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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

7 Bridges Walk

This past Sunday I walked the farthest I have in over ten years: 22 kilometers (~14 miles). A few years ago I ran nearly this far in the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and during the blackout of 2003, Dana and I walked nearly this far... but not quite. Sydney was sponsoring a typical spring/summer/autumn event for the city that consisted of walking over seven bridges in "Sydney".

Q: Typical?
A: Yes. Besides the three or four months during which it is slightly chilly, there is some great outdoor event for every weekend day. The Saturday before this walk Dana and I had lunch at a fantastic food and wine festival in Hyde Park. There were transvestites and lots of little dogs!... but sorry, I forgot my camera.

Q: Why the "Sydney" in quotes?
A: Because in Sydney you can walk 75 kilometers in any direction and still be in the "city"... unless you walk east.

So at 8:45AM, Dana, Glenn, Chris, Fiona, and I started toward the Rocks to pick up our passport and start the big walk. Chris and Fiona live in Pyrmont - on the walking course - but we had to go to the Rocks to pick up our passport. When registering the for the walk, there was a question that asked, "So... which village do you think you might start from maybe?" All of us thought, "Well I think maybe we might start from the Rocks," and so so we checked that box. When we received the confirmation email, it said, "You MUST start at the Rocks village, since this is the village you said you would definitely start from!" At the Rocks they grabbed a passport from a pile, taped the barcodes we had brought with us to it, and sent us on our way back through Pyrmont. {sigh}

Thirty minutes later we were at Darling Harbour, about to cross the Pyrmont Bridge. I heard that this is the busiest pedestrian bridge in the world. Or at least the southern hemisphere. I do love that "southern hemisphere" claim to fame. "Wow, there's nothing in New Zealand, Argentina, or South Africa that exceeds it???" It very well could be the busiest pedestrian bridge in the world. But, even if not, it's a swing bridge on which construction started in 1899 and a monorail traverses it. So it's pretty cool.

On through Prymont and up over the Anzac Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1996 and replaced the old Glebe Island Bridge, which looks almost exactly like the Pyrmont Bridge. Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. An Australian flag flies on the top of one Pylon, a kiwi flag on the top of the other. You can easily distinguish the two flags because the flag of New Zealand has one less star. The Anzac Bridge is the longest cable-stayed span bridge in Australia and amoungst the longest concrete cable-stayed span bridges in the world.

This puts us about one sixth of the way into the walk. More tomorrow...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Time Flies

This past weekend daylight savings started in Sydney and ended in New York. I've always had a hard time understanding why daylight savings starts when the amount of daylight increases. Shouldn't there be more of a need to save it when there is less? Then again, I was up Saturday morning for a conference call at 5AM and it was light out. Then next day, after daylight savings had started, I was enjoying a pint of critters at the Aussie and it was still light at 7PM. I won't complain anymore. Some people have a hard time getting why DST ends in the Northern Hemisphere when it starts in the Southern. It's because the sun starts to spend a lot more time on one side of the equator than the other. Six months later that fickle sun winds back up North, favouring Europe and North America.

Most of Australia is full of flies all year round. This is why the fly is the national bird of Australia and why waving a hand in front of your face is called the Aussie Salute. While visiting the Northern Territory I learned ventriloquy for need of speaking with my mouth closed. Us occupants of Sydney are lucky and are subject to overwhelming quantities only during a yearly "plague". We are in the middle of it at the moment. This video clip explains where the flies come from: shit in Queensland. It seems they hatch in feces and then get blown all the way down to Sydney. We only have about two more weeks of it... thanks to the dung beetles.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Ah, Christmastime in Sydney: it started weeks ago! For over two months we get to enjoy fake Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and plenty of Christmas candy... all the while experiencing increasing heat and humidity. This will be my second holiday season in Oz, and I don't think it will seem any less absurd. While Santa on the beach in a bathing cozzie and surfer's wearing Santa hats are both amusing, two months of Christmas merchandising is a bit much. The main problem is that there are no competing holidays.

