterday and today) the weather is brilliantly sunny, and we don't really feel like heading off into the stormy seas again ... but sad as we feel about leaving, we look forward to re-visiting beautiful Nelson, New Zealand again.

At the moment, we're anchored in the Lane Cove River - not far from where we celebrated Lauris's birthday on Sunday. We stayed in about this same place in the river ten years ago so it feels 'home-like'. Larry brought me ashore in the dinghy so I could drop a few Christmas cards into the mailbox near the Woolwich ferry. This was our method of getting downtown in those days - we would wade ashore, clean our feet and put 'proper' footwear on, lock the dinghy to a tree and walk down to the ferry. We'd get off the ferry at Circular Quay and go to the opera, and reverse the procedure to get home and to bed. It was at this very spot where I met Debby and Leah so there are many memories here.
Trav at anchor in the Lane Cove River

Passing the Opera House
We had anchored in Rose Bay for two nights near the seaplane docks - I did manage to hear Belle - Debbie's talented clarinet student at the NSW Conservatorium - a musical treat. Yesterday we left Rose Bay, motored past the Opera House and under the bridge and stopped for fuel at Birkenhead Point. It's a terrific place to provision with a Shopping Arcade and fuel dock.Sailors can leave their dinghy tied up (for a moderate price) and bring their shopping carts right down to the dock.

Tomorrow we'll return to Birkenhead, and Customs are supposed to meet us there to clear us out of Australia at 8a.m.

So - Farewell Australia - we've had a marvellous time in this beautiful country.

Sunday, 20 November 2016


Musical birthday cake with the Sydney Opera House
We went to a spectacular birthday celebration yesterday … a tribute in honour of Lauris Elms 85th birthday … and a celebration of her contribution to Australian music. As a contralto of astonishing vocal range and emotive depth, she made her debut in Covent Garden with Canadian tenor Jon Vickers in a 1957 production of Verdi’s ‘Un ballo in maschero’. She made many recordings with fellow Australian – the soprano Joan Sutherland. To hear her at her sinuous and sultry prime, just listen and watch here: 

 Lauris being interviewed
While in London under contract at Covent Garden, she met and married a fellow Australian – Graeme de Graaff – then completing Graduate Studies at Oxford University. Even though she was at her prime as an opera singer and singing a wide range of leading roles, homesickness propelled Lauris and Graeme back to their native land. At first, Lauris focussed on futher developing her art song and Lieder repertoire.  She made many recordings for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and was of great help and influence to young Australian singers. 

Sunday’s concert, a series of collected
memorials and an interview with Lauris was organized by Sally-Anne Russell (contralto) and Louise Scott (pianist). They performed some of Lauris’s favourite works in the art song genre including Schubert’s ‘An die Muisk’ and Elgar’s Sea Songs. The singer graciously stepped back when her voice faltered (she had pneumonia!) and this gave us a chance to hear a wonderful performance of John Field’s Nocturne #1 (Louise Scott) and our own Debby de Graaff performing a Saint-Saens clarinet and piano ‘Romance’.
Lauris and Deb at intermission
Lauris Elms is still a gracious, beautiful woman with a commanding personality and an astonishing memory (as witnessed by her responses to the interviewers questions). 
How did Larry and I get to know Lauris and get invited? Well …one of  Lauris and Graeme's greatest accomplishments has been parenting our wonderful friend ... Deborah de Graaff. 
On Saturday we were able to spend a few hours together – and this is where both Water and Music intersected. 

Deborah de Graaff, clarinetist
We gave a ‘command’ performance of our talk entitled ‘Our Northwest Passage aboard Traversay III’ for a select audience including Lauris and Graeme.  The get-together took place at Debby and her partner Leah Lock’s spacious home – shared with 2 cats and 2 dogs and an outside menagerie including several chickens, wild turkeys, an echidna and – intermittently – a python. Leah and I took advantage of a little time before ‘showtime’ to play through Bach’s E minor sonata for flute (and harpsichord … only a piano was available this time!)
Mozart run-through
Leah and M.A. play Bach
The potluck which followed the NWP was a fabulous success – especially since Kris Spikes partner Ginny had concocted an amazing spicy soup with nuts, chives and sour cream accompaniment. She has just retired from running an award-winning Patisserie for nine years. John Cran brought greens from his garden and roast chicken, Deb and Leah contributed further herbs and veg, and Larry and I brought a coconut flan with raspberries for dessert while Diane Gardner brought a host of wine bottles (full!)
After dinner we assembled and fit (as best we could) into Deb’s studio to play Mozart’s Quintet for piano and winds. Everyone was sight reading and I found it a little intimidating to be performing with such able professionals – John is a retired first bassoonist with the Sydney Symphony, Deb is a top clarinettist, Leah is rated as one of the ablest flutists in the country and I had well-known Australian composer/pianist Kristofer Spike turning my pages. However, our friend Di scored the most amazing coup by transposing the French Horn part and playing it on the flute. This was particularly wild when Mozart made her dip down into the Bass Clef for a few notes! The culmination of the evening for me was hearing Kris’s most recent flute/piano work … it was being sight read by Leah – a remarkable achievement – and Kris brought great virtuosic flourishes to his piano score with an impressive range of thematic and colouristic hues. The ABC has recorded a number of Kristofer Spikes works and Deb and Leah have participated in many of these recordings. Leah is branching away from music to explore her fascination with veterinary science. This week she's out at a sheep farm!

