Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

We are sailing

Teaching someone to sail in Sydney Harbour is a bit like teaching your toddler to walk in Sauchiehall Street on the last Saturday before Christmas. It's metaphorically - if not literally - sink or swim!

I've just been sailing in Sydney Harbour with Peter Eddington ( Originally from the UK, Peter now runs courses for novices and slightly more experienced sailors aboard his home-built 60-foot ocean-going yacht.

At the weekend, Peter's crew were myself, Benzie (a fellow novice), Jo and V (back for their second course).

The course comprised a full day's motoring and sailing round the harbour on the Saturday, a two-hour night-time sail on Saturday evening and a further day's sailing on the Sunday. As you might expect we were taught how to steer the boat, navigation, lowering and raising the rigging and winching and hauling the sails to tack our way around the harbour.
(Peter steers us out of Middle Harbour at the start of the weekend.)

What a great sport. There's a real buzz from working as a team and adjusting the sails to get the boat flying through the water. Though there wasn't always enough wind to get a lot speed I loved every minute of it. And there can't be many more picturesque places to learn how to sail.

But back to the Sauchiehall Street analogy... I don't have any evidence to back this up, but I'm just going to say that Sydney's is the busiest harbour in the world. It must be. Check out these two pics.

(Sydney Harbour on a Sunday afternoon. In some places you can hardly see the shore for sailing boats.)

This shows why a keen eye and ability to anticipate what's about to happen are key skills for sailing in Sydney.

And it's my old friends, the Sydney ferries that are the most troubling presence in the harbour. They have absolute right of way over everything else, a privilege that they make full use of! At all times you have to be alert to a ferry appearing round one of the headlands. Travelling at speeds of up to 30 knots (4 times faster than our sailing boat), they can quickly bear down on you and will expect you to make any effort needed to avoid a collission. It certainly added to the thrill of the experience.

(Right - an impromptu swim to cool off out at South Heads).

The ferries aren't the fastest thing in the harbour though. There don't seem to be any restrictions on motor-boats in Sydney harbour with the result that Australians' love for power, power and more power (the standard family saloon in Australia has a V6 engine) is given completely free reign in the water. I spotted a 20-foot speedboat with THREE 275hp outboard motors. That's over EIGHT HUNDRED horses. Equivalent to two Maserati V8 engines. Why on earth he would need that is beyond me. I can't imagine how he could use half of that without turning his boat into a rudimentary aircraft.

Would be useful for getting out of the way of the Manly ferry I suppose...

(Sailing is another sporting obsession of Sydneysiders. Right - why leave your dog at home when you can take him out for a sail? Left - Ice cream van, Sydney Harbour style).

The Sydney ferries aren't the largest thing in the harbour either. Not by a loooooooong shot. Check out the following pics. As well as being a tourist destination, Sydney is also a commerce hub and the narrow water channels must also accomodate H-yow-ge transport ships. On the left you can see how they dwarf mere sailing boats (these are 40-60 foot yachts)...

...and even make the 1,000 tonne Manly ferry appear titchy.

When this baby crossed our path it reminded me of the start of the movie Independence Day. An earth-orbiting satellite suddenly goes ker-chunk against a planet-sized alien spaceship. The movie was all downhill after that, but what a great cinematic idea. (A wee bit like 28 weeks later, which i saw on friday - hugely promising start but the rest of the film couldn't quite live up it. Theme tune is still amazing though...)

(One fun part of the course is being hoisted up the mast. This is the stern of the boat with the inflatable dingy below and erm, my foot also visible.)

(Towards the end of the weekend we sailed out between the heads and into the Tasman Sea. Peter and Jo are relaxing here as V casually steers the boat.)

Despite the soup of vessels, Sydney is a fantastic place to sail and the course was so well run that I never felt in any real danger. Both the boat and sailing instruction are labours of love for Peter and I can recommend his courses very highly. I learnt a lot in a very relaxing environment. I'm just disappointed I don't have a chance to finish my 'competent crew' training before I leave Australia.

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