In the US all of the stores are black and orange from September through October - full of pumpkins and witches. This is a happy and gentle transition from the Back to School decor. After blinking the stores have suddenly change colour and the pumpkins have become turkeys, the witches have become pilgrams (ironic?). In the drug store, all the candy corn has been swept into the back storeroom for the next year and plastic Indian corn fills the aisles. Towards the end of November it feels like the Christmas decorations are pressing in from the walls, about to spill out and knock over the shopping carts... but for some reason it's still a surprise when you walk into a CVS for some gum and everything is red. But even then there is some respite: the red and green is accented with Blue and Silver. Christmas does start earlier in the form of music, to be sure. How many times can you listen to Monster Mash? And so, in the US, we have two months of Dominick the Donkey, Alvin & The Chipmunks, and any pop star who was smart enough to realise you can make a ton of money on a Christmas album - even if it sucks. They still play New Kids on the Block at Christmas! Still, audio invasion is one thing, at least they spare you the visual.

Q: So why is it so different in Sydney?
A: Lack of holiday buffer.

- Halloween: It's never taken off. Australians don't need a holiday for fancy dress. Some some reason they're willing to dress up in costume for a party any other time of the year, but refuse to do so on Halloween. And they also can't remember the date. This year it's today (the 28th)!
- Thanksgiving: Well this is an obvious one.
- Hanukkah & Kwanzaa: yeah right.

And so we'll be walking by David Jones in shorts and thongs (flip-flops), watching the window displays and not quite being fooled by all the wreaths. And it doesn't end on the 25th of December. Let's take it one step further: Boxing Day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wreck Diving - Part 3

Sunday we had a very early start for our dive on the Valiant. Fellow diver Wade helped me out immensely by picking me up outside Town Hall at 5:45AM. Let me just take this opportunity to comment on the timing of this dive. It's one thing to have to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn, but just a week away from daylight savings, this time was well past the buttcrack of dawn... this was nearly mid-spine! I shot out of bed when I noticed how bright it was outside. "Shit! I overslept!" But no, it was 4:30. Too late, I was up and soon walking in the rain through QVB to Town Hall. I love living in Sydney CBD but it's not ideal for diving, especially when you don't have a car.

Wade and I travelled north to beautiful Palm Beach for our scheduled 7AM boat departure. The temperature was about 12C/52F, and at 6:30AM we were squeezing into our wet wetsuits wondering why we don't have another hobby for days like these - like crocheting. The boat left a bit late, but you can understand the delay given the skipper had to dive into the water in his skivvies to fetch the boat. Water in the bay was calm but as we approached the heads we started to hit some major swells. At one point, I swear, the entire boat was in the air. If the dive had not been scheduled to start so early - and so we were all already there - I'm pretty sure it would have been cancelled. After a 15 minute trip to the Tasman Sea we were looking for the buoy. We noticed a fishing boat not far off but often completely obscured by swells between our two vessels. It was a fishing boat looking to catch some of the fish hanging out in our wreck. The fisherman buggered off, and we spent the next 10 minutes trying to grab the buoy to tie a line to the mooring. Fellow diver Andy nearly went overboard several times while trying to hold onto the buoy the seas were so rough. The buoy was completely underwater in the larger swells.

Eventually the boat was tied up and we were gearing up. Since the boat was alternating between tilting 45 degrees one way and then 45 degrees the other, it was a challenge to get our gear on. The skipper was great and helped us all along and into the water without incident. Did I mention it was quite cold? The clouds and rain didn't help, but once we were in the water things were not so bad. Swimming to the mooring line, about a kilometre from Barrenjoey Head, I thought about the fact that it was great white season in New South Wales. Sure I was dressed like a great white's favourite dish, seal, but I was able to remind myself the extreme odds against being eaten. That worked. We descended.

Chris and I spent about 22 minutes down at 28 metres. Visibility was OK and the wreck was very interesting. We inspected it and looked for an entry point. There was a bit of surge, even at that depth, so we were tossed about a bit. Some saw a couple of massive moray eels but we didn't see them. The wreck had a load to inspect: many places to swim up to and poke your head in to have a look around with a torch. Schools of bullseye are always fun to surprise. The just look so... surprised! After some reel work, Chris and I ascended and did a three minute safety stop at 5 metres (to keep us from getting the bends). After I removed a gloved hand from the mooring line I saw a small brown twiggish thing on it. It seemed to be moving across my hand. "Wow, that's neat!" I thought, "That piece of something inanimate appears to intentionally move across my hand as if it were a sentient being." After it made about five deliberate moves in the same direction I realised it was alive. I still don't know what it was but it was about a centimetre and a half long and moved liked an inchworm. Maybe it was a centimetreworm?

