Sydney, Australia, 15th-16th February
Once again, the weather has been kind to us and we enjoyed following winds and seas across the Tasman sea during our crossing from Picton to Sydney. The weather was changeable thoughout and our call in Sydney was no exception, bathed in sunshine one minute and then torrential downpours the next. It didn’t seem to curb the enthusiasm of our guests though, as this is one of the most delightful cities on our itinerary and they anticipate our call with relish.
Circular Quay, the primary and central berth, was occupied as we arrived; a large, white cruise ship, the name of which shall remain nameless, had berthed just before us and was involved in a turn-around of passengers. We were assigned a berth in Darling Harbour, (in fact it was the same berth on which we docked last year) and this involved passing under Sydney Harbour bridge, before turning ‘sharp left’, (in non-nautical terminology) and berthing port-side alongside. We had embarked our pilot slightly early, this due to the fact that the pilot boat was already on station, having embarked a pilot on that large, white cruise ship. Obviously tired of waiting and probably desperate for a decent cup of coffee at 5 in the morning, the pilot boarded well to the east of the intended position and promptly asked for a cappuccino .
It was dark as we approached the ‘Heads’, the rocky promontories which guard the entrance to the harbour, however I was optimistic that, with the sunrise due in 45 minutes, there would be sufficient light for our guests to be able to take some photographs of one of the most stunning harbours in the world. I, once again, had my camera on the bridge and took the opportunity to take some photos in the ‘nautical twilight’.
The pilot explained to me that the best berth, Circular Quay, was used by cruise ships that could not sail under the bridge, due to their height. The “Oosterdam”, the ship that I took out of the builders yard and one of my favourites, has to wait occasionally for low water; if she went under the bridge, (or tried to), she may come out the other side with a car on her funnel, or with slightly shorter ones . Also, Circular Quay has a very strange arrangement with the retail outlets that line the pier, the harbour authority has to pay them for loss of business should a cruise ship be there, it must not be in the berth at certain times during the weekend and must depart before a certain time, all very peculiar for a port. I was also told that we will not be using Darling harbour next year, instead going across the harbour to White Bay, which fills me with foreboding as the distances to travel into the city are far further.
We pass Fort Dernison, which lies on a small, rocky outcrop, just to the west of the bridge. In 1788, a convict named Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week on bread and water in irons there, after which the island came to be known as Pinchgut. Once a 15 metre (49 ft) high sandstone rock, the island was flattened as prisoners under the command of Captain George Barney, the civil engineer for the colony, quarried it for sandstone to construct nearby Circular Quay. The fort was built later, as the defenses were deemed inadequate and whenever a hanging took place, the poor miscreant was strung on a gibbet as a warning to vessels arriving in Sydney. Fortunately, there was no such sight to welcome us and now it’s a tourist attraction.
Darling harbour is not without its attraction, just to the south of us and 10 minutes walk, are waterside restaurants and bars, ferry terminals and harbour cruise trips, it’s a bustling place at night and during weekends. Shuttle buses take our guests to the city centre and from there they can wander the city, the ‘Rocks’, a lovely area of bistros and market stalls, is not far away and is a popular destination. Many guests book an evening at the Opera house, whilst others use their time to travel further afield. Sydney is certainly not cheap, in terms of prices; it used to be the most expensive in the world, however, apparently, it is now ranked 5th or 6th.
On the 16th, the Seabourn Quest slipped into harbour and occupied the now vacant Circular Quay.
The day was a mix of sun and rain, however we were fortunate that, on our time of departure, the rain held off and our decks were packed with guests as they enjoyed the sailaway through the harbour. Being a Saturday, the harbour was crowded with boats of all description and much whistle blowing was needed to ward off those sailors who thought they had right of way. Now we are on our way south, for Hobart, Tasmania, which is incidentally, the most southern latitude which we travel to.
Jonathan Mercer is Amsterdam’s captain.