Traversay and Ella show off matching canvas
We had a very full weekend. It was due to Lauris and Graeme's forsight that Deb did a lot of sailing with her parents as a girl, and Larry spent quite a while discussing sailing with Deb's parents. On Friday ‘Ella’ (Deb and Di’s sailboat) rafted up to us in Towler’s Bay. We had great fun jumping into the water which was 23C degrees (warm!) All 3 girls jumped in and had fun but Larry jumped into the water with scuba gear to clean barnacles off the propeller.However I believe he still found it to be fun. At any rate, having a clean prop should make our passage to New Zealand later this week much faster.
Deb has been telling us amusing facts about AUS, identifying bird calls and organizing our time in the most helpful way. She has been driving driving us hither and yon especially out to Bobbin Head Marina - a most restful and beautiful place to stay. I greatly enjoyed ‘sitting in’to listen to some of her impressive teenaged students. 12-yr-old Anny was playing advanced repertoire (a-la-Benny Goodman).
Deb and Di aboard Ella
Now we've re-located to Sydney Harbour itself, and tomorrow I’ve been invited to come along and hear one of Deb's students performing her Graduate recital. If I can get from our anchorage here in Rose Bay over to the ferry dock I’ll be able to walk right up the hill from Circular Quay and make my way past the Governor Generals Residence to the New South Wales Conservatory to hear more brilliant beautiful music.

A great place to relax and do laundry - Bobbin Head Elite Marina

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Pittwater and Cowan Creek

wallaby camping out
Ten years ago while anchored on Sydney's Lane Cove River, we met kayakers Debbie and Leah who were enjoying an afternoon on the water.  A shared interest in music and in being on the water led us to keep in touch in the intervening years.  When we embarked on a voyage to Australia Pittwater - their home cruising ground - was penned into our list of ports-of-call. It's conveniently just north of Sydney.

Debbie and Di's yacht Ella
Coaster's Retreat, our first stop in Pittwater, made us feel like we were truly in Australia as wallabies grazed lazily on the shore surrounding the anchorage.  The next morning, we drifted a few miles south to Towler's Bay where Debbie and her boating partner Di arrived to raft up to us with their pretty yacht Ella. What a charming way to meet again after ten years - two boats in a shared anchorage! Leah joined the four of us for a delightful dinner of fine food, wine, reminiscing and catching-up.

Larry and Debbie

After breakfast, Debbie and Ella returned to moorings at the head of Pittwater while Traversay III with Di on board travelled three hours up to Bobbin Head at the furthest reach of Cowan Creek.  Cowan Creek, an extension of Broken Bay, kept getting narrower and narrower with the green hills surrounding it seemingly growing higher and higher until we rounded the last bend where a cluster of yachts and launches announced the Bobbin Head Marina. This was the closest road access to Turramurra where Deb and Leah live and would allow us to visit them.

Debbie and Leah's chickens
Dogs, cats, chickens, turkeys (live) and more good food and drink followed ... even a jazz club in the city with Deb's son Oli on drums and daughter-in-law Emma on piano.

Kuring-Gai Park Headquarters
As the weekend drew to a close, we got to thinking about all the remote bays we had seen during our trip up Cowan Creek.  The shores of Cowan Creek make up Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, a wild oasis nestled in the northern suburbs of Sydney.  The whole area is a spider web of bush trails.
Larry in the park

We chose Waratah Bay for its free public moorings and one hour (the shortest available) bush walk up to a suburban rail station for a Sydney visit.  The uphill to the hilltop rail station was wearing in the heat and the tides were a challenge to dinghy landing and launch but we persevered and had a fun day in the city.  There was even a meter long lizard (but no snakes) to see on the way up the hill! Some boat chores and a walk through a mangrove swamp rounded out the week.

Now the weekend approaches again and we will head back to Bobbin Head for more socializing.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

'TASTES' at the Bay

Nelson Bay marina
We're tied up here in Nelson Bay for a few nights. We met up with our friend Tony Mowbray - an accomplished sailor - friendly and helpful to all others of our 'ilk'. He lives nearby, but bush fires in the nearby hills closed the road. Tony helped get us the invitation to tie our boat in front of Palmer Station (one of the American bases in Antarctica.) We had many celebrations with Tony and his kids - Holly and Jordan - over Christmas and New Year 2008.
Meanwhile, we've been enjoying the local festival  with its program of music, cooking demonstrations, crafts and activities for all ages.
This is a very beautiful marina - the staff are friendly and the washrooms are spectacular! We've finished a massive provisioning so we can dispense with grocery stores for a few weeks, and before we leave we're  going to test the marina laundry facilities. We were invited to a beautiful dinner last night by fellow sailors Tad and Robin (their boat Bisou currently in the Aegean). It was just one of those instant connections. They stopped by the boat when they saw the maple leaf flag.
Bird on our lifeline (w smoke)

Jamie - marina staff

Town crier announces NSSWE

North Shore Sydney Wind Ensemble

Larry with maple leaves
Tad & Robin

Mary Anne, Tony Mowbray and friend Max