Back on the boat for our interval. For non-divers: you have to wait a specific amount of time, depending on depth and bottom time, before re-entering the water. We all thoroughly enjoyed this time shivering and vomiting from seasickness. Actually only a few divers got sick. The rest of were too frozen for our bodies to realise the disturbance to our equilibrium. After about 40 minutes we were in the water and returning to the sunken ship. This time we actually penetrated the wreck. One of main reasons for doing a wreck specialty course: to learn how to safely penetrate a wreck. It can be dangerous if you don't follow the correct safety precautions. What could make it dangerous? Not being able to find your way out of the wreck before you run out of air. To make sure you can find your way out, you tie a line outside of the wreck and pull it along as you explore. Then you follow the line back out. Also, you have plenty of sources of light AND ensure you can always see the natural light of the exit. Getting stuck is not a major concern because all certified divers are trained how to get out your gear and work on it while underwater - and there's always your buddy's alternate air source. The main reason you would not be able to get out: silt. Many wrecks are undisturbed for a long time and once a diver enters, the fine silt may get stirred up. Saturday's dive site was full of silt and it was quite disorienting. You often did not even know if you were rising or sinking without looking at your depth gauge. If you have a reel, however, you don't have to see to get out. There, mom, I hope that makes you feel better. I'm cautious and will always play it safe. It is thrilling to enter a wreck, even one as small as the Valiant.

After the second dive the dive day, as well as the course, was over. The sky cleared just as we were out of wet suit and back into dry clothes. Now I'm a certified Wreck Diver. And the day was still young - enough time for some lawn bowls!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wreck Diving - Part 2

I left off my last post with where the Saturday wreck specialty dive was finally set to be: the Wollomstrom wreck in Gunnamatta Bay. As you can imagine for a day where the original dive was cancelled and backup was soon to follow, it was a rough day for diving. The bay is sheltered, so the water would not be rough, but it was cold, windy and rainy. It's dense with private vessels and the entrance to the beach is through a popular local park. Along the beach is a netted swimming area. This is the perfect place for kids to ask you questions as you get in the water like, "Can you look for my Buzz Lightyear?" and ask you when you get out, "Did you see any sharks or bodies?" To which my answers were, respectively, "Sure, but I'd be better off if Woody were with me," and "Thankfully no."

After gearing up and wading into the gentle surf, we put our fins on and swam a bit out to a mooring not far from the ferry channel. As previously mentioned, visibility is shockingly bad, so we took a bearing with our compasses, descended, and set off. My buddy (Chris) and I swam at about 10 meters depth for several minutes. We passed an old, sunken telegraph pole, but soon it was clear we missed the wreck. Since we couldn't ascend without risking coming up in the channel, we used our compass reading to go back the way we came. Most of the time the visibility was so poor that we had to hold hands, but every now and then we enjoyed the sight of a starfish on the silty bottom. When decided to ascend. I was nervous about where we where, and, being the first to pop out of the water, I quickly spun around in search of a boat to knock me unconscious. Nope: when we ascended we were not far from where we set off... so we felt good about the navigation and gave the wreck search another shot. About a minute into our second attempt we spotted another diver and were startled to find the wreck so close. It was, just as I remembered, a pretty weak wreck dive. But there were some fish and we surveyed the wreck before returning to the mooring we set off from.

