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Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas 2009

Captain James Cook, sailing the Endeavour, sighted the entrance to Port Stephens on May 11th 1770, naming the bay after the Secretary of the Admiralty. First entered in 1791 by the British ship "Salamander" who found it as wide as Sydney Harbour. We found it too exposed to the coming gales forecast by ther mechanical voice at the weather bureau. So, directly after breakfast, we hoisted our hook to seek better shelter.

Following the southern shoreline, we soon found the hamlet of Nelson Bay, looking like a little pond filled with madly rushing water-beetles. In the stillness before the storm, para-gliders flew overhead, while rental craft and cruise ships churned up the water. Suddenly Australia's Christmas exodus seemed very much upon us and deeper inland seemed the best place to hide. So we put our lady back into gear and continued watching headlands pass until encountering Soldier Point.

Originally established in 1820, Soldier's Point once housed a garrison of soldiers, there to stop escaping convicts crossing the narrow waterway. Today it hosts a five-star marina and accommodation complex bustling with lily-white city dwellers on holiday. More chaos and mayhem greeted us, causing me to turn right for what appeared an uninhabited bay.

Encircled by forested hills, Fame Cove is nearly a cyclone anchorage with a lovely placid creek entering next to its narrow west facing entrance. To our amazement we found only one other boat. Whistling kites wheeling overhead seemed to welcome us to celebrate the coming of ol’ St Nick. And quickly we took our choice of the five free moorings. Once settled, up went the awning.

To be sure, we'd been up half the night, a nap next day is in order, and if that includes a little cuddle to celebrate yet another milestone, then a very pleasant day passes all too quickly. And so it wasn’t until beer o’clock that we discovered the cove’s only disappointment. Not mosquitoes, nor sand flies, just no internet! OMG! We were almost totally cut off! Thankfully our mobile phone found a Telstra tower.

Next morning, the day before Christmas, a gale forecast, I roused the crew early to brave the narrows in Little Red. "To the shops," I cried, "for food to feast." That’s if I can start our decrepit outboard that has not been run since the Gordon River!

On the way out we stopped at the two yachts now sharing our little cove
and in a short chat invited them over for Chrissie Eve refreshments. Thatis - if we get back. Around the headland, straight away we bucked into white caps; our destination, that pricey marina easily in sight. But,
would our trusty stead go the distance - and make it back? Spray flew from the bows, Jude's rain gear dripped, my sunnies became awash and my going-ashoreshirt darkened. But our antique never missed a beat. Pulling in amongst those flash machines meticulous polished by uniformed workers, we felt
a thousand eyes securitize our bedraggled attire and simple mode of transport. But did we care. Nah! We may not be young, but we are free. All bills paid. And we go where we like and mostly do what we want. Like now, that is if they let us tie up to their swank dock. Which they did. When no one was looking - only kidding.

A little swagger and head held high, we went off to find the managment and ask their prices. Then we quick stepped for their front gate trying to look like we belonged and asked a delivery man where we could catch the local bus to Salamander Centre, to find Woolies and novelty shops. Minutes later we were purchasing seniors' tickets for a ride on a very big, empty bus.

Being the last shopping day, our solo ride lasted just a block. After that every stop gained more curious creatures. Odd how buses lower the barriers, allowing conversations to flow across the aisles, so in no time we’d gotten a hot tip for Saturday’s race, heard about the best Woolies specials and knew that granny was having a troublesome tooth pulled that day.

I won’t waste much space on the shopping complex. Close your eyes, imagine the last shopping day before Christmas and you’ll be right beside us helping to push through the crowds. Woolies seemed a disaster centre an hour after they’d declared the world was ending.

Busing back, leaves flew from tree-tops rustling like pom-poms. The storm was building and we were wondering whether we’d get back.

“No worries, honey,” Big smile, patting her knee. “I’ll row if need be.” And flexed my arm-muscles to reassure her, but instead I watched her eyes roll back.

They needn’t have. Ol' mister outboard didn’t let us down. Wetter than ever we finally rounded the cove’s narrow point to enter a fairyland of placid water, now dotted with five yachts. Two’s a gathering; five’s a party, so we stopped by the others to invite them over.

Two Karens and Na Ken - Irene Craig and family

Never expecting all would come, promptly at five arrived Ken and Karen from the smallest craft. Ken also had polio and dragged about a pair of fairly useless limbs. But at 72, he’s still got a good ticker and pulled himself aboard with little fuss. Next arrived big-boy Bob and his pretty lady Na. Just coming back from there first cruise aboard a self-built magnificent 55 footer that’s just got to weigh 40 tonnes, although Bob claims she’s just 30. Next came Craig with his Karen and their three kids; Nicole, rather cute in pink, and twins Ethan and Tristan. Plenty to talk about with them. Irene and Dougy made up the tail, such nice local folk to tell us all about what goes on in Port Stephens.

Christmas Eve aboard Banyandah couldn’t have been better. The northerly gale blasted over the hills, swayed the trees and occasionally lifted our awning, but never disturbed our peace. Almost every story a
yachtie can remember was told; we laughed till tears flowed down our cheeks over Karen’s lost plastic bucket, and everyone grew rather serious when I described being shelled by the North Vietnamese. Bless him, our senior on board, Ken told us what’s it like sitting on the weather rail running down to Hobart, and not just the once, but enough times to gain our admiration for a man who finds walking down a street a challenge.

Christmas morning was slow to start. Without high pitched voices to break our sleep, when we heard raindrops instead of little feet, we merely turned over for another forty winks. Family phone calls in bed were presents enough for those who’ve enjoyed so many other frantic Christmas mornings. It was quite enough to hear the mayhem through the speaker!

The five boats had bonded in that special way that required more time together, so, amid light showers we gathered on Doug’s Catalina for Christmas Lunch. And that wrapped up Christmas for another year. Well, not quite.

Jason and family departed their home after Santa’s gifts had all been opened. Their goal, reaching us the next morning. On the day after Christmas, heavier rain fell, mist hung on those lumps, and very few holiday makers strolled the beaches as Jude and I drove Banyandah to an anchorage Jason and family could reach.

Back towards the heads lay Shoal Bay, a wide smile of sand punctuated by two mountainous knobs looking a bit like overgrown moles, one at each corner. About the time we found a mooring and rowed in, Jason, Ally and our three grandsons just pulled in right alongside us.

Immediately the video started recording our visit, and wow, it was so good. Sure the odd raindrop fell, but not many. Meanwhile we played on that magnificent beachfront. Gosh, the little ones had never built sandcastles nor raced the water in and out. More joy there, simple fun with the ones we love and treasure.

Like a mountain stream passing natural wonders, we strolled to the surf beach for some of Nanni’s special banana cake that was eaten between slips and slides down sand hills. Thanks everyone, it was grand fun.

Well, that’s pretty much it. The last couple days aren’t worth reporting, except to say the rain started in earnest the moment Jason pulled away for Sydney. Good in a way, filled our water tanks. Now we’re just waiting. Another day or two of these rainy southerlies while we re-stock the larders and get ready to blast off for Tasmania with the next change. Till then, big hugs, do hope you had a Merry Christmas.

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