Tag Archives: Sydney

Twelfth Night or Women’s Christmas

It’s Twelfth Night in England, Nodlaig na mBan in Ireland and Epiphany elsewhere.

Nodlaig na mBan means Women’s Christmas – when, back in the day, the women put their feet up and the men did the housework. One way or the other, it marks the end of Christmas.  By tomorrow, the tree and the decorations must be down and normality restored. In the old days, the paper decorations – which, of course, you had made yourself out of brightly coloured  crepe paper –  all that is saved till Shrove Tuesday  and then used to make the fire on which the pancakes are cooked.

I’ve celebrated Nodlaig na mBan with women friends and family wherever I’ve been including the High Veldt in South Africa, the Opera Bar in Sydney, St. John’s on Antigua and, many many times, La Cave wine bar in Dublin, which is where I’ll be tonight.

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What’s in a Singapore Sling?

   If you’re in Singapore then the only place to be is Raffles, having a Singapore Sling which was created at the Long Bar there, in 1915.

But if you don’t get any further  than the transit lounge at Changi Airport, then getting to Raffles is going to be a bit difficult. Instead, do what I did. On a  flight from Sydney to Singapore, I ordered a cocktail with my inflight meal – which may have been breakfast  but who’s counting?

 Here’s what went in to it:

  Dry gin, Dom Benedictine, Cointreau and cherry brandy all shaken – yes shaken – with lime and pineapple juices, a dash of Angostura bitters and Grenadine.

Delicious. Make that two, please.




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High up on Watson’s Bay with a blue sea below and a bluer sky above, Sydney did what only Sydney can do – offering  a panoramic view of the start of the 2013 Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

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Below,  the white bright sails glimmered in the water, the two maxi yachts with their black sails already battling it out. But I was rooting for the clipper ship the London Derry Doire, sponsored by Derry City.


There are 12 clipper ships on a round the world race with this leg of it taking in the Hobart race.

The previous day, in the bar of the Crusing Club of Australia, in Rushcutters Bay, I chatted with some of the crew including Michelle Porter who had had to lifted off by the South African coastguard when she’s suffered a broken arm during a knockdown in the Indian Ocean. ” But I’m like a magnet,” she told me,” I’m always drawn back ot the boat.”

The knockdown ( it only takes a second or so for the mast to come back up again) left two others of the crew dangling by their harnesses. Funny now, not then. There’s always the memory of the terrible year when a storm claimed the lives of six sailors.

This year, the weather forecast isn’t great: down by the Bass Straits, they’re expecting winds gusting at 60 knots and waves 12 metres high – all part of the expected storm later today.

The big boats will have their storm sails up – made not for raciong but for surviving – while the clippers will plough onwards. As ocean-going yachts, this is what they’re built for.

” We even have our own sewing machine on board specially adapted for asymetrical sails,” Conor O Byrne tells me as we chatted pre race in the floating pontoon by the boat. Conor, now a garda siochana, used to work for the RNLI in Dublin.

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Like all such ventures, there are superstitions attached to sailing. Because the boat is mainly Irish, I’d expected the crew logo to be green but no: ” No,” says Nick Blewer, a financial consultant from Cheltenham, ” green is the colour of land – not a good thing when you’re sailing.”

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As the fleet came out through the heads, the tiny motorised convoy of well wishers buzzed to and fro among the yachts until they turned back to the safety of Sydney Harbour leaving the racing yachts to carry on alone, ready for whatever the seas and winds might throw at them.

When I woke in the middle of the night, I thought of the crew of the Derry. At 1am, they’d be getting ready for their third watch….


Stop press: 24 hours into the race, the Derry is holding her own on the top 6.  Derry  Abu!



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Clipper race Sydney to Hobart

Fourteen hours to the start of this great race. We hope to see the 12 clippers leave the harbour and hang a right straight down southwards for Tasmania. Our viewpoint will be Watson’s Bay on the south Head with Manly on the north Head.The clipper I’m watching out for is the Derry Londonderry Doire clipper sponsored by Derry Council. She has a crew of 54 of which  10 are on-board all the way round the world with the others leaving or joining en route.

 Here’s one of today’s crew – Wendy White – originally from Dublin but now living in the UK.

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 To get a place on one of the clippers, you have to apply, put up a sizeable sum of moeny, show that you have sailing experience and undertake at least three training weeks on a clipper. You are then allocated to a clipper and no, you can’t pick and choose. You go where you’re told.

 Nick Blewer, from Cheltenham, is another mariner crewing all the way. He’s worked in Dublin and is a financial consultant.

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 It’s not plain sailing on a clipper. Doire had a knockdown in the Indian Ocean when the boat keeled right over and the mast went into the water. It righted itself in a matter of seconds but two members of the crew were injured and had to be taken off by the South African coastguards.

The race has three starting points and if you want to follow the boat of your  choice go to the Rolex Sydney to Hobart website and find the race tracker. The position of your boat will be shown and updated every ten minutes.All the clippers have white hulls which is a help but so too do some of the non-clippers so the race tracker is invaluable.

 It’s 23:30 now  and here’s hoping the crew are getting some sleep. With four-hour watches, they won’t get much  rest between Sydney and Hobart.

Fair winds, sailors. More on all this tomorrow including an interview with the skipper,  Sean McCarty who learned to sail on Lough Swilly.

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Rushcutters Bay, Sydney


   12 clipper ships creaking in the wind, tethered to shore till the off at 1pm Thursday, St Stephen’s Day. That’s 1pm Eastern Australia Standard Time. They’re all battling in the 2013/14 round the world race and Thursday is leg six of it.From Sydney they head south to Hobart, capital of Tasmania. Then back up to Brisbane, over to Singapore, on to China, across to San Francisco,through the Panama Canal and north to NYC, across the Atlantic to Derry ( expected June 21 2014 in case you want to put it in your diary) on to the Nederlands and home to London from where they started.


Right now, the clipper ships are at rest in Sydney’s Rushcutters Bay, flags flapping in the wind, the crew  having an on board safety check and then planning how they’re going to spend Christmas Day  their last on land before the off in St Stephens Day.

 The Derry (let’s call her that for short)  is sponsored by Derry City and here’s a picture of the deck:




   Each ship has a story to tell. On board the Quigdao is the first woman from China to take part  in the race.  She lives close to Quigdao which is the port in China where the clipper ships will dock before heading on to San Francisco.



  The Old Poultney is sponsored by the scotch of the same name and the distillery is determined to brand their whiskey as the mariners’ whiskey.  There’s a boat celebrating Mandela and one from Jamaica. The chef from the Opera House is on another boat and the oldest competitor is 86. And  of course there’s the stalwart Doire.


 More on this in the next blog….




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