After a short dive interval full of Tabasco-laden tomato soup, we were back in the water. This time we were supposed to draw a map of the wreck on our slate. To save time the instructor went down first. He was to tie a reel onto the mooring, find the wreck, and give a tug to signal for us to follow. For twenty minutes we waited at the bottom watching the barnacles on the mooring. Eventually Chris and I set off on our own. We found the wreck straight away but the silt was so stirred up that there was nothing to draw. After some brief exploration I suggested to Chris that we return to shore underwater rather than return to the mooring. Relying again on our compasses, and holding hands, we set off. Soon enough we were up against the netting for the swim area. Chris knew that there were heaps of White's Seahorses here so he inspected as I checked out the pillars and bottom. Chris was unable to locate a seahorse, but I found a few gems: another wreck! An old pram (baby stroller) on its side and completely taken over by marine life. You know it's an old pram when there are four wheels the size of individual size pizzas. Next I found a hat sitting upright on the bottom. I don't think it had been there for too long but I wasn't going to disturb it. There were heaps of jellyfish to poke and shine our torches through, Finally, Chris and I swam past footprints and soon were past where we had put on our fins.

I really enjoyed the dives this past Saturday. While I would not recommend the site to a dive, it's a good place to learn and try to make the most out of a site.

Sunday we were off very early for the Valiant...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wreck Diving - Part 1

This past weekend I completed my wreck diving specialty course, and there certainly could have been a better weekend for it. I have been excited about the course for some time. Wrecks are fantastic dives for many reasons. They provide shelter and so are quickly taken over by marine life and act as a reef. All sorts of fish love to hang out in them. Wrecks are visually striking and excellent photography sites. They also encourage a diver to research its history, which is often as interesting as the dive itself. And so the wreck course was on.

There are heaps of wrecks around Sydney, owing to plenty of harsh waters. Saturday we were supposed to do the Bombo down in Wollongong. The Bombo served in WWII and continued on for commercial shipping afterwards until it sank in 1949. The story is quite interesting but tragic. 12 crew died, 2 survived... and they were so close to shore. The wreck, 32 meters down, is in the middle of a high-traffic shipping channel. I was supposed to dive this site a few months ago but the large number of massive ships - and miscommunication regarding their schedule - forced us to abort. I was thrilled to get another chance to see it, but this past Saturday the seas were too rough for the site and Friday the location was moved to inside Sydney Harbour.

The new plan was to do the Royal Shepherd and the Centurion. The Centurion sunk one night in 1887, the Royal Shepherd sank one night in 1890, both with no casualties except the cargo. Both seem to have been simply the result of sloppy seamanship. I had been to this site before and there were loads of fish. Large cuttlefish, pufferfish, some small sharks... Unfortunately Sydney Harbour was even too rough to dive and Saturday morning our location was changed again.

And so on over to the Itara in Gunnamatta Bay. Note the lack of link to more info on the Wollomstrom. It's a small tugboat that sank in the silty bay, known for its terrible visibility. Surprisingly I had been to this site too: the last time the Bombo dive was cancelled. The vis would get so bad you had to hold hands with your buddy. But this was a course and tough conditions help you improve diving skills. I had a good buddy and knew we would make the most of it... even if the most exciting thing about the dive is the knowledge that if you came surfaced directly above the wreck there would be a good chance your head would be knocked off by the ferry or one of the many pleasure craft. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Diving Photos - The Leap to The Steps

As promised, I've uploaded some photos from my dive this past weekend. Details of the dive and a short video of a baby cuttlefish can be found here. Some of the highlights from the dive:

Large Snail (Whelk?)

Just cruising along. I think this type is called a whelk. If you know, please let me know.

Eastern Blue Groper

These are very curious fish. They swim amoung divers and seem to be begging for food. Thankfully it is illegal to spearfish them.

Weedy Sea Dragon

Weedy Sea Dragons are classified as near threatened. They are fragile creatures who maintain their depth with a tiny bladder. They blend in well with the weeds, but you can corral them into view without touching or harming them.

Port Jackson Shark

We saw two good-sized port jacksons but I did not get any good shots. This is one of the many eggs we came across. The spiral, pinecone-looking thing IS actually an egg.

Baby Cuttlefish

Ah, cuttlefish - my favourite creatures of the sea. This little guy is just a baby. Hopefully he will grow to be one or two feet long. His tentacles are up so that he can easily grab prey and pull it into his mouth to be crushed by his strong, parrot-shaped beak. His colour and texture change depending on the surface he hovers above. If you watch the video you'll see him turn smooth and white when he moves over the sand.

