Once in a Lifetime in Australia

For those crossing the Pacific, reaching Sydney Harbour in time for New Year’s Eve provides the perfect occasion to celebrate.

December 19, 2017
Once in a Lifetime in Australia Neville Hockley

Crossing the South Pacific on a small sailboat is really quite an accomplishment, and for many cruisers, Australia represents the final destination of this epic voyage. For those lucky enough to reach Sydney Harbour in time for New Year’s Eve, watching the city’s fireworks — considered to be one of the most impressive displays in the world — provides the perfect occasion to celebrate.

We sailed into Sydney Harbour on December 26, after cruising 32,000 nautical miles, meandering our way from New York to Australia over the past 10 years. To commemorate our arrival on Dream Time, our 1981 Cabo Rico, we chose to anchor next to the opera house in Farm Cove — what experienced locals consider the epicenter of excitement on New Year’s Eve. As one local put it, “Mate, it’s about as close to 7 tons of explosives as you wanna get!”

We arrived early, and on New Year’s Eve, my wife, Catherine, and I managed to hold Dream Time’s front-row position in Farm Cove, on the edge of the exclusion zone, without getting arrested, assaulted or damaged. The tiny cove swelled beyond belief with boats bumping, squeezing and pushing into every conceivable space. And just when we thought the bay had reached absolute capacity, another wave of enthusiastic late arrivals somehow managed to burrow inside. Fenders were needed and forced raft-ups were common. Our scope, which began at a moderate 3-to-1 was finally reduced to a measly 1.5-to-1. But Dream Time held, the weather remained calm, and positive vibes and shared merriment in the bay helped reduce a little of the stress between short-fused, close-quartered captains.


When the sun dipped behind Sydney’s skyline, maritime police declared the anchorage closed to new traffic — we had made it! There was a universal sigh of relief in the cove. Fenders, lines and anchor chains were adjusted for the last time of the year as hundreds of boats, in an anchorage that normally supports just a dozen, settled down in anticipation of Sydney’s largest fireworks display in history.

The New Year’s events began in the early evening, and for hours we were completely transfixed by daredevil aerobatic displays over the harbor, Tall Ship and megayacht light parades, and video projections. At the stroke of midnight, an eruption of pyrotechnics shook the city and for 12 magical minutes consumed the entire Sydney Harbour Bridge in an explosion of color that decorated the opera house in a dazzling canopy of light.

It was an unforgettable experience, and like Carnaval in Panama, the Matava’a o te Henua Enana festival in the Marquesas and the Naghol land-diving ceremony in Vanuatu, it was a defining moment in our world voyage. Sure, it was a little stressful at times — we had to assert our position, fend off boats to avoid collision and politely ask others not to drop their anchor across our chain — but it was definitely worth it. In fact, it was such an awesome experience we’re considering doing it all over again next year!


Although, perhaps on somebody else’s boat.

We soaked in the surroundings from Dream Time’s coachroof, amazed that we had managed to secure an uninterrupted panoramic view of the opera house and the entire Sydney Harbour Bridge, and the energy on the water and shoreline, where up to a million spectators had gathered to watch the display, was electrifying. We invited kayakers to raft up to our dinghy, we shared drinks and laughs, and the charter catamaran that had aggressively anchored at the last minute just feet from our bow even graciously presented plates heaped with delicious barbecued kebabs and lamb chops as an apologetic offering.

Tips for watching the Fireworks:

For cruisers arriving in Australia at the end of the year and planning to complete their Pacific crossing with a celebratory big bang, here are a few tips that may prove helpful:


Where: There are dozens of bays around Sydney Harbour, and almost all of them offer incredible views of the fireworks. But Farm Cove, framed by the Royal Botanical Gardens, is the closest civilian crafts (under 50 feet in length) are allowed to get. So, if you want an intimate experience, one where you’ll even feel the percussion blast from the pyrotechnics, this is where you’ll want to be. We anchored at: 33° 51.48′ S and 151° 13.19′ E on the exclusion line in the middle of the bay.

When: The anchorage fills up quickly, so arrive in Farm Cove no later than the morning of December 30. When city officials drop the exclusion buoys, if you want an uninterrupted view, immediately relocate and anchor as close to the line as you can. But be sure wind and current don’t carry you over because you will be told to move.

How: In depths of around 40 feet, drop a 3-to-1 scope when you first arrive, and give your anchor time to settle into the mud bottom. Later, on New Year’s Eve, when the bay fills to capacity with late arrivals, be prepared to reduce scope. Also, until the anchorage is closed, consider keeping your engine running so, if necessary and at idle speed, you can hold your position.


Tips: Put out all your fenders! Wind and water eddies in the bay will spin you in every direction. If there’s a little space next to you at the end of the day, encourage boats similar to your vessel or small motorboats to fill the hole. Don’t use an anchor snubber because you might want to adjust scope quickly, and if wind and water are so rough you require a snubber, you definitely don’t want to be in Farm Cove!


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