View the entire gallery here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Baby Cuttlefish - Diving The Leaps and The Steps

I took my camera diving this past weekend and managed to get some decent shots. Good old Kurnell - Captain Cook Park. Sunday was a lot cooler than Saturday but the rain held off. "Why would you care if it rains? You're underwater, you knob!" you may say. Well yes we are underwater, but I'm not a knob.

For the first dive we jumped in at The Leap - so called because you just step off the side of a rather high, sheer rock into the surging sea. We swam out about 15 meters before dropping and doing a drift dive down to a point called The Steps - so called because you have to walk up many, many steps to get to the carpark. "Why don't you walk down at The Steps rather than up it? It seems awfully silly to make yourself walk up it," you may say. Because then how would we get out of the water at the aforementioned high, sheer rock? Now who's silly.

The first dive was a bit murky thanks to a southerly blowing in from... the South. Still, we saw a huge sea snail, some blue gropers, a weedy seadragon, loads of nice coral and fish. The second dive was great, with better visibility and loads more to see: many more gropers, about eight weedies, port jackson sharks, and two baby cuttlefish. These are my favourite things to find while diving. These are the smallest I've seen - most have been about a foot to two feet long. These were a mere four inches. In this video you can see the guy with his tentacles up, in hunting pose, backing away from the camera before changing his colour to match the white sand and jet-propelling him away from me:

I'll get more photos from the dive up soon...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Pyrmont Good Food Markets

On the first Saturday of every month the Sydney Morning Herald sponsors a market in Pyrmont. I think this is the best growers market that I have ever been to. Snails, goat, lamb, trout... wait I just realised that I've posted about it before... yes yes, when I posted about the rainbow trout recipe. I apologise for repeating myself. Here is a picture of the fertile market ground:

Sunday, October 08, 2006


A friend of mine has called into question a statement I made in a previous post. In that post I said that, since a toilet flush is not effected by the Coriolis effect, the direction in which it empties is random. I have thought about this some more, and it's probably not random at all but determined by some combination of gravity, plumbing and water current at the time of flushing. Yes I have a friend who is more pedantic than me. Thank you for the correction, Glenn.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It Has All Been A Lie

It started with the Tooth Fairy... Next it was the Easter Bunny, a free lunch, Pluto as the 9th planet, the Crocodile Hunter's invincibility and, most recently, Santa Claus. You would think the lies and deception end would there... but no. I have just learned that something I have taken as truth is a LIE:

Yes that is our bathtub (with spices in it) draining clockwise. Water in Sydney, and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, empties down a drain just as it does in the Northern Hemisphere: randomly. The Coriolis effect applies to storms like hurricanes and cyclones based on the Earth's rotation. It seems that most of us have toilets that flush must faster than it takes for the world to turn, so there's no impact there. I shall sleep now.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Australian Beer Festival

The Australian Beer Festival took place this past Saturday and Sunday at the Australian Heritage Hotel. From a participant's point of view it was a huge success! The stands were set up along both streets and exhibitors came from all over Australia. My personal favourites were Five Islands Brewing Company, Hunter Brewing, Redoak and Matilda Bay's Alpha Pale.

FIBC's Mick and Tim were up from the Gong with three tasty brews. Their pilsener is available in bottles, but not here in Sydney yet. There's talk of bottling their wheat. I sure hope they do: it's a beautiful German style hefe. I can't think of any Aussie wheat that's as good and available in bottles.

Hunter has a really nice pale ale to join their kolsch as a tasty beer made in wine country. We had the opportunity to speak with Jeremy, a brewer from Matilda Bay, and learned that they really encourage them to experiment with new styles of beer. It sure paid off with their pale ale... and their coffee-flavoured crema is worth a go. Redoak offered three from their selection as well as blackberry hefeweizen sorbet. Dana and I have popped over there for desert - it's fantastic.

Even more enjoyable than the beer was the company! Several BAs made their way to the event. It's always great to meet fellow beer lovers.

And a shout out to Dave Gumm of Dave's Homebrew.

View all the photos here.